The Forest Elder is like that over-looked teen who suddenly blossoms: its fragrant heads of small flowers are a lovely sight when you stumble upon it. It’s not fond of dry or very frosty conditions, instead preferring deep soil with a stream nearby for maximum comfort. In return it produces heaps of nectar which feeds many insects, and so insect-eating birds. Some call it the honey tree as a result. The Zulu name umhlambandlazi, says SANBI, translates as ‘mousebird-washer’, hinting at how much they enjoy its bounty.
Ornithologist David Johnson notes that there are ‘some particularly fine specimens to be seen from the road running through Oribi Gorge’. We’ve seen a couple in a watercourse in Deer Park, Table Mountain National Park, so they are fairly widespread in forests across South Africa. The wood is hard, yellow, and was used to build wagons. It’s still a popular medicinal plant, treating ailments from flu to infantile convulsions.