Rothmannia capensis


Common names:
wild gardenia, common Rothmannia (Eng.); wildekatjiepiering (Afr.); Modulatshwene (Northern Sotho); Mukubudu (Venda); umPhazane-mkhlu (Zulu); iBolo (Xhosa)

Flower and glossy leaves

Rothmannia capensis is one of the loveliest indigenous trees for the home garden. It attracts birds and it has a non-aggressive root system.

This evergreen tree grows up to 10 m tall in woodlands but reaches 20 m in forest, with a dense, roundish crown. The bark on younger branches is smooth and grey-brown, but darker grey on older stems and branches and rough or cracked like crocodile skin. The glossy green leaves are often crowded towards the ends of the branches and have little bumps or pockets (domatia) in the axils of the veins.

FruitThe beautiful bell-shaped flowers are borne singly in summer from December to February. They are creamy white with purplish red streaks and speckles inside the flower tube. They have a strong sweet scent, which lingers even after they dry, and are about 80 mm long. They are followed by round, hard, green, 70 mm fruits, with a leathery skin marked with faint grooves. The fruits soften when ripe and turn brown. They contain many flat seeds embedded in pulp.

Rothmannia capensis is distributed from Limpopo in the north to the Western Cape in forests, kloofs, and on rocky ridges from sea level up to about 1 600 m.

Name derivation
Rothmannia was named in honour of Dr Georgius Rothman (1739-1778) by his friend Thunberg. Both were pupils of Linnaeus. The Latin word capensis means from the Cape.

Economic value
The hard pliable wood is popular for instrument handles but also for making various household utensils. It makes durable spoons for cooking and stirring sticks for porridge. Dry wood makes a hot fire and the fruits are edible but not very tasty. Baboons, vervet and samango monkeys eat the green and ripe fruits off the trees and bushbuck, grey duiker and bushpigs immediately devour dropped fruits in forests.

Medicinal use
The powdered roots are used for treating leprosy and rheumatism. The powder is rubbed into tiny incisions made into the skin over the effected parts. Juice from the fruits is heated and applied to wounds and burns to speed up the healing process. The effected parts are also held in smoke from the burning roots.

Growing Rothmannia capensis

This beautiful tree is suitable even for small gardens, it can be planted as an individual specimen tree or in a small grove.

This tree is fairly easy to grow from seed. Remove the seeds from the brown fruit and sow them in a mixture of 3 parts river sand to 1 part compost. It is important to keep the seed mix moist until germination, which takes place from 14 days onwards. This tree grows very well in light shade or full sun, preferring loam or sandy soils to clay. It grows moderately fast (0.7 m per year) and may flower in its second year, but most take a little longer. It is frost and to some extent drought-resistant.

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. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants. A South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J.A. 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

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K.J. Baloyi
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
June 2004
(additions by Y Reynolds)


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