Rapanea melanophloeos

(L.) Mez

: Myrsinaceae
Common names : Cape beech (Eng.); Kaapse boekenhout, boekenhout (Afr.); IsiCalabi, umaPhipha, iKhubalwane, isiQalaba sehlati (Zulu); isiQwane sehlati (Xhosa); iGcolo, udzilidzili (Sw)

  Female flowers

The steady and graceful Cape beech is a tree for a large garden setting, it can be used as a hardy screening plant, as it is dense, evergreen and sends out suckers to form bush clumps. It requires low maintenance, if planted in the right area, not next to paved areas, where roots and new suckers can sprout. This is a hardy tree for a coastal garden and windy areas.

LeavesDescription : This is an evergreen tree, 4-18 m high. The mature leaves are leathery and dull, dark green, paler below. They are simple, oblong-lanceolate, about 100 mm long, have reddish leafstalks are and clustered mainly at the end of the branches. When young, leaves are pale green and maroon. Small, whitish or creamy yellow clusters of flowers appear on the branchlets in June to December. The fruits are thinly fleshed and spherical in shape, green when young and purple when matured. It is not uncommon to find flowers and fruit on the same tree. Fruits start appearing three months after the flowers.

R. melanophloes is not threatened or endangered; this is attributed to its wide distribution.

Distribution and Habitat
The Cape beech is widely distributed throughout southern Africa from the southern Cape to Zambia, and the east coast to the tropics. It is found along the damp areas of mountain and coastal forests or swamps and bush clumps. The Cape beech does well in coastal areas where winds are strong; it is fairly drought tolerant. R. melanophloes and R. gilliana are the two known species of Rapanea in South Africa. Occurring on the coast of the Eastern Cape. R. gilliana is a small tree/shrub compared to R. melanophloes.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
BarkIt is surmised that the name Rapanea is derived from the Guinean name, the specific name melanophloeos can be interpreted as "dark bark", but this is only the case in older specimens. The Cape beech is not related to the European beeches; the wood resembles the Faurea species commonly known as boekenhout, hence the Afrikaans name. The Xhosa name isiQwane sehlati which means Protea of the forest, describes the cluster of the leathery leaves at the end of the branches.

The flower attracts bees and flies, the fruit are eaten birds, baboons and vervet monkeys.

Uses and cultural aspects
: The grey bark or sometimes roots are used medicinally for respiratory problems, stomach, muscular and heart complaints. The bark contains tannin and is used as iNtelezi (a charm to protect against evil spirits) by Nguni people. The wood is hard and used for furniture-making and violins.

Growing Rapanea melanophloeos

TreeR. melanophloeos grows easily from seed sown in spring or early summer. Seed can be sown in a well-drained, general-mix, potting soil, placed in a warm, moist, shaded area. Treatment of seed with fungicide will prevent damping off and increase the percentage germination.

References and further reading
  • Coates Palgrave, K. 1977. Trees of southern Africa, edn 1. Struik, Cape Town, Johannesburg.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. III. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Zululand and Transkei. The Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.


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Phakamani m'Afrika Xaba
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
April 2005


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