Lavender Tree

The Many Uses of the Lavender Tree

Here in the West you might be excused if you believe that when someone mentions the Lavender Tree they actually mean a large Lavender bush. Lavender Trees are virtually unknown outside of their native Africa.  In fact, even in Africa, the two species of the Lavender Tree are really only known in the southern part of the Dark Continent.  But in the location where it is known, in South Africa and Zimbabwe for example, the locals have found a plethora of uses for the Lavender.

The Scent of Lavender without Lavender

If you are not from Zimbabwe or from the Zulu-Natal which the Lavender Tree knows as its birthplace, then you might picture a tree with light pastel purple leaves.  Or you might imagine a large bushy tree with drooping lavender stems, somewhat like a Weeping Willow perhaps.   But this is not at all the appearance of our more humble Lavender Trees.

The Lavender Tree is actually a fairly large tree.  It typically grows to about fifty feet in height.  In place of purplish foliage you find an ashen looking tree with a whitish gray look to it.  The heteropyxis natalensis, the scientific name of the Lavender Tree, is not even in the same scientific family as the lavender bush we are familiar with.  The name “natalensis” comes from its birth place, Zulu-Natal in the far south of Africa.

The reason the heteropyxis natalensis is known as the “Lavender Tree” is not because of its appearance but because of the scent the tree’s leaves emit when crushed.  If you are familiar with the scent of lavender—so popular in baby bedtime lotions—then you will immediately recognize the soothing flowery fragrance emitted by the leaves of this tree.

A Highly Useful Tree, From Its Roots to Its Leaves

The indigenous peoples of South Africa have found uses for every part of this little known tree.  Every part of the tree has at least one quality that makes it valuable. The people of Zimbabwe and the Zulu people have found medicinal, agricultural, veterinary and even industrial uses for this treasure of Africa.

Simple but Important Common Uses

One of the simplest but most import uses for the peoples of the far tip of Africa is the Lavender’s use for fencing.  The quickly growing tree is just the right width, height and strength in its youth to be easily cut into pairs of fencing posts to help section off fields and corral cattle.

The left over wood is also a great source for fuel when burn into charcoal.  The indigenous peoples use it to heat their homes and cook their meals.

Medicinal Uses

The Zulu claim a series of medicinal uses for the Lavender as well.  They believe that the roots and bark of the Lavender can heal bleeding nose.  By mixing them into a concoction and then inhaling the burnt fumes, the blood flow is slowed and sometimes altogether stopped or so the belief goes.

Scientists in South Africa have shown that the Lavender is high in anti-oxidants as well and believe that it may have yet undiscovered health uses.

The Zulu people crush the bark of the Lavender Tree into a fine paste and lap it right off their hands in the belief that it is a powerful aphrodisiac and that it wards off erectile dysfunction.  The rhinoceros certainly thinks so; he grazes the fallen bark of the Lavender and often tears it right from standing trees.


The seeds of lavender, whose scent give the tree its misleading name, find their place in many local perfumes.  Some South African companies have started to use it to add an attractive scent not only to perfumes but to other medicines and teas and even in cigarettes and other tobacco products. 

Veterinary Uses

The roots and leaves are also given to cattle in order to fight parasites like worms.

Aesthetic Uses

But finally, perhaps one of the most tempting uses for those with a taste for the exotic in their gardens is simply as a centerpiece.  The Lavender is just the right size and of interesting enough appearance where it can really catch the eye in a backyard or garden.  More and more gardens around the world are starting to feature this rare tree. 

If you are looking for unusual tree with a rich and interesting history as a centerpiece for your garden, you may have reached the end of your search.



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