Pasadena June Tree of the Month: The Calodendrum Capense “Cape Chestnut”

The tree is native to the Cape region of South Africa and is a member of the Rutaceae family
Story and Photos by EMINA DARAKJY
Published on Jun 19, 2022

Each month, Pasadena Beautiful Tree Program Chair Emina Darakjy presents a ‘tree of the month’ in order to educate Pasadenans about the trees around them. Many people drive by trees they admire, but have no idea what they are called, or what their growing habits are. Pasadena Beautiful was founded in 1960 by a group of volunteers who saw a need to beautify their city and enhance its tree canopy.

The Cape Chestnut is a small to medium sized slow-growing tree with a dense, rounded canopy that can reach a height of 20 to 40 feet tall with a 25 to 40 feet-wide base.

The smooth, light to dark-grey tree is considered an evergreen, and produces lots of shade, though it is prone to being briefly deciduous in colder weather.

The leaves are ovate, glossy dark green, and simple, not serrated, turning gold in the fall. When crushed, the leaves release a lemon/pine scent.

In the late spring to early summer, the crown and all its leaves get completely covered with clusters of delicate flowers each having five petals with thin filaments that protrude from the center of the flowers.

In the fall, and after all the blooms are gone, five-lobed capsules appear on the tree, they are green with a warty surface turning brown before opening like a flower exposing small black seeds. An oil known as Yangu oil is extracted from these seeds and is used in many skin and hair products throughout Africa.

The tree does better in full sun, with moist but well drained soil, and requires a moderate amount of water.

The roots of this tree are non-aggressive, making it a good candidate for a street tree. It also adds a spectacular focal point to any garden or a park.

Presently this tree is not prone to any pests or diseases that we know of.

In Greek the word Kalos means “beautiful” and the word dendron means a “tree” thus “Beautiful Tree”. The word capense means “from the cape” in Latin. The Cape chestnut tree more than lives up to the meaning of its name!

Emina Darakjy is the tree program chair for the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation, and President of the California Urban Forests Council.


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