Thursday, May 12, 2016

Plant profile: Cussonia

Cussonia spicata
Easy to grow, not too tall, strikingly architectural and evergreen, this genus is a great tree for our area and a personal favorite of mine. I'm surprised they aren't more popular, but large specimens are not often available to buy. Annie's Annuals often has small ones though, and they grow pretty fast. Get a hit of funky, tropical, yet drought tolerant action in your garden!

Latin name: Cussonia ("kuh-SOH-nee-ah")
Common name: Cabbage Tree
Originally from: Southern Africa.
Blooms: Big crazy spikes that the bees love.
Light: Full sun
Water: Survived severe drought!
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 15-40' tall and wide
USDA Zones: 9a-11b
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed we have a large Cussonia spicata, and in the brights bed a somewhat smaller Cussonia spicata.

Cussonia leaf
The name Cussonia is named after the Professor of Botany at the University of Montpellier, Prof. Pierre Cusson (1727 - 1783). We got our first one way back in February 2009 - a C. spicata with shiny green leaves that grew from a 1 gallon plant to a big multi-trunked 15' tall tree in just a few years. Eventually it should reach 40' tall, unless the dry weather keeps knocking it back.

During the 5 year drought it started to die back from the top, and I thought it wasn't going to make it. I watered it twice in the final year, and it pulled through. As of April 20156 it is sprouting vigorously from the base. You can see the dead branches at the top of the photo below.

Our other Cussonia spicata was planted in the brights bed in 2011 and survived the drought fine. It's got a way to go to attain it's final height of 25-40'.

I also planted a Cussonia paniculata in the middle back bed, but it was somewhat smothered by other plants around it and died. I'd love another of that species - the blue-grey leaves are lovely, and it only gets 15' tall.

Cussonia spicata
In addition to its popularity as a decorative garden tree and useful accent plant, the leaves of C. spicata are not only beautiful in shape but also traditionally used as a treatment for indigestion, and the roots are succulent and edible - mashed roots have also been used in the treatment of malaria.

The bark is cork-like, and the wood is very soft and decays easily - it's used to make mole traps and brake blocks for ox-wagons in Africa.

I highly recommend this plant. With an exotic mop of deeply-divided leaves and interesting bark on the trunk, it looks a bit like a funky palm tree.

Update 2.5.18: Our first and largest Cussonia is flowering! It remains to be seen if the flowers will produce viable seed, but I hope so.

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