Antidesma venosum

E.Mey. ex. Tul.

Family: Phyllanthaceae (Neotropical/tasselberry family)
Common names: tasselberry; voëlsitboom (Afr.); isiBangamlotha (isiZulu); modulane (Northern Sotho)

Tree in fruit. Image G Niichols

©Geoff Nichols

This is an evergreen to semi-deciduous, dense rounded crown and blood-red flowered plant with an unpleasant scent attractive to insect-eating birds.

Antidesma venosum is an evergreen to semi-deciduous, perennial tree or shrub from 0.55 up to 15 m tall, with a dense, roundish crown. Old stems are buff-grey in shade and pale grey in sunny habitats. Middle age branchlets are glabrous and brown to grey-brown with scattered pale grey lenticels. New twigs are very hairy, green becoming pale brown with age. Bark is channeled longitudinally, soft and very hairy, scattered with pale grey lenticels.

Tree in Flower. Image G Nichols

©Geoff Nichols

Leaves simple, alternate, more or less spirally arranged, with rounded or bluntly pointed tips, about 150 mm long and 70 mm broad. Leaf blade leathery, dark glossy green, lower surface is covered with rusty hairs and has prominent venation looping along margin, paler green below with midrib raised and margins smooth. Leaf stalk hairy, up to 6 mm long.

Flowers in A. venosum are small, showy and distinctive. Male flowers are produced in long, thin catkins which are found at the ends of newly grown twigs. Female flowers are produced in thin but shorter catkins at the ends of twigs. Flowering time is from October to January. Fruits are very small, almost oval, ± 10 mm in length and 8 mm in diameter, have a soft exocarp and fleshy, edible mesocarp, pale yellow to blood-red, turning black when ripe. Fruiting time is from January to May.

Male flower and leaf. Image G.Nichols

©Geoff Nichols

Conservation status
The IUCN Red List status for Antidesma venosum is in LC (Least Concern) as is not over exploited commercially or medicinally. It is listed as number 318 in the South African tree list.

Distribution and habitat
Antidesma is native to the so called Old World Tropical countries. It consists of about 100 species which is the highest number in the South-East Asian genera. There are four species of Antidesma found distributed in southern tropical Africa; Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, extending through to southern Africa.

Antidesma venosum occurs at an altitude from 7 to 1 220 m in coastal areas, on sandy soils and is restricted to moist bushveld and wooded grassland, sand forest and at margins of evergreen and damp forests, where it can reach up to 15 m in height. The species occurs in four provinces in South Africa and found occurring in Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland. In South Africa, it is found along the coastal belt, in the eastern regions of South Africa, from the Eastern Cape through .KwaZulu-Natal, extending further north to Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

The species cannot cope with frost and is thus suitable for frost-free areas only.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Antidesma is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘for a band', in reference to the banding bark being used for rope, and venosum is the Latin word, meaning conspicuously veined.

The Phyllanthaceae are most numerous in the tropics, with many in the South Temperate Zone, and a few ranging as far north as the middle of the North Temperate Zone. The members of this family occur in several vegetation types, especially in rainforest, savanna and associated ecosystems.

The unpleasantly scented flowers attract butterflies and other insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, bringing about pollination.

Uses and cultural aspects
Antidesma venosum is of economic value. This species is a very decorative, neat shade tree and is perfectly suitable for larger gardens and bird parks. The tree is also used as a screen plant in a shrubbery. The wood is used for building huts. The plant is not sensitive to moderate degrees of cold and therefore may be freely recommended as an ornamental tree in coastal frost- free areas.

Close up of fruit. Image G Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

Different plant parts are used medicinally; a root extract is used for the treatment of heart diseases; an infusion of roots and leaves is taken for the treatment of coughs; a leaf infusion is taken for an upset stomach.

Fruit and seeds. Image G Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

Growing Antidesma venosum

The tree is easily propagated from seed, transplants well and is relatively fast growing, with a growth rate of 800 – 900 mm per year.

The black fruits should be washed, dried in the shade and sown in seedling trays filled with a mixture of river sand and compost. The seeds should be covered with a thin layer of mixture (sand and compost) and kept moist in a warm place. Seeds usually germinate between 10 – 20 days, with a germination rate of 70 – 80 %. The seedlings should be transplanted into nursery bags with sandy soil and compost when reaching the 3-leaf stage.

References and further reading:

  • Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds). 2006. A checklist of South African plants . Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
  • Leistner, O.A. 2005. Seed plants of southern tropical Africa: families and genera. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 26. SABONET, Pretoria.
  • Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Stad i en, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds.) . 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, P. 1974. Trees of the Kruger National Park , Volume 2.. Purnell, Cape Town.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J. 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza, Pretoria.


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KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium

September 2014


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