Rothmannia capensis is one of the loveliest indigenous trees
for the home garden. It attracts birds and it has a non-aggressive
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
(additions by Y Reynolds)