Lavender Tree

Lavender Tree: Basic Facts

Native to central and southern Africa, the lavender tree (heteropyxis natalensis) is best known for its sweetly scented flowers and leaves.  However, the lavender tree has many more uses than just as a decorative tree.  It has been used medicinally for many years in Africa and is growing in popularity in the southern United States.

Appearance:  This is a medium to large deciduous tree that grows to a height of approximately 30 to 40 feet.  It exhibits narrow, long, dark green, shiny leaves that droop toward the ground.  The leaves are slightly lighter green in color and not as shiny underneath.  They may be slightly hairy or hairless.  The leaves turn a brilliant shade of red during the autumn months before they fall from the tree.  The bark is gray in color and appears to peel away from the trunk, exposing the pale pink to white wood underneath the layer of bark and adding visual appeal to the tree even when it is dormant during the winter months.  Small flowers appear during the early spring.  These are yellowish-green in color, small, and are sweetly scented.  Seeds then grow where the flowers had been, emerging from oval-shaped pods during the early summer months.  Bees, butterflies, and wasps are attracted to this tree.

Location: The lavender tree is a tropical tree that is cold hardy to 20°F and is rated to be hardy in USDA zones 9a-11, which would cover only the southern part of the United States.  As stated above, it is native to central and southern Africa where it normally grows on the edge of forests, on rocky hillsides, and in wooded grasslands.

Light:  The lavender tree requires full sun.  It does not tolerate shade well.

Pruning:  This tree grows approximately 3 feet per year, so frequent pruning is required if you plan to keep the tree reasonably small.  As noted above, it will grow to a height of 30 to 40 feet without pruning.

Propagation:  This tree is easily propagated by planting seeds from the tree.  They germinate well and grow quickly.  Cuttings may also be used, but planting the seeds of the tree is a far more successful way to propagate the plant.

Health: Eucalyptus rust (also known as guava rust and ohia rust) has been found to be especially harmful to lavender trees.  This rust has been found in areas of central and South America, the Caribbean, and now Florida and Hawaii.  It is a fungal infection that can quickly spread from one plant to another and poses a significant threat to this tree.

Uses:    The lavender tree has a wide variety of uses and has been used for many years in Africa.  The leaves of the lavender tree may be dried and crushed.  When dried and crushed, the leaves emit a strong pleasant smell that is often used in potpourri.  These dried and crushed leaves may also be used to make herbal tea.  In Africa, the native black rhino uses the lavender tree as a food source as well, eating both the leaves and the bark from the tree.  The wood from the lavender tree can be used to make fence posts and is ideal for making charcoal.  Many in Africa also feed the leaves and roots of the tree to their livestock to treat worms.  Bloody noses are treated by inhaling the steam from boiling the root of the tree.  Finally, the leaves are often used to scent smoking tobacco.  Keep in mind that you should consult your physician before taking any herbal or homeopathic remedies.

With its wide variety of uses and pleasant aroma, this stately ornamental would be a welcome addition to a southern landscape.  Be aware, though, of the looming threat of the eucalyptus rust and take preventative measures such as the application of fungicide to ward off this disease.