Dombeya autumnalis I.Verd.

Common Names: Autumn dombeya, Autumn wild pear (English); Rotsdrolpeer (Afrikaans)

Dombeya autumnalis

Chocolate is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when looking at the autumn dombeya, but the cacao plant from which chocolate and cocoa (from tropical America) are made, is a member of the same family (STERCULIACEAE). One of the main characters uniting genera of this family is that most have hairs which are branched, forming tiny stars. (You need a hand lens to see these.)

The name of this genus honours Joseph Dombey, a botanist who worked in Peru and Chilé. Autumnalis - indicates the flowering time of this particular species.

Some weeks ago another dombeya was featured, the pink wild pear- D.burgessiae, which had large, velvety leaves and heads of pink to white flowers. The autumn wild pear has small leaves and delicate, creamy white heads of little flowers which appear in a burst of blossom which is a feature of Dombeya. These have a sweet scent and like other wild pears, the blooms retain their shape, but change colour to reddish brown and remain on the plant, the seed capsules forming in the centre. The dry petals help to disperse the seed later on when they act as wings to float the seed capsules away.

D. autumnalis is a small, often multistemmed, tree up to 4.5 metres which grows in the Lydenburg and Ohrigstad areas in Mpumalanga and Northern Province. It is commonly seen along the Abel Erasmus Pass where it grows in the rocky, wooded hillsides. It also occurs in riverine bush. The area in which it occurs is restricted to this small distribution and its occurrence may be related to the dolomite rock formations in that area.

Growing Dombeya autumnalis

D.autumnalis is not commonly available to gardeners but would make a pretty garden subject with its lovely smooth grey stems. One could plant the common wild pear -Dombeya rotundifolia as a herald of spring and the autumn wild pear to announce winter! Like other Dombeya spp. it can be propagated from seed in spring in deep seed trays of good, fine seedling mix, lightly covered and kept moist. The seedlings should be transplanted once the true leaves have formed into small nursery bags, where they should be given protection from heat and sun until they are hardened off.

Alice Aubrey
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
May 2001

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website