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Coleonema

by VERA UNGER and BERNARD COETZEE

Breath of Heaven is the name American nurseries give to our Coleonema or Cape May or klip buchu, because of their fragrance when the leaves are crushed.

As far as can be ascertained there are three species in the genus which abound in the Cape Peninsula coastal areas. These are Coleonema album (white flowers) C Pulcrum (pink flowers) and C iricoides. They have the amazing ability of bursting into bloom at almost any time of the year, covering the entire plant with dainty little flowers. The flowers last for a long time and appear mainly in winter and spring.

This evergreen shrub caused quite a stir when Peter Hattingh first put them into bonsai pots, having realized their potential as good subjects. Many of us probably remember Peter's three and Vera Unger's magnificent semi-cascade mame.

Shaping of Coleonema is not difficult if one bears in mind that it should be grown as a bushy tree and that the branches are very brittle and therefore not too partial to wiring. Most Coleonema are 'hedge clipped' into their shapes and if cut back quite hard send out new growth on old wood. They are well suited to mame because of their neat fine leaves and delicately thin branches.

The best time for collecting is after the first winter rains. Do not repot for at least five years or more and then only if you must do so. They grow better and daintier if left untouched. When potting - which should be done either well before flowering in late autumn or after flowering in late spring or early summer - one often discovers interesting surface roots for above soil exposure. Potting soil should be on the sandy side to allow fast drainage. A mixture of decomposed granite and peat or compost is recommended. (Decomposed granite can be found on the slopes of the Atlantic Coast between Bakoven and Hout Bay, especially under the large round granite rocks. If collected after mountain fires you will have the added advantage of potash from the wood ash.) If granite is not available then river sand is the next best thing, but several minerals contained in granite have all been washed out of the river sand.

After flowering new growing points must be continually pinched out for if this is not done you tend to lose the original shape and probably will have to do some drastic pruning in early autumn.

Coleonemas grow on high windswept places and will go through a dry summer with little or no rain. This lack of moisture is compensated by mountain mists. Each time a cloud comes down and covers the mountainside, our Coleonemas (and Cliffortias and all the other vegetation) is left sparkling with dew. A hand spray does the next best thing and every bonsaier should invest in a small 'fine mist' hand spray. In fact, trees that have just been repotted should be sprayed several times a day for at least 10 - 14 days.

Coleonemas should be lightly fertilized at intervals throughout the year (Seagro will maintain them very well) and they seem to be very resistant to pests and disease.

Species Gallery

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Haiku

On the weathered shelf

A self-cleaned cat in autumn

Curls around itself.

Random Bonsai Tip

Using deadwood can improve and enhance a number of problematic aspects in the design of a tree. If the tree doesn't have a satisfactory apex, create one with a jin. A shari can be used as a focal point or it can give movement to an uninteresting trunkline.