Seed Balls

Our biochar seedballs are designed to help supplement the seed stock that survived in the soil after the Knysna fires of 2017, and to help stabilise the sandy soil on the steep slopes of the reserve.

On this page we:

  • Explain what our seedballs are made of; and
  • Provide a list and descriptions of the indigenous seeds embedded in the seed balls we’re distributing at Featherbed Nature Reserve.


What seedballs are made of

Our seedballs are made up of seeds embedded in a mix of biochar, compost, clay, and effective micro-organisms (EMs).

Our seedballs are designed for spreading on the fynbos (heathland) and forest areas of the reserve - either by hand, or by catapult (more commonly called a catty in South Africa, or, in Afrikaans, kettie. Shooting kettie was one of our favourite games when we were kids. It still is.)

  • Indigenous seeds: 20% of the seed balls in each pack contain seeds of species that grow naturally at Featherbed - either in the critically endangered Knysna Sands Fynbos, or in the coastal scrub forest (technically, ‘Albany thicket’);
  • Teff grass seeds: 80% of the seed balls in each pack contain hybridised teff seeds. Teff is an annual grass that’ll help stabilise the sandy slopes of the Reserve, but that won’t reproduce - so it can’t become invasive.
  • Biochar: About half of the weight of each seed ball is made of biochar, or carbonised biomass (literally, cooked charcoal. More information below). The biochar will protect the seeds from being eaten by predators like birds or small mammals, and will help to improve conditions in the soil when the seedballs begin to dissolve after they’re drenched by the rain.
  • Compost: organic, locally-sourced compost makes up around a quarter of the weight of each seed ball. Its job is to enhance the soil around the germinating seedling, and, like the clay, to help the soil maintain moisture in a form that’ll be available to the plants.
  • Clay: also locally-sourced. Besides helping maintain soil moisture, the clay helps bind the dryish, dough-like mixture from which the seed balls are formed.
  • Effective Microorganisms: Also locally sourced, “Effective Microorganisms (EM) are mixed cultures of beneficial, naturally-occurring organisms that can be applied as inoculants to increase the microbial diversity of soil ecosystems.” (Permaculture Research Institute)

Our seedballs are formed by tumbling this mixture of biochar, compost, clay, and EMs in rotating drums.



Biochar is a fine-grained, very porous char product made by ‘cooking’ agricultural waste - or, in the jargon, by “the carbonisation of biomass” (NewCarbon)

This 2,000 year-old process produces a highly effective, fertiliser-free product that:

  • Holds carbon permanently in the soil;
  • Increases the biodiversity of life and nutrients in the soil (especially when used in conjunction with effective microorganisms);
  • Increases the productivity of agricultural and horticultural land - which boosts food security;
  • Improves the quality and quantity of moisture and nutrients in the soil by increasing its ability to retain these elements. This retention also has the knock-on effects of improving groundwater and also preventing pollution of the groundwater, as well as lakes and streams, by preventing nutrients from leaching out of the soil.

Biochar is an important tool for combating carbon emissions.

  • The process of manufacturing biochar captures carbon from biomass (plant material), which would otherwise release it into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases during the composting process;
  • Biochar degrades in the soil only extremely slowly - over hundreds or even thousands of years - so it has significant value in carbon sequestration.
  • Sustainable biochar manufacture can produce clean, renewable energy products (fuel and oil).

The biochar we use at Featherbed is manufactured in Knysna by NewCarbon


Seedballs: our indigenous seed selection

The plants listed below have all been mixed into our biochar seedballs. Individual seedballs may contain more than one seed, but never more than one species.
Common names are given in English and, where available, in Afrikaans and Xhosa, too.

Scroll down for details of the species in our



01 Arctotheca calendula IMG 4485

Arctotheca calendula

Common names: Cape marigold; Gousblom; isiqwashumbe

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflowers

A colourful, fast-growing, daisy-like annual that forms a fine ground-cover. In the past, the furry, lint-like growth on the undersides of the leaves was scraped off, dried, and used as tinder.

