The Mickey Mouse plant appears to be around in Singapore’s garden landscape for quite a long time. This plant can be grown as a shrub or allowed to grow into a small tree but usually, a colony of this plant are pruned to form a hedge that has been sheared to various heights. For a long time, I have never taken notice of Mickey Mouse plant as it appeared to me as a rather boring foliage shrub most of the time. The mature foliage of this plant is dark green and slightly glossy while newly formed leaves taken on a coppery colour tone.
My opinion of this plant took a turn recently when I saw it in flower and that took place when I was on my way to work. There was a hedge of Mickey Mouse plants which were used to line the metal railing near the entrance to HortPark’s Floral Walk and those plants were adorned with numerous bright yellow flowers. Each flower has five petals and a clump of stamens positioned in the center. Some sources cited that the flowers are fragrant but I did not notice any scent at close proximity when I snapped pictures posted on this blog. The Mickey Mouse plant seems to have a seasonal blooming habit as it is seldom in bloom most of the time.
A plant that is native to southeastern Africa, the Mickey Mouse plant is botanically known as Ochna kirkii and is a member of a rather obscure plant family, Ochnaceae. Its is sometimes referred to via another synonymous botanical name, O. thomasiana. Ochna is Greek for the wild pear (a species of Pyrus) because leaves of this plant resemble those of the pear tree. The specific epithet kirkii was given in honour of Sir John Kirk (1832 – 1922) who was a British doctor, naturalist and diplomat. He accompanied Dr David Livingstone on this second botanical expedition to Central Africa in 1858.
This plant’s common name ‘Mickey Mouse plant’ has always raised a question mark in my mind as I failed to connect black fruits and the red sepals to Mickey Mouse’s face. The common name was reportedly derived from the appearance of its ripe fruits which is similar to the face of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, complete with a pair of black ears and a red nose. In reality, the fruits of the Mickey Mouse plant are rather small and oval in shape and they turn black when ripe. The black berries are held erect on a waxy red base formed by the enlarged sepals.
Besides being a good hedging candidate and at times, a flowering ornamental shrub, the seeds of the Mickey Mouse plant can be pressed to yield oil that is used to dress the hair by African tribes. Other Ochna species have medicinal uses. It is said to be a source of hard, dense, durable wood and wood from other Ochna species have been used for making wheel spokes, utensil handles and engraving plates.
The Mickey Mouse plant is often planted in locations with semishade to full sun. Like most woody shrubs, one can expect it to prefer to be grown in soil that is fertile and well-draining that is also kept moist at all times. It is said to be easily transplanted and relatively easy to grow and maintain. Common pests include scales, mealybugs and thrips.