Clerodendrum glabrum E.Mey. var. glabrum

Family: Verbenaceae (previously Lamiaceae)
Common names: Tinderwood (Eng.); moswaapeba (Sotho); tontelhout (Afr.); munukha-tshilongwe (Venda); umqwaqwanam (Xhosa); umQoqonga (Zulu); xinhunwelambeva (Tswana);, mohlokohloko (N.Sotho)

Clerodendron glabrum

This is a small tree with smelly leaves, many traditional uses and scented flowers in summer.

A small to medium-sized deciduous tree which grows up to 12 m high. It has simple, ovate leaves, opposite or arranged in whorls of three,with green petioles and smooth leaf margins. The leaves are often folded up from the midrib. When the leaves are crushed they produce a very strong smell which can be offensive or displeasing. Typical of this species are the branchlets covered with small raised pale dots (lenticels).


The flowers are bell-shaped with five mauve to pink flowers and four stamens, pinker than the petals, with yellow anthers. Flowers are arranged in rounded heads and are produced inland from November to April, and all year round along the coast.

The round fruits (berries) are crowded at the tip of the branches.. The berries are green before maturity, and become pale yellow when ripe.

Distribution and habitat
In southern Africa tinderwood is widely distributed in the following regions: Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It is also very common in the tropical regions. Only the variety glabra is found in southern Africa.

A butterfly, Spindasis natalensis, commonly known as Natal Bar, lives on stems and feeds on leaves/euphylls during the night. The flowers attract many insects, especially butterflies. The caterpillars of two butterflies are known to breed on this tree. Clerodendrum glabrum is one of the rain trees in South Africa.The ‘rain' is caused by insects like frog-hoppers which suck moisture from branches, and then excrete water drops which fall on the ground. The tinderwood is also used as source of food by other insects.

Uses and cultural aspects
C. glabrum is commonly used as insects repellent. It was also traditionally used by Vha-venda to counter the effect of witchcraft, and the strong smell produced by the leaves is believed to repel polecats and hyenas, and was allegedly used by witches. The milky latex from this plant is smeared onto livestock for removal of ticks. The roots are used to treat the snakebites on livestock and people. Decoctions of leaves are used for treating coughs, colds, prolapse, wounds and diarrhoea. The wood of the tree was used to start fire in the olden days. Infusions of the leaves were used to treat bad dreams.

It has been a traditional skill and common knowledge that if one crushes leaves and rubs them on hands and face when collecting honey, the smell of the leaves repels the bees from attacking.

Bark and stem

Growing Clerodendrum glabrum

Tinderwood grows well in full sun or semi-shade conditions. It can be propagated by seeds and cuttings. If propagated by seeds (sexual propagation), sow seeds in summer. If propagated from twig cuttings (asexual or vegetative propagation), do so from spring to summer. Root cuttings can be done in winter. Cuttings take five to seven weeks before rooting. Depending on the environmental conditions of the area it takes18 months for the cuttings to flower. Because this is a multistemmed tree, some stems can be removed to shape the tree. Some of the common pests and diseases that attack Clerodendrum glabrum are: whitefly, red spider mites and mealybug.

References and further reading

  • Van Wyk, Braam [A.E.] & Van Wyk, P. 2007. How to identify trees in southern Africa . Struik, Cape Town. Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa , edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Pienaar, K. 2001. What flower is that? Struik, Cape Town.
  • Thomas, V. & Grant, R. 2004. SAPPI tree spotting, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape . Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Schoeman, A.S. 2002. A guide to garden pests and diseases in South Africa . Struik, Cape Town.
  • Picker, M., Griffiths, C. & Weaving, A. 2002. Field guide to insects of South Africa . Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, Braam [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






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