02 Abutilon sonneratianum IMG 4296

Abutilon sonneratianum

Common names: Wild hibiscus; Wildemalva; iBhosisi yendlebe

FAMILY: MALVACEAE - the mallows

A perennial, occasionally deciduous shrub whose bright yellow flowers open in the late afternoon. It’s used in traditional medicine to strengthen the virility of bulls in the cattle herds in the springtime.

03 Aloe arborescens IMG 7789 2

Aloe arborescens

Common names: Krantz aloe; Kransaalwyn; iKalene


The fleshy leaves of this multi-headed, shrub-forming aloe are used in traditional medicine to treat various skin ailments. The plant is often cultivated as a hedge around cattle kraals (pens or corrals) in rural areas of Southern Africa. Since it is easily propagated from cuttings, we used it extensively in the rehabilitation of the vegetation at Featherbed Nature Reserve after the Knysna Fires of 2017.

04 Asparagus asparagoides IMG 0707

Asparagus asparagoides

Common names: Cape smilax or bridal veil creeper; Narbass; isiCakathi

FAMILY: ASPARAGACEAE - the asparaguses

Cape smilax seedlings were amongst the first to germinate at Featherbed after the Knysna Fires of June, 2017. These plants have very deep roots which bear bulbous storage organs, which makes them valuable in stabilising the soil on the steep slopes of the Reserve. The plant is farmed in parts of South Africa for use in floristry. In African folk medicine it’s used as a purgative, as a balm for sore eyes, and as a fertility charm for cattle.

05 Carpobrotus edulis IMG 1896

Carpobrotus edulis

Common names: Sour fig; Suurvy; iKhambi-lamabulawo, umgongozi (Zulu)

FAMILY: AIZOACEAE - the ice plants

The nodes of this robust, fast-growing, succulent groundcover send out roots whenever they settle on the soil. This causes these plants to form thick mats that help bind and stabilise the areas in which they grow. During the fist phase of our rehabilitation project at Featherbed, we made cuttings from sour figs that had germinated in the fynbos (heathland) on the reserve, and planted them by the thousand wherever we needed to quickly cover vulnerable slopes.

So forgiving is the sour fig that we were able to plant these cuttings in areas where irrigation was impossible - and we suffered only minimal losses.

The juice from the leaves is astringent and antiseptic, and has many uses in traditional medicine: for treating sore throat, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, as a salve for insect bites and blue-bottle stings, to ease cuts and grazes, etc. The fruit is edible (hence the common name), and archaeologists have found evidence of its use in ancient Khoi middens all along the Cape coast.

06 Eriocephalus africanus IMG 4221

Eriocephalus africanus

Common names: Wild rosemary; Wilderoosmaryn, kapokbos

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflowers

Very common in the fynbos (heathlands), wild rosemary has thin, grey leaves that have evolved to conserve moisture. It bears large numbers of tiny white flowers followed by even smaller seed-heads, which are surrounded by wooly, white hairs, and which cause the plants to look as though they’re covered in snow (snow = ‘kapok’ in Afrikaans).

Often drunk as a tea, the leaves of the wild rosemary were used in traditional medicine to treat everything from coughs and colds to flatulence and colic. They are still used in cooking and potpourri.

07 Euryops virgineus

Euryops virgineus

Common names: River resin bush, honey euryops; Heuningmagriet

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflower

This much-branched shrub flowers profusely in winter. Its bright yellow blooms smell strongly of honey (Afrikaans, heuning) and are therefore highly attractive to bees and other pollinating insects.

08 Geranium incanum IMG 8456

Geranium incanum

Common names: Carpet geranium; Bergtee,

FAMILY: GERANIACEAE - the geraniums

African people and early settlers in South Africa used the leaves of this pretty little groundcover in teas to relieve bladder infections, menstrual problems, and venereal diseases. (Afrikaans bergtee = mountain tea)

09 Gymnosporia buxifolia IMG 5913

Gymnosporia buxifolia

Common names: Common spikethorn, stinking spike-thorn; Pendoring, lemoendoring; umNqaqoba, umhlongwe

FAMILY: CELASTRACEAE - the staff-vines and bittersweets

The sap of this showy, drought-hard shrub or small tree is poisonous, but parts of the plant were nevertheless used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea and snake bite. The heavy, hard, fine-grained wood takes an excellent finish, and was at one time used for turning and in furniture manufacture.

10 Helichrysum dasyanthum by Nicola van Berkel

Helichrysum dasyanthum

Common names: Dune helichrysum

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflowers

This shortish, silver-grey shrub bears striking, bright yellow flower-heads in summer - which make it very attractive to insects like bees and sunflowers. It has no known uses in traditional medicine.

Image: Nicola van Berkel via iNaturalist

11 Helichrysum petiolare IMG 0733

Helichrysum petiolare

Common names: Silver bush everlasting; Kooigoed; iMphepho

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflowers

This spreading shrub bears soft, velvety leaves that were used as bedding by the ancient Khoi people (kooigoed = bedding material). The plant was used in traditional medicine to treat chest problems and high blood pressure, and to prevent infections. The leaves are burned to repel flies and mosquitos.

12 Jamesbrittenia tenuifolia IMG 4093

Jamesbrittenia microphylla

Common name: Purple phlox


This low-growing shrub with its arrestingly bright purple flowers and tiny, leathery leaves is perfectly adapted to surviving the harsh dry conditions at the coast. The roots and the leaves were used in traditional medicine to ease various disorders of the skin.

13 Leonotis leonurus IMG 5688 2

Leonotis leonurus

Common names: Wild dagga, lion's ear; Wildedagga; iMvovo

FAMILY: LAMIACEAE - the mints, deadnettles, and sages

This fast-growing shrub bears its flowers throughout the year, attracting birds as pollinators. Its Greek botanical name refers to the shape of the upper lip of each flower, which is said to resemble a lion’s (leon) ear (otis). The dried leaves were used in traditional medicine as a mild intoxicant (dagga = marijuana), and also for treating everything from tapeworm to itchy skin. The leaves were thought to repel snakes.

14 Lessertia frutescens IMG 0936

Lessertia frutescens

Common names: Sutherlandia, cancer bush; Kankerbos, blaas-ertjie; umNwele

FAMILY: FABACEAE - the legumes (peas, beans, etc.)

This attractive, scrabbling shrub carries its bright red flowers and puffy, balloon-like seed pods at the same time. It is well known in traditional medicine, where it’s been used to treat everything from stomach ailments to chicken pox. More recent studies have investigated its use in the treatment of cancer, and as an immune-booster and appetite stimulant in the treatment of HIV-AIDS. SANBI (The South African National Biodiversity Institute) warns, however, that the plant “should not be regarded as a miracle cure for cancer - its real benefits are as a tonic that will assist the body to mobilize its own resources to cope with the illness. It is known to decrease anxiety and irritability and to elevate the mood.”

15 Metalasia muricata IMG 8470

Metalasia muricata

Common names: White bristle bush; Blombos.

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflower

A scrambling, heath-like shrub that bears masses of honey-scented flowers in autumn. Bees love it! The white bristle bush is used as a tea in Lesotho, and it’s often planted at the coast to stabilise sand dunes.

16 Olea exasperata

Olea exasperata

Common names: Dune olive; Slanghout

FAMILY: OLEACEAE - the olives

This short, thin-stemmed shrub was one of the first woody plants to emerge at Featherbed after the Knysna Fires of 2017 - and it was a welcome sight indeed because it sends out suckers, and it therefore quickly stabilised the slopes in the areas it colonised. The Afrikaans, ‘slanghout’ (snake wood), refers to its supposed abilities to repel snakes.

17 Papaver aculeatum IMG 5175

Papaver aculeatum

Common names: Bristle poppy; Doringpapawer


This stunningly beautiful, short-lived, winter-flowering annual is the only poppy endemic to the Southern Hemisphere. After pollination, the bright orange (or rarely red) petals fall quickly away, leaving behind erect capsules whose upper parts are lined with a series of arch-like openings. The dried seeds are dispersed through these openings when the wind shakes the plants. The bristle poppy has no recorded medicinal uses.

