Acridocarpus natalitius

A.Juss. var. natalitius
Family : Malpighiaceae
Common names : moth-fruit, the binder (Eng.); motvrug (Afr.); umabophe, umabophawentaba, umabopha and ihlalanyosi (isiZulu)


Its beautiful flowers and fruit make this evergreen shrub or small tree an appealing garden subject which should be in most gardens in the warmer and coastal parts of South Africa.

LeavesUmabophe can be a small tree, a scrambling shrub, a twiner or a rambling shrub on other vegetation. The tree is 1 to 5 m high, young stems and leaves are sometimes covered with velvety reddish pink hairs that fall off later. Leaves are alternate, simple, shiny dark green and leathery, with prominent midrib and net veins on the undersurface, 30-200 x 10-60 mm.

The bark is grey and rough, and the tips of the branches twine around other vegetation. The bright yellow or golden yellow flowers appear in September to February, in long triangular-shaped sprays that are often found at the ends of branches. The fruit has three but often two large, prominently veined wings that are joined together, which makes it look like a moth with outstretched wings and are normally seen from November to April.

moth fruit

Acridocarpus natalitius is not protected or threatened in any way.

Distribution and Habitat
Moth-fruit is a common member of coastal forest, forest margins, bushveld and sand forest. It is sometimes found on rocky outcrops or open grassland. It occurs in the northern Eastern Cape in the Pondoland region, along the KwaZulu-Natal eastern seaboard to Maputaland, Swaziland, Mpumalanga 's lowveld, Limpompo and Mozambique.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name is derived from Greek words, akris which means locust, and karpos meaning fruit, alluding to the winged fruit. In isiZulu, bopha means arrest or tie. The genus Acridocarpus consists of about 30 species, all from tropical and subtropical Africa; with only one species in southern Africa.

This plant is usually a hive of activity as fully opened flowers are frequently visited by ants and bumble bees; it also provides shelter to Skipper butterflies which breed on it. The leaves are prized by other creatures such as game, which nibble them.

Uses and cultural aspects
Roots can be mixed with other ingredients to make a mixture ( intelezi ) which is used to hinder court procedure. When used in this manner the plaintiff will either become mute, irrelevant or highly repetitive. This results in the case being postponed indefinitely or brought to a speedy end. Herdboys place a piece of the root of umabophe under the tongue to avoid punishment at home after the cattle have strayed into crops. Spermacoce natalensis, which is in the family Rubiaceae is also called umabophe and its roots are used in the same way by herdboys. Roots are also used as intelezi for sprinkling around the homestead during a thunderstorm, to strengthen fighting sticks before traditional competition, to cleanse the whole family (through induced vomiting) after lightning has struck the homestead. This is a prized ornamental plant among gardeners.

Spray of flowersGrowing Acridocarpus natalitius

It must be planted in a part of the garden where it will get morning sun. For best display plant them in groups of three or four.

It can be planted from seed or cuttings in deep sandy soil with a lot of old kraal (cattle pen) manure and compost. Planting should be done in late spring or early summer then watered on a regular basis.

Moth-fruit does not seem to have any pests.

References and further reading

  • Leistner, O.A. 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Boanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Ngwenya, M.A., Koopman, A. & Williams, R. 2003. Ulwazi LwamaZulu Ngezimila: isingeniso; Zulu Botanical Knowledge: an introduction. National Botanical Institute, Durban.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Pienaar, K. 1985. Grow South African plants. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.


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Mkhipheni Ngwenya KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium
June 2005


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