Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia (Sand Olive)
Plant image

This well known, drought and wind resistant, indigenous plant can grow into a shrub as it is usually multi-stemmed or a small tree when the lower branches are pruned. It is ideal for water-wise gardens.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia

Common names:
Sand Olive (E)
Sandolien, Ysterbos (A)
Mutata-vhana (V)
Mutepipuma (Shona)

Plant family:
Sapindaceae

Plant categories:
Trees; Shrubs; Non-herbaceous Perennials


Name derivation & history:
The genus Dodonaea was named after Rembert Dodoens. He was a Dutch physician and botanist who wrote a book on plants of the Middle Ages. He died in 1585.

The specific epithet viscosa means sticky, referring to the young growing tips which contain surface flavonoids; this gives them a shiny appearance.

In the genus Dodonaea there are 60 species widespread mostly in Australia. In South Africa there are two recognized taxa: Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia and Dodonaea viscosa var. viscosa.

Pictures

Features

Leaf habit:
Evergreen

Height:
5 metres

Width:
4 metres

Plant shape:
Neat, rounded, evergreen shrub or small tree.

Leaf description:
The droopy leaves are shiny light green above and paler green below. Young growing tips contain surface flavonoids giving them a shiny appearance.

Flower description:
The flowers are small and yellowish-green and are produced from April to August (autumn to winter).

Flower colour:
Yellowish-green

Flowering months:
April to August (autumn to winter)

Fruit description:
Flowers are followed by decorative clusters of yellow or reddish fruits with papery wings.

Habitat

Natural distribution:
It is found in a wide strip along the coast from Namaqualand through the Western Cape, Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal as well as further north in Mozambique and Zambia.

Habitat:
Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia grows in a variety of habitats from arid, semi-arid to high rainfall regions and is frost-hardy.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:
Hardy only when mature

Light conditions:
Sun

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Has non-aggressive roots
Low maintenance

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.

Ecology

Interaction with physical surroundings:
The dense bushy hedges which it may form are ideal bird nesting sites and the flowers attract butterflies.

The seed has papery wings and is possibly dispersed by wind.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
This shrub is grown worldwide, as the roots have soil-binding properties which are effective for the purpose of stabilizing sand dunes and to control erosion.

The early Cape settlers used a decoction prepared from the new leaf tips for fever. In the rural areas Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia is still widely used for colds, influenza, stomach trouble and measles. For a sore throat and oral thrush it is used as a gargle. The Khoi-Khoi used a concoction of the root for colds and influenza. In Namaqualand the green leaves are boiled slowly, then left to steep, strained, and the extract is used for influenza, colds and also to induce sweating. It also used to relieve coughs and the congested feeling typical of influenza, croup and diphtheria. The same extract is considered to alleviate stomach ailments and fever. The leaves are used externally as a remedy for itchy skin and to treat skin rashes. An extract of the leaves is used as a mild purgative and for rheumatism, sore throat and haemorrhoids. Other early uses of the plant include the treatment of pneumonia, tuberculosis and skin rashes.

In southern Africa it is regarded as one of the most important traditional medicines and is used in combination with other medicinal plants, including Viscum capense (Willem Steenkamp, pers. comm.). Most of the Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia specimens found in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden are a host plant to the hemiparasitic shrub, Viscum capense which grows on them. Seeds of the parasite are deposited on the branches of the host as a result of birds feeding on the fruits of the parasite and cleaning their beaks on the branches of the host.

In arid areas it is also a valuable source of firewood.

Cultivation:
This is a fast growing plant that prefers a sandy substrate. Give it plenty of water and good humus-rich soil when young. Once it is established it is fairly waterwise and drought tolerant.

Seed can be harvested in autumn and sown in spring into plastic seed trays. A sandy soil mix is used mixed with 10% compost. Dodonaea germinates quite easily, so no special treatment of the seed is needed, and it does well in cultivation. The plastic seed trays are then kept moist and the seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks. When the seedlings are about 10 to 15 cm tall they can be moved to a netted hardening area that gets 30% shade during the day, making them used to more sun.

Similar species:
Dodonaea viscosa var. viscosa

References:
South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

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