Flueggea virosa

(Roxb.ex Willd.) Voigt

Family : Euphorbiaceae
Common names : white berry-bush (Eng.); witbessiesbos (Afr.); Mutangahuma (Tshivenda); Mpfalambati (Tsonga); Muhlakaume (Sotho)

Flueggea virosa leaves & fruit
© Geoff Nichols

Flueggea virosa is a dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants), multistemmed, fast-growing, bushy shrub, 2-3 m but sometimes a spreading tree up to 4 m high, with some small, thorn-like branches. The bark is reddish brown to brown. The leaves are green, crowded along the branchlets. It bears very small flowers which are creamy green. Fruit are white and fleshy and appear in December-March. Flowering time: October-January.

F. virosa flowers
© Geoff Nichols
F. virosa fruit
© Geoff Nichols

Conservation status
Flueggea virosa is not threatened but is not immune to future loss due to many factors. People from the Vhembe region in Limpopo often cut the living branches and dry them to make fire. Many plants removed when clearing land for farming.

Distribution and habitat
Flueggea virosa is common in deciduous woodland and on forest margins, along rivers and in rocky areas. It is widely distributed in the southern Africa region. In South Africa it occurs naturally in Limpopo Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. It also occurs in Zimbabwe and Tanzania. It can survive hot and dry areas and also survive mild frost. It has naturalized in Hawaii, Taiwan and in Haiku, Maui in China. It is currently a problem plant in these areas. In China it is known as Chinese waterberry.

A variety of insects such as wasps and bees pollinate the flower. Seeds are dispersed by animals and birds. The leaves are browsed by goats. It is also larval food for Charaxes butterflies.

F. virosa branch

Uses and cultural aspects
The slender branches are used to make fish traps. The small fruit is sweet and eaten by people, animals and birds when ripe. The roots and fruits are believed to be an effective snakebite remedy. Roots of this plant are also used in some African communities as contraceptives and for the treatment of syphilis, gonorrhoea, rheumatism, sterility, rashes, and an infusion of the root is taken to relieve malaria. The bark is believed to provide a treatment for diarrhoea and pneumonia.

F. viros shrub

Growing Flueggea virosa

The fruit must be cleaned and the small seeds dried. Sow the seeds at least within a month of collecting in a well-drained seedling growth medium. Germination is normally very good. It is a low maintenance plant that can grow without any extra feeding except watering at least once every second week. Once this plant is established, routine maintenance is unnecessary. It can be used for creating a soft screening and is ideal as a backdrop. It attracts birds and butterflies. It can also be used for creating a hedge or barrier.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam) & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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Tshifhiwa Ratshibvumo
(Co-authored by Thompson Mutshinyalo)
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
October 2008








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

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.