18 Pelargonium capitatum IMG

Pelargonium capitatum

Common names: Rose-scented pelargonium, coast pelargonium; Kusmalva

FAMILY: GERANIACEAE - the geraniums

The sweet-smelling coast pelargonium is cultivated commercially for its oil of geranium. The leaves can be rubbed onto corns, calluses, and scratches to soften the skin, and a tea made from the plant was used in traditional medicine to cure stomach ailments and kidney and bladder problems.

19 Senecio elegans IMG 5298

Senecio elegans

Common names: Wild cineraria; Strandblommetjie

FAMILY: ASTERACEAE - the daisies and sunflower

This beautiful perennial appears in huge drifts across the fynbos during the spring. It is a pioneer species, and appeared in massive quantities at Featherbed after the Knysna Fires of 2017. The flowers vary in colour from light pink to light mauve. We have no records of its use in traditional medicine.


20 Acokanthera oppositifolia IMG 7613

Acocanthera oppositifolia
Common names: Bushman's poison; Boesmansgif; iNtlungunyembe
FAMILY: APOCYNACEAE - the dogbanes
The sweet scent of the pinkish-white flowers of the bushman’s poison is deceptive, since all parts of this pretty little tree are considered poisonous - although birds love the red, berry-like fruit.
The milky sap of the plant was an important ingredient in the make-up of the poison that the San (bushman) people used on the tips of their hunting arrows. In traditional medicine, parts of the tree are used to treat snake bites and spider bites, and also as an emetic to expel intestinal worms.

21 Canthium inerme IMG 5952

Canthium inerme
Common names: Turkey-berry or criss-cross turkey-berry; Gewone bokdrol of doringels; umVuthwamini
FAMILY: RUBIACEAE - the coffee family
This much-branched and spiny tree can reach a height of 14 metres when growing in the deep forests, but since it thrives in many different environments, it can also develop as a lower, more spreading, multi-stemmed shrub, especially on exposed slopes at the coast.
Parts of the turkey-berry are used in traditional medicine to treat stomach problems; the fruit is edible for humans; the thorny branches make excellent material for kraals (livestock pens); and the wood was used in earlier times for furniture and in wagon-making.

22 Crotalaria capensis by Di Turner

Crotalaria capensis
Common names: Cape rattle-pod; Kaapse klapperpeul
FAMILY: FABACEAE - the legumes (peas, beans, etc.)
This evergreen, quick-growing shrub or small tree flowers throughout the year, producing particularly showy, pendulous sprays of bright yellow petals in summer (October - April). The fruiting bodies (borne January to June) dry out to form hollow pods that rattle in the wind. The species name, ‘Crotalaria’ this comes from the Greek, ‘krotalon’ = castanet.
Members of the Fabaceae family “have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live in their roots: these nitrifying bacteria are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to the plant that is hosting them.” (SANBI) After the death of the (often short-lived) legumes, their nitrogen is released into the soil in a form that’s available to other plants. This was significant for the environment at Featherbed after the fires of 2017, because members of the legume family make “good pioneers-the first plants to inhabit a damaged or disturbed area, making it more habitable for other plants to also settle themselves.” (SANBI)

Image Di Turner via iNaturalist

23 Diospyros dichrophylla IMG 8881

Diospyros dichrophylla
Common names: Poison star-apple; Gifsterappel
FAMILY: EBENACEAE - the ebony and persimmon family
Varied in its habit, the poison star-apple can grow as a shrub of between two to three metres, or as a densely canopied tree as tall as 13 metres. The fruit is considered poisonous, and this species does therefore not feature in traditional medicine.

24 Euclea racemosa IMG 5798

Euclea racemosa
Common names: Sea guarrie or dune guarrie
FAMILY: EBENACEAE - the ebony and persimmon family
The red, purple, or black fruits of this small- to medium-sized tree are fermented to make guarrie vinegar for household use. The beautifully hued, red- to purple wood is fine-grained and heavy.
The name guarrie (or gwarri) may be derived from the language of the local Khoe people.

