This is a small tree of great character which grows in the eastern parts of South Africa. It is a very versatile addition to the indigenous garden.
The generic name (Leucosidea) is derived from the Greek words for "white or grey appearance", while the species name (sericea) is the Latin for "silky" in reference to the silky hairs on the leaves of the tree.
The ouhout is often a straggly shrub or a dense, small, evergreen tree, which grows up to 7m tall to 5m wide. It is single or multi-stemmed and branches low down. The bark is rough, reddish brown in colour and flakes off to reveal a smooth light brown under-bark. The leaves are alternately arranged, compound and covered with silky, silver hairs. Each leaf possesses 3 to 4 pairs of leaflets. The veins on the leaves are deeply sunken on the upper surface and protrude on the lower surface. The leaves are a dark green colour above and a lighter green colour below. The margins of the leaflets are deeply serrated. When the leaves are crushed they have a strong herb-like smell. The flowers are greenish-yellow in colour, star-shaped, and grow in spikes at the ends of young shoots in spring (August to September). The fruits are nut-like and about 3 mm in diameter (December to January).
This tree is usually found growing in dense thickets at altitudes above 1000 metres. It can be found growing in open grassland, along river banks and on wooded, rocky ridges. It is usually found growing in damp conditions, on deep, sandy or clayey and often rocky soil. Leucosidea sericea occurs in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, western KwaZulu-Natal, the eastern Free State, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The flowers and young shoots of this plant are browsed by cattle and goats in spring. It forms dense thickets on overgrazed, eroded or otherwise disturbed areas and can, therefore, become a problem plant on farm lands. The ouhout produces nectar which is probably utilised by bees and other insects.
The wood makes good, durable fence posts in permanently wet soil even though it is soft. Apparently in mountainous areas where the ouhout occurs near streams it is an indication that they are suitable for being stocked with trout. Zulu people use a paste made from the crushed leaves of Leucosidea sericea for treating ophthalmia (an eye ailment). The tree is used by the local people as a charm to protect the inhabitants of homesteads. The wood of this tree burns slowly and produces a lot of smoke like old and decaying wood. This together with the appearance of the flaky bark has given rise to the tree's common name of "oldwood".