‘Mchulu’ – The African magic far away tree

This morning Mathew and I decided to hike out to our favorite Mpati mountain tree – Cussonia Spicata, or ‘mountain cabbage tree’.

The shortest way to get there is to park at the top of the mountain and make your way down a rocky and partly forested piece of the mountain. There is a path here thankfully although quite overgrown. It used to be part of the Mpati hiking trail many many years ago, now it is only really used once a year during the ‘death by mountain’ Mpati trail running race which happens every September. It is also used by a few people still enjoying nature and the beauty of the trails.

The path is clear enough to find but it is quite slippery in places. Once out of the forested bit one clambers down a thick grassy steep hill to get to the plateau below where this particular mountain cabbage tree is growing.

The path through the grass is quite overgrown and slippery. This Eastern slope is sheltered and the soil stays damp and rich. The number of shrubs and plants growing here is staggering, a real treat. Each season bringing something new to delight in.

Today the Buddleja salviifolia shrubs are flowering – taking over from their cousins the Buddleja auriculata. Every now and again their sweet honeyed fragrance is wafted over on the breeze. I notice for the first time that there are lavender flowering ones here in this section amongst the more common cream flowering ones.

Buddleja Salviifolia

Poking through the grass are a few patches of Helichrysum cooperi plants. Their bright yellow papery faces like miniature sunflowers popping up through the tangled vegetation.

Helichrysum cooperi

I am also pleased to see the first Polygala virgata starting to flower. These have dainty bonneted fluffy lilac tufts at the end of their graceful stems.

Polygala virgata

After a bit of a slip and slide we are at the bottom and there, finally, is our ‘magic African far away tree’ – Cussonia spicata. Commonly known as the giant mountain cabbage tree.

According to SANBI PlantZAfrica, there are eleven different Cussonia species in South Africa. They are variable, some being more frost tolerant than others. Our Cussonia is growing up and out from the side of a huge slab of rock, which possibly provided shelter in the beginning years.

To say that it is huge is a gross understatement and sadly our photographs do not do it justice. I have taken one with Matthew in the foreground to give a sense of scale.

Matthew in front of the huge mountain cabbage tree

The trunk has divided into two huge stems quite low down. Matthew and I measure the base with my tape measure – which has been bought along for this purpose. It is just under 4 metres wide! The two stems have spread to each side and have created an enormous canopy. The bark is pitted and rough, corky almost. I love feeling the deep gnarled grooves under my fingertips.

Spot the gnarled face in the bark

Matthew and I clamber up onto the huge slab of rock that is conveniently growing under our tree, to explore and investigate all we can. We decide that our tree needs a name.

‘Mchulu’ is a Zulu reverential term , meaning ‘majestic’ and ‘great’. This particular Cussonia is both ‘majestic’ and undeniably ‘great’- ‘Mchulu’ it is.

After our exploring session is over and many photographs have been taken, we bid Mchulu a cheery goodbye, and begin our climb back up the slippery slope.

A few younger Cussonias – the typical shape reminds one of Dr. Seuss trees!

5 thoughts on “‘Mchulu’ – The African magic far away tree

Add yours

  1. Oh I have enjoyed exploring these mountain treasures with you and especially the Cussonia. Have spent the weekend visiting places of historical interest in the Ciskei and am very impressed by the number of very large Cussonia spicata in the area. Your other photographs are lovely too!

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  2. Truly a great and majestic tree. Lovely to see those early flowers – they seem to flower earlier higher up and further inland than were we are – here buds are just starting to form or have not even started yet. Nice to know they are on their way though.

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