25 Grewia occidentalis IMG 3874

Grewia occidentalis
Common names: Cross-berry; Kruisbessie; umNqabaza
FAMILY: MALVACEAE - the mallows
Seedlings of this scrambling shrub were amongst the first to germinate at Featherbed in the wake of the Knysna Fires of June, 2017.
The plant’s common name is derived from the shape of its distinctive, four-lobed fruit, which are high in sugar. In traditional practice, these fruits were collected and dried for later use. They could then either be boiled in milk for a delicious, refreshing drink, or used in the brewing of beer. Parts of the plant were used in traditional medicine for treating wounds, impotence, and sterility, and as a shampoo to prevent the hair from turning grey. Root extracts were used as an aid in childbirth.

26 Leucadendron salignum IMG 1297

Leucodendron salignum
Common names: Common sunshine conebush; Geelbos
FAMILY: PROTEACEAE - the proteas
The common sunshine conebush is found all along the coast from Vanrhynsdorp in the west to Port Elizabeth in the east, giving it the widest distribution of all members of the protea family. The species is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants), which is unusual among the proteas.
Persistent rootstock enables this species to resprout after fire, and the conebushes at Featherbed began  emerging very soon after the Knysna Fires of 2017.
While it has no recorded uses in traditional medicine, its long flowering period, its ability to resprout, and its tolerance for hard pruning make it suitable for cut-flower production.

27 Maytenus procumbens IMG 0304

Maytenus procumbens
Common names: Dune koko tree; Duinekokoboom; umPhono-phono
FAMILY: CELASTRACEAE - the staff-vines and bittersweets
This tidy-looking shrub or small tree with its leathery, spiny leaves produces a lovely show of greenish-white flowers in June and July (winter), followed by bright orange or yellow orange fruiting bodies that split along three sides to reveal up to six orange coloured seeds from August to January (late winter to midsummer).
Its procumbent (spreading) habit make it a good choice for rehabilitation of sandy soils and steep slopes such as those at Featherbed Nature Reserve.

28 Ossyris compressa syn Colpoon compressum IMG 9955

Colpoon compressum (synonymn: Osyris compressa)
Common names: Cape sumach, coast tannin bush; Wildepruim; Mtekaaza, umBalanythi
FAMILY: SANTALACEAE - the sandalwoods
The Cape sumach is hemi-parasitic: it can produce its own nutrition by photosynthesis, but it can also parasitise suitable host plants, and attain its nourishment from them. This - and its other adaptations (leathery leaves, tolerance of drought) make it perfectly adapted for survival in often harsh coastal conditions.
Fresh leaves were used in earlier times in the leather tanning process, and a decoction of the leaves was used to render cotton, nets, and fishing lines more durable in the days before nylon was invented. (In a decoction, the biomass is mashed and then boiled and reduced in order to extract the required chemicals.)
Early inhabitants of the Cape removed the stones from the fruit, and compressed and stored the fleshy parts for later consumption.

29 Polygala fruticosa IMG 1195

Polygala fruticosa
Common names: 'Southern Shores' butterfly bush; 'Southern Shores' ertjieblom; umAbalabala
FAMILY: POLYGALACEAE - the milkworts
“The name Polygala is derived from classical Greek polys meaning much and gala meaning milk, so named because the plants were believed to enhance milk production in livestock. The specific name fruticosa means shrubby or bushy in Latin.” (SANBI)
This hardy little shrub is tolerant of salt-laden sea air, which makes it attractive to gardeners.

30 Polygala myrtillifolia IMG 4635

Polygala myrtifolia
Common names: September bush; Blouertjie; umAbalabala
FAMILY: POLYGALACEAE - the milkworts
The pretty September bush has been used in traditional and (more recently) allopathic medicine to treat bacterial, fungal, and microbial infections. In the early days of the Cape Colony, the Cape Malay people made a frothy mix of the bark and fresh water as a balm for washing the dead before burial.

