Syzygium cordatum

Hochst.ex C.Krauss.

Family Name:
Common name:
Waterbessie, umdoni, water berry, umSwi, and umJoni

This is beautiful tree (pronounced si-zig-ee-um) is home to many birds and insects, but invasive in the Betty's Bay area of the Western Cape.

FlowersAn evergreen, water-loving tree, which grows to a height of 8 -15 m. This tree is often found near streams, on forest margins or in swampy spots. The leaves are elliptic to circular, bluish green on top and a paler green below. Young leaves are reddish. The white to pinkish fragrant flowers are borne in branched terminals and have numerous fluffy stamens and produce abundant nectar. It flowers from August to November. The fruits are oval berries, red to dark-purple when ripe.

It occurs along streambanks from Kwazulu-Natal northwards to Mozambique. It grows in forest margins, in bush or open grassy and sometimes high country.

Derivation of Name
According to Pitman and Palmer (1972), the generic name Syzygium is based on a Greek word meaning "coupled", an illusion to the paired branches and leaves.

The specific name cordatum, is the Latin word "cordatus", meaning heart-shaped, this is in reference to the heart-shaped base of the leaves.

According to Palmer and Pitman (1972), one of the only two nesting sites of the Woolly-necked Stork known in South Africa is in an umdoni swamp forest near Mtunzini. The foliage of this tree is eaten by Kudu and birds such as the Crowned Hornbill feed off the large hairy caterpillars that sometimes infest the tree.

Uses and cultural aspects
This tree is known for its many uses. The fleshy fruit is slightly acid in flavour and is eaten by children, monkeys, bush-babies and birds. The berries are also used to sometimes make an alcoholic drink. The powdered bark is used as a fish poison. In central Africa the tree is known as a remedy for stomach ache and diarrhoea. It is also used to treat respiratory ailments and tuberculosis

Growing Syzigium cordatum

The tree is best grown from seed. For better germination pre-treat seed with a pre-emergance fungicide, this will prevent seedlings from dampening off before emerging above the soil. Sow seed in a seed tray filled with well-drained soil and cover seeds with a thin layer of soil. Water well and keep in a well-ventilated area. Once seed has germinated, feed seedlings with an organic liquid fertilizer. Pot seedlings into individual plant bags or pots.

As its common name suggests, this is a water-loving tree, so it is best planted in full sun near a stream or river bank or any damp area.


  • Coates Keith, 1983, Trees of Southern Africa, second edition, Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Palmer Eve and Pitman Norah, 1972, Trees of Southern Africa, A.A Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk Braam and Van Wyk Piet, 1997, Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk Ben-Erik and Gericke Nigel, 2000, People's Plants A guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa, Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk Ben-Erik, Van Oudtshoorn Bosch & Gericke Nigel, 1997, Medicinal Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications, Pretoria.


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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