Searsia crenata

Family: Anacardiaceae
Common names: Dune crow-berry; duinekraaibessie (Afr.)
SA Tree No: 380.1

Searsia crenata is a member of the Anacardiaceae, the mango family.  This small tree or shrub is low branching, multi-stemmed and clump forming with a rounded canopy that hugs the ground.   It is easy to spot while  walking along the paved paths in Steenbok Nature Reserve.

The very small flowers grow in small clusters at the ends of branches and the small, fleshy, hairless-berries (females only) mature in mid-winter from green to red and then to dark blue.  The leaves are alternately arranged and are trifoliolate (each leaf has three leaflets).  The petiole (leafstalk) is very short and the leaflets are sessile (attached to stalk).  Leaflets are 10-20mm long, leathery, narrowly obovate to rounded and bluntly pointed at the apex.  Leaflets are dark green above and lighter in colour below; they appear to be hairless.  The species name, crenata refers to the leaves that are toothed with crenatures or scallops.  The fruit attracts many birds which ensures successful germination and subsequently species survival.

Bees and butterflies enjoy the pollen produced by the bright yellow flowers.

Look out during June and July when a large numbers of hungry and gregarious caterpillars hatch on this shrub. Groups of the caterpillars mass together as they eat every leaf on the shrubs, soon completely denuding them so that from a distance they look dead. However, after a few weeks the first signs of new green leaves appear and eventually the shrubs recover completely.   The caterpillars are the larvae of the Barred Eggarlet Moth (Bombycomorpha bifascia) – a light-coloured moth with brown markings on its wings, which lays its eggs on the host plant in April or May. When they are fully grown, the caterpillars move to places where they can create tough cocoons in which to pupate, from which the moth eventually emerges – so beginning the cycle once more.