Brackenridgea zanguebarica

Family : Ochnaceae
Common names : yellow peeling plane (Eng.); Mutavhatsindi (Venda)

Brackenridgea zanguebarica

Brackenridgea zanguebarica is a very rare tree with only one subpopulation in South Africa. It can easily be confused with genus Ochna due to the resemblance of flowers, fruits and leaves.

Brackenridgea zanguebarica is a small tree that grows up to 5 m high and 3 m wide. It is the most required medicinal plant in the Vhembe District Municipality. It is a single-stemmed tree with rough bark that has yellow pigment underneath the bark if scratched. The leaves are elliptic to obovate, approximately 4050 mm long, glossy dark green and hairless. Flowers and fruit resemble those of genus Ochna. Flowers are white to cream or pink. They are showy but short-lived. The fruit is an ovoid drupe, surrounded by a showy calyx.

To see images of the flowers and fruit of this tree visit the Flora of Zimbabwe website.

Brackenridgea zanguebarica showing yellow pigment beneath the bark

Conservation status
Due to its restricted occurrence and rarity it has been assessed against the I.U.C.N. criteria and is currently listed as Critical Endangered. The population at Mafukani village is facing serious threat due to unsustainable collecting by traditional medicine collectors. In view of the current intensity of collecting this population is likely to become extinct in South Africa in the next 15 years if measures to mitigate the situation are not put in place. The South African population has declined by 86% since the 19901997 observation due to debarking and removal of roots for the medicinal plant trade.

Distribution and habitat
In South Africa a small population of approximately 400 plants is found in an enclosed Limpopo provincial nature reserve at Mafukani village in the Mutale Local Municipality under the Thengwe Tribal Authority jurisdiction. Surprisingly it is more common on the eastern side of Zimbabwe and in the northern part of Mozambique. It grows naturally in stony, light grey and shallow sandy loam soil at low altitude in open woodland. In East Africa it is found in deciduous woodland and coastal bush.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Brackenrigea is derived from Mr William Dunlop Brackenridge, an English horticulturist. The species name zanguebarica is derived from the country Zanzibar.

Uses and cultural aspects
Brackenridgea zanguebarica (Mutavhatsindi) is the most wanted medicinal tree in Limpopo Province. There are numerous myths surrounding its use. After collecting the root or bark for medicinal purposes, it is prohibited to bring the collected material inside the home yard. You must also not put them anywhere near a woman or allow a woman to touch it. Any woman who touches the collected material of Brackenridgea zanguebarica would suffer the pains of having non-stop menstruation (Netshiungani & Van Wyk 1980). According to the same authors in the same publication, the local residents also claim that when some of the trees had been damaged during the construction of a road through the area some years ago, the operator of the bulldozer died that same day in an accident.

Brackenridgea zanguebarica bark Brackenridgea zanguebarica stripped bark
Brackenridgea zanguebarica bark
Brackenridgea zanguebarica stripped bark

The traditional medical practitioners believe that Brackenridgea zanguebarica roots or bark should only be collected by a nude person at midnight. It is not allowed to be used as firewood. Anyone who uproots or retrieves its roots or bark without having undergone the prescribed ritual would have a limited lifespan of less than 50 years. If it is a male, such person would become sexually inactive. After getting the roots or bark, one would also be obliged to leave something behind next to the tree like copper coins, tobacco powder or a traditional bracelet. Some of the residents believe that the inhalation of smoke from this tree can cause mental disorder. It is also known for attracting lightning during the rainy season.

Growing Brackenridgea zanguebarica (Mutavhatsindi)

Although there has not been any success in propagating this tree, it seems to grow from seeds in its natural environment. The reason for unsuccessful germination seems to be due to seed having been parasitized. Further research is required to determine propagation protocols. Other related plants in the Ochnaceae family propagate very easily from seed.

No one has yet been successful in growing this plant away from its natural area. Seedling transplanting has been unsuccessful.

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? The meaning of the botanical names of trees. Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Mabogo, D.E.N. 1990. Ethnobotany of the Vhavenda, Unpublished research project, Department of Botany, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.
  • Mutshinyalo, T.T., and Siebert, S.J., 2010. Myth as a biodiversity conservation strategy for the Vhavenda, South Africa. Indiliga: African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, 9(2): 151-171.
  • Netshiungani, E.N. & van Wyk, A.E. 1980. Mutavhatsindi: Mysterious plant from Venda. Veld & Flora 66:8790.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, 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, A.E & Van Wyk, P.1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
April 2011







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