W&N watercolour on Amedeo 200gsm mixed media paper
Black Karee (Rhus lancea) in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)
21st November 2011 – Finally we’ve had some GOOD rain! (30mm in a couple of hours) and this will really boost my lawn, which has still been yellow since the winter. The trees are also all fresh, green and sparkling clean, as is evident from the sketch of a few leaves of one of my Black Karees (Rhus Lancea) indigenous to Southern Africa. It’s a bit of an untidy tree, with a weird growing habit of the branches backing up on one another and having most of its leaves right at the tip of the branches. It has a graceful, weeping form and dark, fissured bark that contrasts well with its long, thinnish, hairless, dark-green, trifoliate leaves with smooth margins.
The small, inconspicuous flowers are presented as much-branched sprays which are greenish-yellow in colour and are produced from June until September. The male and female flowers occur on separate trees (luckily I have quite a few of them in my garden, so some must be male and some female). The fruit are small (up to 5mm in diameter), round, slightly flattened and covered with a thin fleshy layer which is glossy and yellowish to brown when ripe. The fruits are produced from September until January.
The fruit is eaten by birds such as Bulbuls, Guinea fowl and Francolins. Game animals such as Kudu, Roan antelope and Sable browse the leaves of the tree which can serve as an important food source for them in times of drought. The sweetly scented flowers attract bees and other insects to them. Now re-named Searsia lancea, it is useful in providing natural soil stabilisation and increasing infiltration of rainwater into the soil thus reducing erosion and raising the ground water table.
The leaves of the Karee provide valuable fodder for livestock but can taint the flavour of milk if eaten in large quantities by dairy cattle as a result of the resin contained in them. The tree is also an important source of shade for livestock in certain regions. The bark, twigs and leaves provide tannin. In the past the hard wood was used for fence posts, tool handles and parts of wagons. Bowls, tobacco pipes and bows were also made from the wood. The fruits are edible and were once used as an important ingredient of mead or honey beer. The word karee is said to be the original Khoi word for mead.