© R Saunders
This is one of South Africa's most tenacious and most versatile
plants, as it survives in the harshest conditions including severe
frost and drought.
plant is an evergreen and leafless, many-branched, perennial shrub
with a straggly growth habit and protruding stems that may reach
up to 2 m. The flowers are normally borne in summer and may vary
from a deep red to yellow colour with stamens that characteristically
protrude from the petals. Fruits are up to 90 mm long, green and
turn a rusty brown when ripe, and resemble peas that curl inward
with glistening, sticky hairs on the skin. The small black seeds
are covered with a bright orange and sticky pulp that dries as the
seeds fall to the ground in late summer. Cadaba aphylla is
a relatively slow-growing plant and is not considered as rare or
Plants are not restricted to a certain geographic area. They occur
in a wide variety of habitats from arid summer rainfall areas, the
Karoo, southern and eastern Cape in seasonal streams, flats, mountain
slopes and dry ravines. They can withstand long periods of drought
and are also frost resistant. C. aphylla flowers profusely
when planted in full sun in fairly dry conditions.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The family name is from the Greek kapparis and Latin capparis. The
genus name, Cadaba is from Greek meaning without leaves and
the species name, aphylla means the same. The family Capparaceae
consists of 46 genera and about 700 species from warm and tropical
countries. Other well-known genera include Cleome, Capparis and
Boscia. There are 30 species of Cadaba which are found
in tropical Africa, Arabia, India, Australia, Madagascar and the
islands of the Indian Ocean.
Ants as well as sugarbirds relish the nectar that is produced by
the flowers. The stamens are carried in an exposed manner raised
from the bright red petals, which serves as advertisement to pollinators.
Pea-shaped fruits split in two, exposing the seeds, which are small
and surrounded by a sticky pulp. It is possible that this may help
the dispersal of seeds as the pulp sticks to mammals and birds.
Leaves are reduced to spiky stems, which fulfill the role of photosynthesis
and so limit transpiration, allowing the plant to survive intense
heat and periodic droughts. Cadaba aphylla is not palatable
to livestock. .
Uses and cultural aspects
Some authorities claim that this plant is poisonous but there is
no real proof of this. It is however known to possess medicinal
properties. The moist, powdered plant is applied as a poultice between
gauze to draw boils and abscesses. The root is used in small doses
as a tonic and also as a purgative but an overdose might be toxic.
A local superstition states that burning wood from this plant will
make the wind blow. Plants are occasionally grown in gardens, but
not as often as it warrants.. It shows particular potential as a
plant for dry, arid gardens and will also survive in areas with
© R Saunders
Growing Cadaba aphylla
The plants can be grown from seeds, which are sown from April when
the climate cools down. A coarse medium such as river sand is ideal
and seedlings must be kept moist. It is best to transplant seedlings
when they are very young, to avoid disturbance to the established
roots. Root cuttings from large plants will also grow.. In the garden
these plants can be complemented with other arid plants species
such as Nymania capensis, (Chinese lantern tree), Sutherlandia
africana (cancer bush), Aloe
microstigma (spotted aloe), Schotia
afra var. angustifolia (small-leafed Karoo boer-bean),
Rhigozum obovatum (wild
paniculata (botterboom/ butter tree), Hermannia cuneifolia
var. cuneifolia (agtdaegeneesbos).
Not many pests are known to attack Cadaba aphylla except
for the occasional outbreak of scale which can be controlled with
an oil emulsion pesticide.
References and further reading
- Dyer, R.A. 1975. The genera of southern African plants,
vol. 1: Dicotyledons. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of South African
plant genera. University of Cape Town.
- Sheering, D. 1994. Karoo. Wild Flower Guide No. 6. Botanical
Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden