Pavetta cooperi
Harv. & Sond.

Family: Rubiaceae [gardenia family, coffee family (Eng.); katjiepieringfamilie, koffiefamilie (Afr.)]
Common names
: Christmas bush, pompon bride's bush, (Eng.); pomponbruidsbos, kers(mis)bos (Afr.); luphehlwane (Siswati); is-Anywana (Zulu).
SA Tree No. 719.4

Pavetta cooperi in bloom

A lovely shrub that is stunning in full flower, covered with pom-pom clusters of starry-white sweetly scented flowers that resemble small bridal bouquets.

Pavetta cooperi  flower headDescription
A rounded multi-stemmed shrub or small tree up to 25 m high. Slow-growing, with creamy-brown smooth bark and thin, oval, pale green, opposite, hairy leaves. Masses of white round flower heads cover the plant; they are fragrant and are borne in early summer (October to January), followed by clusters of green pea-shaped berries that turn black and shiny when ripe (February to May).

Conservation status
Pavetta cooperi has no threatened status at this stage.

Distribution and habitat
Common in evergreen dry forest, ravine forest and bush clumps on rocky outcrops and mountain sides. Found in Mpumalanga, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Free State and Swaziland.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
A large genus of about 400 species found in the warm areas of Africa, Asia and Australia. There are 23 species in South Africa, either small trees or shrubs. The name Pavetta is derived from pawatta, the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) name for a plant in the genus and cooperi commemorates Thomas Cooper an English naturalist collector in South Africa from 1859 to 1862.

The sweetly scented flowers attract many pollinators such as birds, bees, wasps, beetles, ants and moths. Birds and monkeys enjoy the fruits and so assist in their dispersal.

Something special to note is that the leaves have bacterial nodules, which look like evenly spaced black dots or lines all over the surface of the leaf, that are an example of symbiosis as the bacteria enjoy a safe home while transforming atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plant can utilize, much like bacteria in nodules on the roots of legumes that fix nitrogen from the soil.

Uses and cultural aspects
The flowers of some species might be used in traditional African wedding ceremonies.

This is a lovely shrub with great horticultural potential. The flowering stems can be used in flower arranging.

Pavetta cooperi shrub

Growing Pavetta cooperi

A fairly tough plant that does best in the full sun, as it likes it hot, sunny and dry although it will tolerate some shade surprisingly well, particularly when young. Grow it in good soil, enriched regularly with compost for best results and water well in summer.

Pavetta cooperi can be grown as a single specimen plant as it has an interesting, neat, compact form. As it is very slow-growing and does not take up much space it is ideal for a small garden/townhouse garden. Its drought hardiness when mature ensures that it does well in rockeries. Placed in a decorative container it can be enjoyed close-up and this is a lovely way to appreciate this plant.

It is ideal for a wildlife or bird garden as the flowers attract nectar loving insects and birds that also enjoy the profusion of berries.

It keeps it shape naturally and does not require much pruning. It does not tolerate frost.

Propagate from seed sown in spring (September/October) in a seed tray in a well-drained, well-aerated soil mix. Treat the seed with a fungicide. Spread the seeds evenly and cover with a layer of sand. Water the seed tray and place it in a warm place until germination takes place in 35 weeks under optimum conditions. Or take semi-hardwood cuttings in spring. Cuttings must be dipped in a rooting hormone to stimulate root development. The growth medium should be well aerated and able to hold the cutting firmly while staying moist. Treat the tray with a fungicide and put it in the mist unit on a bench with under-heating. Rooting should take six to eight weeks.

References and further reading

  • Johnson, D. & S. & Nichols, G. 2002. Gardening with indigenous shrubs. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Onderstall, J. 1996. SAPPI Wild flower guide for Mpumalanga & Northern Province. Dynamic Ad, Nelspruit.
  • Schmidt, E., Lotter, M. & McClelend, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga & Kruger National Park. Jacanda Publications, Johannesburg.
  • Stearn's, W.T. 1972. Stearn's dictionary of plant names for gardeners. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.


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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
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