This is an attractive shade tree which can also be
grown as a specimen tree to display its grey bark, coppery red young
leaves and flower buds, lilac to purple flowers and golden pods.
A semi deciduous tree up to 25 m tall with a spreading crown in
good conditions, but much smaller in shallow soils. Bark is smooth
and grey brown on younger branches, flaky when older. Compound leaves
have 3-7 pairs of opposite, lance-shaped leaflets and are up to
250 mm long overall; glossy dark green or blue green on top with
fine silky hairs on the underside. The tree is semi-deciduous. New
leaves and petioles (leaf stalks) are reddish and velvety.
which occur in summer are pea-shaped, mauve to purple and held in
an upright inflorescence on the ends of the branches.They emerge
from rusty brown buds which are formed in spring.
The fruits are flat, woody pods covered with a thick layer of golden
brown hairs, held erect, splitting when dry to release flat, oblong
seeds; valves spiralling when dry.
Umzimbeet has yellow sapwood and very heavy, hard and reddish
to dark brown heartwood.
Umzimbeet has a restricted, disjunct distribution in Kwa-Zulu Natal
and the Eastern Cape. It is most common in Pondoland.
Millettia is named after Charles Millet of Canton, China
(circa 1830) and grandis means large.
Umzimbeet's hard wood with its attractive coloration is valued for
the manufacture of furniture and small domestic implements. Today
it is used for making tough, bicoloured walking sticks which are
sold to tourists.
It can also be used as a windbreak and harvested at 10-15 years
for planks in high rainfall areas. It also makes an attractive garden
and street tree and it does not have an aggressive root system.
It can be planted along pastures and fence lines to act as a windbreak
and shelters for animals. The stems are easily cut into planks when
fresh. The only animals to utilize the plants are baboons who strip
and eat the bark, and some butterflies whose larvae feed on the
The powdered root can be used as a fish poison, but fish must be
boiled before consumption. The ground seed soaked in milk is used
as a remedy for roundworm, but with caution as consuming too many
seeds is poisonous. It is reported that a mixture of roots with
those of Croton species with one part of lion's fat and one part
of python's fat is burnt in the house as a tranquilizer to dispel
worries; other recipes exist for sleep-inducing cures based on the
roots. Ground seed can be used as an arrow poison.
This tree is usually grown from fresh seed which must be placed
in hot water to soak overnight. Fresh seed germinates very well.
Plant seedlings into nursery bags at the two-leaf stage. Young trees
will transplant easily and they are fast growing (0.8 to 1 m per
year) in favourable conditions. This tree likes ample water and
can withstand several degrees of frost, particularly when older.
It makes a very shapely, attractive specimen with seasonal interest
for the garden.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants. University
of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Joffe, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants.
Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa.
Balkema, Cape Town.
- Venter, F. & Venter, J.A. 1996. Making the most of indigenous
trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
K. J. Baloyi and Yvonne Reynolds
Pretoria National Botanical Garden