Canthium ciliatum
(Klotzsch) Kuntze

Family : Rubiaceae (gardenia family)
Common names : hairy turkey berry (Eng.); harige bokdrol (Afr.); mulume-khoda (Venda); umnyushulumbe, umdakane, ubuchopho (Xhosa, Zulu), mvutfwamini (Swati).

Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves  G. Nichols
Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves © G. Nichols

Canthium ciliatum is a hardy shrub or small tree found on forest margins and rock outcrops in the eastern regions of South Africa, and in Swaziland and Lesotho. It is easily grown from seed.

Usually a shrub, sometimes a small tree 34 m in height. Bark dark grey. Branches smooth or hairy, often armed with paired slender straight spines. Leaves opposite, spaced along new growth at the ends of the stems or clustered on dwarf spur-branchlets, ovate to elliptic, 530 x 420 mm, dark green above, paler below, soft-textured, with short soft hairs along the veins; midrib and lateral veins distinct, domatia occasional or absent, apex tapering acutely to broadly; base rounded; margin fringed with hairs; petiole about 13 mm long; stipules triangular, hairy. Flowers small, cream to greenish, corolla about 4 mm long, constricted just below the mouth, solitary or in pairs, on a long slender stalk (Oct - Feb). Fruit ovoid, asymmetric, with the stalk on 1 side or squarish, about 13 mm long, slightly tapering to the base, 2-lobed at the apex, dark brown to blackish and slightly wrinkled, resembling goat or sheep droppings (Feb - May).

Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves
Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves
© G. Nichols

Distribution and habitat
Occurs from Eastern Cape to the eastern Limpopo Province, mainly inland in evergreen forest and in scrub on rocky outcrops on grassy mountain slopes.

Conservation status
The hairy turkey berry is not listed under the Tree Species Protected list in terms of the National Forest Act of 1998 nor the Red List of South African plants.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Canthium comes from the Malabar (Indian) name canti for a species of this genus (Turkey-berry tree).

Canthium is a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. It comprises shrubs and small trees. The leaves are deciduous and the stems are usually thorny. They are native to India, Sri Lanka, and tropical East Africa. About 52 species are known.

Economic and cultural value
It has edible fruit. Roots are used by traditional healers to induce trance states before divining dances. The Sotho traditionally administers bark and leaf infusions as enemas for pain believed to be caused by beetles present in the abdomen as a result of sorcery. Plants are also used as protective charms in graves to prevent disturbances of newly interred bodies.

Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves  G. Nichols
Canthium ciliatum flowers & leaves
© G. Nichols

Growing Canthium ciliatum

No published information is available on the cultivation and propagation of Canthium ciliatum. It is not grown commercially and there is no experience on how well it grows in cultivation. Some other species of Canthium (C. gilfillani, C. inerme) have been grown successfully, but one can not apply the same information to this species, since some species in the Rubiaceae (coffee family) respond differently in similar circumstances.

The hairy turkey-berry is an attractive tree for the garden. It grows as an evergreen compact shrub, and it is ideally suited for a coastal and forest garden, and in gardens where space is limited. The fruit attract birds. The species is frost-tender and should not be planted in areas that are prone to heavy frost. However, it occurs in gardens in the Gauteng area, where mild frost occurs.

Here is an opportunity for horticulturists to fill in the gap on the information for the cultivation of this beautiful plant!


  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3.Struik,Cape Town.
  • Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.


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Modise Kganye and Lettie Maluleke
(with additions by Beate Hölscher)
Pretoria National Herbarium
January 2011







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