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Combretum microphyllum Klotzsch 1861
pronounced: kom-BREE-tum mike-row-FILL-um
(Combretaceae – the false almond family)
synonym: Combretum paniculatum ssp. microphyllum (Klotzsch) Wickens 1971
pronounced: kom-BREE-tum pan-ick-you-LAH-tum subspecies mike-row-FILL-um
common names: Flame Creeper, Riverine Flame Creeper, Burning Bush
Combretum was the name the Romans gave to a kind of rush, not a member of this family; microphyllum is from the Greek μικρος (mikros), small, and φυλλον (phyllon), a leaf, possibly referring to the tiny leaves often borne in the inflorescence; paniculata is from the Latin panicula, a tuft or panicle.
This plant, and its close relative Combretum paniculatum, the Forest Flame Creeper, are natives of southern Africa, mainly found in the north-eastern parts of South Africa, and also in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania, in bushveld and woodlands, often along rivers, in hot, dry areas at low to medium altitudes.
The plant has been introduced into Australia, where it is found mainly down the east coast of Queensland, and it seems to have become naturalized in some areas. The plant photographed was found growing by the side of Harry’s Track leading to the houses on Nobby Head, Picnic Bay. The taxonomy of the two species seems to be a little confused, with some authorities considering them the same plant, and others, including Kew Gardens, considering them separate species.
When this plant is in flower, it is quite spectacular. It is a robust, deciduous climber, sometimes a scrambling shrub or a small tree. The persistent bases of the petioles modify into woody spines. There are masses of small flowers with bright red petals and long stamens, forming massed sprays at intervals along the branches. The flowering occurs for about 3 weeks in spring before the new leaves appear.
The leaves, opposite or 3-whorled, are ovate, oblong-elliptic to sub-circular, glossy dark green above, dull below, with distinctly yellowish venation, about 13 – 60 mm long by about 13 – 50 mm wide, the apex rounded with a small point. The petiole is up to about 3 cm in length. The fruits have 4 wings, that are green tinged with red or pink when young, and dry to a pale yellowish brown.
The plant is browsed by game and forms larval food for butterflies. In Africa the larvae of Coeliades forestan forestan (one of the Hesperiidæ) feed on it, but I have found no reports of the larvae of any Australian Lepidoptera being found on it.
The roots of the plant were used by the VhaVenda people of Africa to expel a retained placenta. Tribes further north are reported to use the ash from the burnt root mixed with other ingredients to treat mental disorders. In recent years the dried fruits have become popular for use in flower arrangements.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009, 2014
Page last updated 14th March 2017