The red currant, Searsia chirindensis, is an attractive, African
tree with lovely reddish autumn foliage. It is common throughout
the eastern part of South Africa and is often grown in gardens.
Together with the kiaat, Pterocarpus angolensis, this species
has been chosen as the Tree of the Year for 2003.
red currant is a semi-deciduous shrub to small tree, 6-10 m high
(although exceptional specimens may reach 20 m). Young and coppicing
branches are armed with spines, although the mature tree is spineless.
The flowers are small, yellowish green and are borne in clusters
at the ends of the branches from August to March. Male and female
flowers occur on separate trees. The fruits, which are round, shiny,
slightly fleshy, dark reddish brown and 4-7 mm in diameter, are
borne from December to March, in heavy clusters which can weigh
down the branches.
large leaves, which may grow to 130 mm long, have three leaflets
and are dark green, turning red before falling in autumn. The margin
of the leaves is entire and usually undulate and ends in a tapering
tip. The midrib is pinkish and usually sunken above and prominent
below. The leaf stalk may be up to 70 mm long and is also pinkish
red. The young leaves are reddish.
This is a widespread African species occurring from Tanzania in
the north to the Cape in the south. In South Africa it occurs from
Swellendam in Western Cape along the coastal belt, through Eastern
Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, through the Natal midlands and up the escarpment
into Mpumalanga and the eastern part of Limpopo [Northern Province].
In occurs naturally in forests, along forest margins, in riverine
bush and scrub forest and rocky hillsides.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Most of the species grown in southern Africa, belonging to the genus Rhus have been placed in Searsia. Searsia was named after Paul B. Sears (1891-1990) who was head of the Yale School of Botany. The red currant,
S. chirindensis, is named after the Chirinda Forest in Zimbabwe, and is the largest of all the southern African Searsia species. There are about 111 species
in southern Africa including the commonly cultivated karee (Searsia
lancea) and witkaree (Searsia pendulina).
In its natural habitat, the bark and leaves of the red currant are
browsed by black rhino and the leaves by kudu, nyala, bushbuck and
red duiker. The ripe fruits are a favourite of many species of bird
(including louries, bulbuls, barbets, white-eyes, pigeons) as well
Uses and cultural aspects
The sap of this tree is used in traditional medicine for treating
heart complaints. The bark is also used to strengthen the body,
to stimulate circulation and in the treatment of rheumatism and
The sapwood is yellowish and the heartwood a rich reddish brown.
The heartwood is heavy and strong and makes attractive furniture.
The wood has historically been used for wagon wood and for turning
as well as for small tools and implements. The Venda name, muvhadela-phanga,
literally means 'wood for knife handles'.
The red currant makes an excellent garden tree with its lovely
autumn foliage. It is also attractive when in fruit and will attract
various fruit-eating birds to the garden. The red currant bush (Ribes
rubrum) from which jams and sauces are made is not indigenous
to South Africa.
Growing Searsia chirindensis
for most tree species, the red currant is best grown from seed with
the seed germinating after 5-8 weeks. The seeds should be sown fresh
for best germination results. There are also reports that it can
be easily grown from truncheons and semi-hardwood cuttings.
The red currant is a fast-growing tree (up to 1 m per year) and
can be grown in full sun or partial shade. It should be planted
in well-drained, composted soil. It does not have an aggressive
root system. It should be pruned from an early age if a single-stemmed
specimen tree is desired; if left unpruned it will grow into a multi-stemmed
large shrub. It will tolerate moderate frosts and is drought hardy.
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2. Struik, Cape Town.
- GRANT, R. & THOMAS, V. 1998. Sappi tree spotting: KwaZulu-Natal.
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Delos, Cape Town.
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trees and shrubs. Southern Books, Halfway House, Gauteng.
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families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical
- MOFFETT, R.O. 2007. Name changes in the Old World Rhus and recognition of Searsia (Anacardiaceae). Bothalia 37(2):165-175
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Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
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to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
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trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
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African indigenous trees. Briza Publications & Dendrological
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden
10 January 2003
Updated July 2008