The red fruit of this tree is a tasty treat for humans and a firm
favourite with birds and animals. A fine oil is extracted from the
seeds. The jacket plum is related to the litchi and is a natural
addition for the bird or wildlife garden. It is easily cultivated,
although slow-growing in colder climates.
The jacket plum is a long-lived, hardy, evergreen, small to medium
tree with a height of 2-8 m. Under ideal conditions it can grow
at a moderate rate but can be slow-growing under dry and/or cold
leaves are simple and oblong, hard-textured and wavy. The leaf margin
may vary from sharply toothed (especially in young growth) to almost
smooth in mature growth. The greenish flowers are borne on catkins
in the axils of the leaves, followed by round green velvety fruits
which split open to reveal bright red flesh with a dark brown to
black seed imbedded within.
Pappea capensis is widespread in southern Africa from the
Northern Cape through the drier Karoo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal,
to the northern provinces, as well as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and northwards
into eastern and southern tropical Africa. It naturally occurs in
bushveld, riverine thicket, wooded grassland and rocky outcrops
in grassland as well as scrub veld and is often found on termite
mounds. Due to its wide distribution range it is well suited to
cultivation in a wide variety of climatic conditions.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The generic name Pappea is named after a German physician
and plant collector Carl Pappe, while the specific name capensis
refers to southern Africa. Pappea capensis belongs to the
same family as the popular fruit, the litchi. The family is represented
is South Africa most notably by the false currants (Allophylus
spp.), the well-known and widely cultivated sand olive (Dodonaea
viscosa) and the bushveld red-balloon (Erythrophysa transvaalensis).
This species was previously known as two separate varieties (Pappea
capensis var. capensis and P. capensis var.
radlkoferii). However, it is now widely accepted that it was
just regional variation which resulted in confusion between an arid
form from drier areas and a more lush form from regions of higher
The fruit is eaten by various frugivorous birds and animals which
in turn distribute the seeds in their droppings. The leaves are
browsed by game such as elephant, giraffe, kudu, nyala, bushbuck,
and grey duiker as well as domestic stock animals.
The jacket plum has also been recorded as the larval food plant
to the caterpillars of the following butterflies of southern Africa:
Common hairtail butterfly (Anthene definita definita)
Brown playboy butterfly (Virachola antalus)
Pearlspotted charaxes (Charaxes jahlusa)
Gold-banded forester (Euphaedra neophron)
The sweetly scented flowers attract a wide variety of insects
which in turn attract many birds. The seed is parasitized by a small,
bright red bug (Leptocoris hexophtalma) which sucks the oil
from the seed on the ground below the tree.
Uses and cultural aspects
The delicious and very juicy fruit with a tart flavour is used to
make preserve, jelly, vinegar and an alcoholic drink.
Fragrant non-drying golden yellow oil is extracted from the roasted
seeds. There are reports of it being used for oiling rifles. It
is also used as a purgative and for lubrication, as a cure for ringworm,
to restore hair, as well as for making soap.
Leaves, bark and the oil extracted from the seed are used medicinally
against baldness, ringworm, nosebleeds, chest complaints, eye infections,
and venereal disease. Bark is also used in protective charms that
are sprinkled on the ground. Some research has reported that the
leaves are very effective in killing snails. Infusions of the bark
are also used by Kenyan Masai warriors to gain courage as well as
an aphrodisiac and a blood-strengthening tonic. The root is used
orally or as an enema and as a purgative for cattle.
Lobengula's Indaba tree, which stands in the state house in Bulawayo
in Zimbabwe, is an ancient specimen of Pappea capensis.
The wood is hard, light brown with a reddish tint, tough and heavy
with a twisted grain. There is apparently little difference between
the heartwood and the sapwood. The stems seldom attain significant
girth and therefore do not yield much useable wood. It is, however,
used to make sticks, poles, cattle yokes, furniture and kitchen
utensils. This tree is still used as an important source of traditional
Growing Pappea capensis
jacket plum is a worthy addition to any garden no matter what part
of the country you live in. It can tolerate both cold and heat as
well as prolonged periods of drought. It may be used as a specimen
tree or as a focal point. Its attractive pale grey stem often has
patches of darker colours. It is useful as a street tree or for
shade in parking lots as it does not have an aggressive root system.
It is also well suited to being employed as part of a mixed screen
or wind barrier or as part of a natural bushclump in a wildlife-friendly
garden or in large landscapes such as parks and golf courses. As
it seldom attains tremendous dimensions it also lends itself to
being used in townhouse gardens. It develops a closed, dense crown
under cultivation in areas of higher rainfall, which creates a cool
shady place for a garden bench.
The new leaves are an attractive pinky-bronze when
they emerge in spring, this contrasts well with the dark green of
the old leaves making an attractive display.
The trees flower from September to May (southern hemisphere)
and the rather special fruit is produced from December to July.
The dense crown is popular with nesting birds as it provides a concealed
and sheltered nesting sites.
Seed should be collected from the ripe fruits. Remove the red flesh.
Store or sow immediately. Sow seed in trays using a well-drained
seedling mixture with some river sand added. The seed should be
pressed into the medium and covered with approximately 5 mm of sand
or seedling medium. Keep the trays in a warm and lightly shaded
position until germination, which may take from six to ten weeks
under ideal conditions. The seedlings are best left in their trays
until they are approximately 20-50 mm tall before planting out,
taking care not to bruise or damage the young taproot.
Nursery-grown plants adapt well to cultivation and respond well
to organic and synthetic horticultural fertilizers. Saplings are
slow-growing especially when young but growth increases as the tree
matures. Growth is also considerably quicker in warmer climates
or warmer positions of the garden.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of
southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
- Hankey, A. 1999. Creating bush-clumps and exclusion areas in
out of play areas of golf courses and large estates. Turf &
Landscape Maintenance No. 14.
- Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory.
University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Kroon, D.M. 1999. Lepidoptera of southern Africa, host-plants
and other associations. Lepidopterists Society of Southern
- Migdoll, I. 1987. Field guide to butterflies of southern
Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa,
vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal,
Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees
and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana,
- Venter, S. & Venter, J. 1985. Making the most of indigenous
trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden