Combretum microphyllum


Common names:
flame creeper

Combretum microphyllum

This is a spectacular creeper providing a spring spectacle of flaming crimson, flowering splendour. It is an excellent plant to fill the gaps in larger gardens.

Flowers: Photo©: Jo Onderstall;Combretum microphyllum is a robust, deciduous climber, sometimes a scrambling shrub or small tree. Masses of small flowers with bright red petals and long stamens form massed sprays which festoon the branches for about three weeks in spring (August to November) before the new leaves appear. The oval leaves are 13-60 mm long and 13-50 mm wide. The fruit is 4-winged, green tinged with red or pink when young, drying to pale yellowish brown (September - January).

It is widespread throughout southern Africa, mainly found in the northeastern parts of South Africa (Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal) and also found in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. Occurs in bushveld and woodland areas, often along rivers. It is found in hot, dry areas at low to medium altitudes.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name Combretum was used by Pliny and means climbing plant in Latin, but the reference was to a different plant. The species epiphet microphyllum might refer to the tiny leaves often borne in the inflorescence.

According to Meg Coates Palgrave (Carr 1988), the Combretaceae has some 19 genera and 600 species and is a family of the tropics and subtropics. In South Africa the members are widespread, except for the extreme southern and southwestern areas. The largest genus within this family is Combretum, commonly known as bushwillows. Another noteworthy genus within this family is Terminalia, commonly known as cluster-leafs. They have winged fruit, but unlike Combretum they have either 2-winged fruit or fruit with one entire wing.

This plant is browsed by game and forms larval food for butterflies. The flowers attract various insects and nectar-eating birds, such as sunbirds.

Uses and cultural aspects
This roots of this plant were used in traditional medicine by the Venda to expel a retained placenta. Tribes further north were reported as using the ash from the burnt root mixed with other ingredients to treat mental disorders. In recent years the dried fruit have become popular in the curio business, where they are used in flower arrangements.

Growing in the garden

Growing Combretum microphyllum

Combretums in general blend in well with many other garden plants. As trees they cohabit well with other species. This climber makes a spectacular addition to larger gardens in hot areas. It needs dry winters to grow well. It is a fast grower, but frost sensitive. It grows relatively easily from fresh seed. The fruit matures rapidly. There is not much parasitism on this species.

Fruits of Combretum microphyllumFor convenience sake the seed should be removed from the fruit covering before sowing. Soak the seeds for a few hours before planting. The fresher the seed, the better the germination rate.
Seedlings emerge after 10-21 days after sowing. By the end of the first summer the seedlings can be up to 250mm.

The established plant can withstand a fair amount of cold. It is also fairly drought resistant and does not require much water, although it occurs near watercourses in its natural habitat.

Pests and parasites: Although parasitism on this species is low, the following general Combretum pests can cause problems: aphids might attack plants in summer, if they do, spray with an aphid systemic poison in conjunction with a wetting agent; cutworms can cause damage to seedlings planted in outside seedbeds; the mite known as red spider may attack plants in the nursery, especially if plants do not get enough sun. Sprays for these pests are available.


  • Carr, J.D. 1988. Combretaceae in southern Africa. Tree Society of Southern Africa, Johannesburg.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, B.; Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Jackson,W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. UCT, Rondebosch.
  • Stearn,W.T. 2002. Stearn's dictionary of plant names for gardeners. Timber Press, Portland.
  • Watt, J. M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M. G. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingstone, London.
  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.

Lou-Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden
With additions by Yvonne Reynolds
June 2003

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

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