Rothmannia globosa

(Hochst.) Keay

: Rubiaceae
Common names : September bells, bell gardenia (Eng.); klokkies-valskatjiepiering (Afr.); umGubhe (Xhosa); umPhazane (Zulu); Thudwane (Venda); siKoba (Swati)
South African Tree List No. 695

Flowers and fruits

The bell gardenia is a small, decorative garden tree that attracts bees with its scented, bell-shaped flowers.

This slender tree, usually 4-7 m in height, can reach 12 m, depending on the climatic conditions. BarkThe bark is brown or dark grey, smooth when young, but rougher in old age and marked in rectangular segments. The shiny, simple leaves are oval or lanceolate with a paler underside which displays the yellow or reddish midrib and veins. Trees are usually evergreen, but may be briefly deciduous.

The scented, bell-shaped flowers are creamy white, usually with pink speckles in the throat and are borne singly or in clusters of 2 to 4 on short side branches. They are about 25mm long and 35mm wide. The flowers are almost stalkless and appear from August to November. The trees are often in full bloom in September hence the common name. The fruits are round, about 25 mm in diameter and green when young but turn brown as they ripen from January onwards.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific name globosa means roundish and refers to the shape of the fruit. Rothmannias are related to gardenias and Rothmannia capensis with larger flowers, is also cultivated in gardens.

The tree is found in coastal and dune bush along riverbanks and in evergreen forest from the Eastern Cape to Limpopo Province and Swaziland.

Monkeys, baboons and birds eat the fruit of the bell gardenia. Carpenter bees pollinate the flowers.

Uses and cultural aspects The powdered roots are rubbed into incisions in some parts of southern Africa to treat leprosy. Mpondo men once used the shells of the fruit as clothing. The fruits are recorded as edible and the dried fruits are used to make necklaces.

Flower with speckled throat

Growing Rothmannia globosa

The plant is easily cultivated from seed in well-drained soil to which plenty of compost has been added. It is fairly fast growing and tolerates some frost and makes a beautiful small tree for townhouse gardens.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of South Africa, vol. 3. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Watt, M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, edn 2. Livingstone, London.


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Khangela Joseph Baloyi
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
November 2005
with additions by Yvonne Reynolds


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