Dovyalis caffra is a lovely evergreen fruit tree or shrub.
It is one of the three Dovyalis species, together with D.
zeyheri (wild apricot) and D. rhamnoides (common sour
berry), which are of considerable importance as a source of income
for some local communities in southern Africa. A trial planting
of southern African fruit trees in a desert in Israel is also going
to include this plant (Dovyalis caffra). It is an attractive,
drought and frost resistant tree or shrub.
caffra is usually 3-5 m in height, but sometimes reaches 8 m
with a much branched crown. It is a tree or spiny shrub of moderate
growth rate that may be planted close together to form a good hedge.
Creamy green flowers form in November to December. Male flowers
are 3 mm long in dense clusters of 5-10 flowers. Female flowers
are found in groups of up to three on stalks 4-10 mm long in leaf
axils. The fruits are up to 60 mm in diameter and are yellowish
orange in colour.
It grows in valley bushveld, dry areas, wooded grassland, on forest
edges, from Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal to Swaziland, into
Limpopo [Northern Province] and Zimbabwe.
Derivation of name
Dovyalis is a Greek word meaning spear, and caffra
is derived from Kaffraria (Eastern Cape).
Insects and birds play a very important role in pollinating this
tree. Birds such as the louries and the black-eyed bulbuls love
the fruits of a Dovyalis caffra, which are delicious. By
eating the fruits birds also help to distribute the seeds. Baboons,
antelope and monkeys also like to eat the fruit.
Uses and cultural aspects
caffra can be cultivated as a border, screen or used to form
an impenetrable hedge around a garden to keep unwanted animals and
people out. It will grow well in either full sun or light shade
and will also need regular trimming in order to maintain a good
hedge. The leaves are used as fodder (bulk feed for livestock).
The fruits are edible and make excellent jam.
Growing Dovyalis caffra
The Kei-apple is easily propagated from seed. The fruits must be
ripe before they are collected. The seed must be cleaned and dried
in a shady spot before planting. They should then be sown in seedling
trays filled with river sand or seedling mix. The seeds must be
pressed down into the sand until they are level with the surface
of the sand and then covered with a layer of fine sand. The Kei-apple
can also be propagated from hardwood cuttings as long as they are
treated with root-stimulating hormone before planting. It also has
a good growth rate of about 600 mm per year.
- Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A Checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
- COATES PALGRAVE, K. 1981. Trees of South Africa, edn
2. Struik, Cape Town.
- DHARANI, N. 2002. Field guide to common trees and shrubs
of East Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- JOFFE, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants.
Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- VAN WYK, B. & GERICKE, N. 2000. People's plants. A guide
to useful plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Witwatersrand National Botanical Gardens