31 Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus

Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus
Common names: Candlewood or cherrywood; Kersiehout; iBholo,
FAMILY: CELASTRACEAE - the staff-vines and bittersweets
This tree - which grows as a dense shrub on exposed slopes, or as a tall (to 20 metres) tree in forest environments - was one of the first species to coppice (re-sprout from the base) at Featherbed after the Knysna Fires of 2017.
The name candlewood is possibly a mistranslation of the Afrikaans, kersiehout (kersie = cherry, hout = wood), since its timber resembles that of the European cherry wood. South Africa’s cherry wood has a beautiful, ribbon-like grain in hues of pink, dark red, or mahogany brown. It takes an excellent finish, and was used in earlier times in veneers, paneling, and flooring, and for tool handles.
In traditional practice, the Xhosa used a resin extracted from the roots as a glue to fix the blades of their assegais to their handles, while the San extracted a wax from the tree, and used it to glue glass flakes to their arrowheads. Early settlers in the Cape Colony burned branches as torches, and used the bark and leaves in their leather tanning.
The bright orange fruits (which themselves resemble decorative little candles) attract many species of birds.

32 Salvia africana lutea IMG 2105

Salvia aurea (= Salvia africana-lutea)
Common names: Golden sage or dune sage; Bruinsalie
FAMILY: LAMIACEAE - the mints, deadnettles, and sages
Seedlings of this aromatic shrub established themselves quickly at Featherbed after the Knysna Fires of 2017, which came as a welcome surprise since the whole plant attractive to various species of wildlife.
The botanical name is appropriate: ‘Salvia’ comes from the Latin, salvere (to save or heal), while ‘aurea’ means golden, which refers to the yellow and later burnished brown colour of the flowers. As a healing plant, the golden sage has been used in traditional medicine as a tea to treat choughs, colds and bronchitis, and also for treating problems associated with menstruation. The leaves are commonly used in potpourri.

33 Searsia crenata

Searsia crenata
Common names: dune crow-berry; Duinekraaibessie
FAMILY: ANACARDIACEAE - the cashews and sumacs
This tough, wind-tolerant, drought-tolerant shrub is also an effective soil-binding plant, which makes it a welcome addition on the steep slopes of Featherbed Nature Reserve, where the soil is loose and sandy. Its seedlings began emerging shortly after the Knysna Fires of 2017, and it began producing heavy crops of fruit within a year of the fires. Welcome food for the birds!

34 Sideroxylon inerme IMG 1599

Sideroxylon inerme
Common names: White milkwood; Witmelkhout; aMasethole, umQwashu
FAMILY: SAPOTACEAE - the milkwoods
The hardy, slow-growing milkwood tree is perfectly adapted to the coastal environment. Its dense, rounded crown, gnarled and twisted trunks and branches, and hard, leathery leaves are highly resistant to wind and salt breezes - which make this species the perfect umbrella for the forest eco-system here at Featherbed.
The tree has a milky sap which makes it fire-resistant, too, and our milkwood forest suffered the least damage of all the biomes on the reserve during the Knysna Fires of 2017.
USES: The milkwood produces a hard, fine-grained, durable, rot-resistant timber that was once highly prized for shipbuilding, bridges, mills, and ploughs - the name Sideroxylon comes from the Greek sideros (meaning iron) and xulon (wood). It was overexploited, though, and the species is now protected in South Africa.
The bark and roots are used in traditional medicine to cure broken bones, treat fevers, and dispel nightmares, and to treat gall sickness in stock.
CULTURE & HISTORY: If you scratch the milkwood's bark, you'll reveal a bright red layer of cambium - the colour of fresh blood. In the old days, trees that 'bled' where considered particularly sacred.
Four individual milkwoods have been declared National Monuments in South Africa:

