The deciduous Kirkia wilmsii, sometimes in Afrikaans called the basterpeperboom (bastard pepper tree), has its leaves densely crowded at the stem-tips. They are pale green when young, famously coloured red or yellow in autumn.
The leaves are compound: 10 to 23 pairs of slender, narrowly ovate leaflets, as well as an extra one at the tip, grow evenly spaced on the pale rachis. The leaflet tip tapers, the base is rounded and the margins finely toothed or entire. Leaflets may be slightly asymmetric. Leaflet dimensions are 6 mm to 30 mm by 2 mm to 6 mm. The leaflets have no stalks (petiolules), while the petiole of the entire leaf is up to 4 cm long.
There is another tree called peperboom in Afrikaans, the exotic Schinus molle, commonly known as the Peruvian pepper tree. Its leaves are somewhat similar to those of K. wilmsii but the fruit look quite different in their small, pinkish red, papery coverings, more like real peppercorns.
This exotic used to be planted widely in the South Africa of the past where water was scarce and watering of saplings difficult. Australian Eucalyptus trees were also planted everywhere in great numbers in towns and on farmyards.
Indigenous trees were rare, often confined to high rainfall kloofs and streambanks; often not where people lived and needed shade. In olden days it was often a mission to plant trees, hard to establish them amidst frequently recurring periods of water scarcity.
The easy growers from overseas became popular in especially the arid towns and rural areas: a cypress next to grandpa's grave, a willow near the water for picnic shade, a peperboom to sit under in the backyard and some eucalypts or poplars for timber. The thorn trees or guarris were given to some by God, good for firewood.
Then came a time of establishing exotic tree timber forests in suitable parts of the country, monoculture ventures good for the economy.
Planting indigenous became popular later, strangely enough only when the infrastructure for watering planted trees was much improved, particularly in places of higher citizen affluence. Social pressure boosted by concern for the natural heritage, biodiversity and a belief that all exotic trees use more water than indigenous ones, strengthen the tendency (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Schmidt, et al, 2002).