Bachmannia woodii
(Oliv.) Gilg

Family: Capparaceae (The Caper Family) also sometimes referred to as Capparidaceae.
SA Tree No.: 121.
Common names: Four-finger Bush (E); Viervingerbos (Afr); umPhunzisa (X), umTswantswantsa (X)

Bachmannia woodii flowers

The four-finger bush is a scrambling shrub or small tree with attractive lilac-pink flowers. It can be grown from seed and used as a garden ornamental.

Bachmannia woodii is a small tree or a scrambling shrub ranging from 1,5 m to almost 3 m in height. The bark of the main stem is light brown with prominent lenticels visible on the surface. Leaves are leathery and pale green and occur alternately. They are digitately compound with one to five leaflets arranged like fingers on a hand. The stalk of the leaf may be up to 100 mm in length; the veins on the undersurface of the leaf are prominent. Approximately 13 to 18 stamens are present on a short stalk. Flowers of Bachmannia woodii, which range up to 15 mm in length, are usually attractive and found in shades of pink or lilac. Petals are absent. Flowers of Bachmannia woodii may appear in clusters of up to six on the old wood and are usually observed between the months of April and August. Bachmannia woodii is rooted fairly deeply with many bulb-like growths on the roots. These swellings appear in intervals on the root surface ranging in size up to 23 cm in diameter. The oval fruits are yellow when mature and have a rough, almost segmented appearance. They are fairly small, at approximately 30 x 12 mm and usually occur in the latter months of the year from September to December.

Bachmannia woodii bark Bachmannia woodii fruit Bachmannia woodii leaves

The Caper family is a relatively small family that is linked closely to the family Brassicaceae, also known as the Mustard family. Members of the Caper family are known to contain mustard oils, also referred to as isothiocyanates, which are released when damage occurs to the plant. These oils have the ability to cause irritation to the skin due to allergenic action.

Conservation status
Bachmannia woodii although rare, is not a threatened species.

Distribution and habitat
Bachmannia woodii is found in forests ranging from Transkei and Pondoland to the southern parts of Mozambique, and occurring predominantly in coastal forests, usually on sandstone as a small understorey tree or shrub. It is also found in KwaZulu-Natal, more commonly in regions of low altitudes.

Dr Frans Ewald BachmannDerivation of name and historical aspects
Bachmannia is the name derived from Dr Frans Ewald Bachmann, an explorer, physician and German naturalist, who spent many years alongside the West Coast, along the areas of the Sandveld, where he spent time collecting new species. Dr Bachmann was thereby honoured for his work and significant contribution with the genus Bachmannia.

Animals, such as monkeys and baboons feed on the fruit of Bachmannia woodii. Certain species of birds also have specialised beaks to feed on the segmented fruit, thereby assisting with seed dispersal, sometimes even whilst the fruit is still partially green and not fully ripe. It is interesting to note that in certain areas, such as KwaZulu-Natal, colour changes may not occur in the fruit even though the fruit may have reached complete maturity. It is particularly remarkable that birds somehow have the ability to identify this occurrence. Pollination of Bachmannia woodii is effected by animals such as monkeys and birds and by insects which are attracted to the flowers.

Uses and cultural aspects
The flowers of Bachmannia woodii are attractive and the species may be used as garden ornamental. Flowers also attract insects and birds, and branches of Bachmannia woodii may sometimes be used as a nesting site by some species of birds. The bark may be used non-commercially as firewood.

Growing Bachmannia woodii

Bachmannia woodii is most successfully propagated from seed although it can grow from root suckers, but at a much slower rate. The best results are gained when the seeds are sown fresh. It is advisable to discard seeds that may have been damaged, possibly by birds or monkeys. Sow seeds in the warmer seasons of spring or summer as opposed to colder months when the seeds tend to rot or grow at a far slower rate. Ensure that seeds are placed in a partially shaded area. Observe the moisture of the soil, especially during the germination stage, to ensure that the soil does not dry out and also to avoid overwatering. If a young tree is obtained from a nursery, extra care should be taken when transplanting to ensure that transplantation shock is minimal. Special care must be taken when removing the plant from the bag as roots can be damaged easily. Place the plant directly into an existing flowerbed, if available, or alternatively, dig a hole twice the size of the nursery bag. For better results, ensure that the layers of top soil and subsoil are not mixed.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Glen, H.F. 2004. SAPPI. What's in a name? Jacana Media, Johannesburg.
  • Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants. A South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Leistner, O.A. 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Nichols, G. 2005. Growing rare plants. A practical handbook on propagating the threatened plants of southern Africa. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report 36. SABONET, Pretoria.
  • Pooley, E. 2003. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand & Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam). & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Pretoria.



If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

Excellent - I learnt a lot
Good - I learnt something new

Virta Maharaj
KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium
June 2010





To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website


© S A National Biodiversity Institute