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10 Best indigenous trees you should grow in place of exotic trees

Updated: Apr 17

Gardeners want an attractive garden with flowering trees and shrubs. Farmers want windbreaks, shade, or a nitrogen-fixing species. City planners want good street trees that do not destroy roads, give appropriate shade and are easy to maintain.

Most people are more familiar with the common exotic tree species which have been introduced from tropical and temperate areas because they have attractive flowers, such as Jacaranda [tropical south America], Flamboyant [Madagascar], Spathodia/Tulip Tree [equatorial Africa]), or they have interesting leaves, [Japanese Maple], or they grow fast and give shade, Gmelina [Asia] or provide poles, Eucalytus, [Australia].

While the benefits of exotic trees cannot be denied, there are four main reasons why we should think twice before we plant them:

  1. It can be difficult to grow anything under exotic trees, because they often do not enjoy that well-established ecological relationship with their environment described above. Some exotic trees actively exclude other plants (Flamboyant).

  2. Invasive species – some have few natural controls and will spread rapidly and become pests (such as Lantana,Guava and Jacaranda).

  3. They can be thirsty (such as Eucalyptus) and greedy of nutrients.

  4. They grow fast and sometimes huge, but frequently don’t live long.

Jacaranda trees lining a roadside
Jacaranda trees

Indigenous Alternatives

Returning to the discussion of indigenous trees, there are many hundreds of tree species to choose from, flowering at different times of the year, with distinct shapes and forms, attracting numerous and diverse insects and birds. Indigenous trees provide beauty and colour in the garden; shade to the market place, street, or car park; screen factories and warehouses; supply animal fodder on the farm; offer fruit and vitamins, as well as ingredients for medicinal purposes; supply building materials and fire wood; and can stabilise and give nutrition to soil.

Indigenous trees and shrubs come in a wide variety of habitat groupings, shapes, degrees of evergreen-ness, textures, forms, flower colours, seed shapes and insect, large and small animal and bird associations. Therefore, choosing what to plant depends largely on what you want from the tree and where the tree will be planted. Most indigenous trees suitable for gardens, streets and parks grow remarkably quickly with steady watering and a little tender loving care and they will last for generations.

We have selected a few trees as examples that would do well in the garden and in the city. But there are plenty more. Contact for more information.

Acacia xanthophloea

Common Name: Fever Tree

Tall, graceful and fast growing with smooth yellow-green trunk and branches. Flowers are sweetly scented fluffy yellow balls. Used as a specimen tree and in landscaping, planted in groups for effect. Used extensively on streets of Lusaka.

Bauhinia petersiana

Common Name: Coffee or Kalahari Bauhinia

An evergreen small tree that produces a stunning display of large showy white flowers that look like paper hankies. Needs to be kept pruned or becomes untidy. Planted on several streets in Lusaka and is good as a screen plant or in a shrubbery. Fast growing.

Bridelia micrantha

Common Name: Mitzeeri

Medium to large fast growing deciduous tree, perfect shade tree. Cream coloured to light yellow flowers. Great for butterflies. Provides a splash of colour in the autumn and again in spring with its yellow, orange and purple leaves. Good in avenues. Wood is termite resistant, durable and used for furniture. Do not plant too near buildings.

Cordia africana

Common Name: Large-leaved Cordia

A large tree, fast growing, seen in State House gardens. Showy, white, sweetly scented flowers, makes a great shade tree in a large garden, flowering after profusely within a few years.

Croton gratissimus

Common Name: Lavender Croton

An attractive, ornamental and versatile deciduous small tree but is capable of becoming a large tree. Fast growing. The leaves have a beautiful and striking silvery under-surface and constantly change colour. Good in small gardens.

Dombeya rotundifolia

Common Name: Wild Pear

A small deciduous tree that produces a stunning mass of white flowers in early spring. It makes an ideal avenue tree. It also makes a very attractive specimen tree. A great tree for bees and butterflies.

Erythrina abyssinica

Common Name: Red-hot Poker Coral Tree

A medium sized deciduous tree, rounded spreading crown that produces spectacular scarlet to brick-red flowers before the new leaves appear in July and August. Great tree for the garden, is also used on banks to prevent soil erosion. Seeds used to decorate trinkets.

Khaya anthotheca

Common Name: East African Mahogany, Red Mahogany

Grows fast, especially if watered. Spectacular shape and majestic size of up to 60m. Shade tree. Long straight trunk opening up to a wide crown. New leaves are bright red, shiny and smooth. Decorative fruit. Good in large garden. Useful for urban landscaping and often used as a street tree.

Trema orientalis

Common Name: Pigeonwood

Medium sized tree with an umbrella shaped canopy that provides light, dappled shade. Grows fast.

Trichilia emetica

Common Name: Natal Mahogany, Musukili

Handsome evergreen tree with a round spreading crown. Leaves dark and glossy, flowers creamy green and fragrant. Good specimen and shade tree, ideal street, avenue and in car parks. Seen all over Lusaka. Non aggressive root system.

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