  • THE POST OFFICE TREE IN MOSSEL BAY: Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral and his fleet of 13 ships sailed for India in 1500 in an attempt to break into the spice trade, but met a hostile reception at Calicut (now Kozhikode). The fleet became separated on the return journey, and Captain Pêro de Ataide landed at Mossel Bay in 1501. He left a note under this tree for the commander of the 3rd Portuguese Armada, João da Nova (he knew that de Atiede would be sailing a year or so after his own expedition), warning him of the hostilities. Amazingly, da Nova found the letter - and thus began a tradition of posting notes, letters and cards under Mossel Bay’s Post Office Tree: a tradition that continues to this day.
  • THE TREATY TREE IN WOODSTOCK, CAPE TOWN: This tree is all that's left of the small homestead in which the commander of the local defences formally handed over the property of the Batavian Government at the Cape to Britain’s Maj-Genl. Sir David Baird and Commodore Sir Home Popham on 10 January, 1806, following the Battle of Blaauwberg.
  • THE FINGO MILKWOOD TREE, NEAR PEDDIE: The Mfengu or Fingo is a generic name for several clans that fled Zululand during the time of King Shaka in the 1820s. They settled in the Eastern Cape, where they worked for the Xhosa chief, Hintsa. Finding themselves oppressed here, too, they fled to Butterworth, joining the British army when it crossed the Kei River in 1835. Later that year, the Mfengu gathered under this milkwood tree to swear an oath to the British Queen, and to accept Christianity. This oath had momentous consequences: as a result of it, the Mfengu fought alongside the Colonial forces in all subsequent Frontier Wars, acting as allies in the cause of Christian civilisation. They received in return large tracts of land that had previously belonged to the Rharhabe and other Xhosa clans.
  • THE RHENOSTERFONTEIN FARM MILKWOOD TREE, NEAR BREDASDORP: This milkwood has been recognised as a National Monument because it's the largest and oldest of its kind: the trunk is more than 3 metres around, and the crown is more than 20 metres wide.

ABOUT THE SMELL! Milkwoods bear clusters of delicate, pale-golden flowers during summer and autumn - which give off an unfortunate, sour smell. And while this isn't very attractive to us, it is to the speckled mouse birds, which love to eat them.
The fruits are dark purple in colour, and are eaten by birds, bats, monkeys, and bush pigs. Probably because of the unpleasant taste of the milky latex in the leaves, the grazing animals avoid eating the milkwood.

35 Virgilia divaricata IMG 1428

Virgilia divaricata
Common names: Blossom tree; Keurboom
FAMILY: FABACEAE - the legumes (peas, beans, etc.)
The keurboom is one of the best-known of the pioneer plants in the Knysna forest, since it’s usually the first tree to establish itself after major fires in the Garden Route - and indeed, at Featherbed two colonies of keurbooms came up after the Knysna Fires of 2017. We were a little surprised at this (although we probably shouldn’t have been) - because none of the people who’ve worked here since the inception of the Reserve in the early ‘80s recall ever seeing keurbooms on the property before the fires.
The wood was at one time used for furniture, and also for yokes, spars, wagon beds, and wagon rafters. A clear gum extracted from the bark was once used as a laundry starch.

36 Zanthoxylum capense IMG 4172

Zanthoxylum capense
Common names: Small knobwood; Kleinperdepram; umLungumabele
FAMILY: RUTACEAE - the rues and citruses
This small, multi-branched, tree, which develops scattered, cone-shaped knobs on its stems and branches as it ages, has always been widely used in traditional medicine - to treat flatulence and stomach ache, fever and snake bites, and as a cure for epilepsy. It was also traditionally used for toothache (decoctions of the root and bark were used as mouthwashes), and modern research has shown that members of the species “contain biologically active benzophenanthridine alkaloids. Of particular significance is sanguinarine and related alkaloids. Sanguinarine has anti-plaque and anti-inflammatory activity and is commercially used in toothpastes and oral rinses. It binds selectively to the dental plaque and almost completely inhibits bacterial growth, even at low concentrations.” (SANBI)


Our catalogue of life on the reserve

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Featherbed Co.

Remembrance Drive
off Waterfront Drive

Postal Address:
PO Box 753

Tel: +27 (0)44 382-1693
Fax: +27 (0)44 382-2373