Acokanthera oppositifolia (Lam.) Codd

Common names: Bushman's Poison; Boesmansgif (Afrikaans); inHlungunyembe (Zulu); iNtlungunyembe (Xhosa)
Family: Apocynaceae

Acokanthera oppositifolia

The Bushman's poison is a medium to large woody shrub with attractive hard dark green leaves. Clusters of pinkish white, sweetly scented flowers are borne in late winter and spring and are followed by large plum coloured berry-like fruits which are relished by birds. The name Acokanthera is derived from the Greek and refers to the sharp anthers of the flowers. The species name refers to the opposite arrangement of the leaves.

Flowers & fruits (bottom left)Usually found growing in the shade of other vegetation on forest margins woodland and bush clumps, this species is widespread over many parts of the country with the exception of the drier parts.

The milky sap of this plant was widely used by the traditional bushmen (Khoisan) to form part of the cocktail used to poison the tips of their notoriously toxic arrows in hunting. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous with the possible exception of the ripe fruits. This plant is used medicinally to treat snake & spider bites, intestinal worms and also for aches and colds.

Growing Acokanthera oppositifolia

The Bushman's poison is a hardy drought and frost resistant evergreen shrub that tolerates full sun or shade and also does well as a container plant. Propagation of this species is from seed or semi-hardwood cuttings in the months of September to October.

This shrub is one of three South African members of the genus, Acokanthera. It belongs to the same family as many popular sub tropical ornamental plants such as frangipani, allamanda and oleander as well as the impala lily and num num. This family is characterized by having sweetly scented flowers and sticky milky sap which is often poisonous.


  • Pooley. E 1993. The complete field guide to Trees of Natal, Zululand & Transkei. Natal FloraPublications Trust: Durban.
  • Smith. C.A. 1966. Common Names of South African Plants. The Government Printer: Pretoria.
  • Jackson. W.P. U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera.UCT Ecolab: Capetown.
  • Arnold, T.H. & De Wet, B.C. (Eds) 1993. Plants of southern Africa: names and distribution. Memoirs of the botanical Survey of South Africa No 62.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972 Trees of Southern Africa Vol III.A.A. Balkema:Cape Town.

Andrew Hankey
Witwatersrand NBG
August 2001

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