Tarchonanthus camphoratus L.

Common name: Camphor bush (E), Moologa (V), Mofahlana (S.sotho), Igqeba emlimhlophe (Z), Wildekanferbos (A), Mofathla (T)
South African Tree Number 733

Tarchonanthus camphoratus

This interesting small tree with its attractive grey foliage is particularly suited to tough conditions. From sites blasted by wind and coastal sea spray to dry inland gardens, it performs well. It is even able to shoot from the base if burnt almost to the ground. If you are looking for a survivor for your difficult landscape site- this is it!

The name Tarchonanthus is derived from the Greek word meaning funeral flower. This name is divided into two parts, 'Tarchos', which means funeral rites and 'Anthos' meaning flower. It is unclear why this name was given, but Jackson (1990) suggests it may have to do with the camphorous smell. The name camphoratus refers to the strong smell of camphor given off when the leaves are crushed.

The camphor bush is widespread in Southern Africa. It grows in thickets of bushveld, grassland, forest and semi-desert. It grows mostly in sandy soils in the low-lying and sand forest of the coast.

Tarchonanthus camphoratus grows from 2-9m high. It is a semi-deciduous small tree that grows mostly in large uniform groups, but it grows larger and more densely when it grows alone among other trees in the bush. The branches and foliage make a V-shaped canopy. The stem is covered with pale brown bark. Leaves are grey green above and pale grey and felted underneath, with prominent venation on the underside. The leaves are narrow, with entire or finely toothed margins.

The creamy-white flowers are borne in a branched inflorescence on the terminal end of the branch. The fruits are covered with fluffy cottonwool-like hairs, and are produced mostly in March to November. These woolly, white fruiting heads are strongly scented and most attractive. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees.

The camphor bush is used for medicinal purposes. Problems such as blocked sinuses and headache can be healed by inhaling the smoke from the burning green leaves. Drinking boiled mixture of leaves and water can help to treat coughing, toothache, abdominal pain and bronchitis. Leaves can also be used for massaging body stiffness and also as a perfume. The cottonwool like seedheads were used to stuff cushions.

Animals such as kudu, giraffe, impala and springbok browse the leaves of this tree.

There are only a few species of Tarchonanthus. T trilobus is also in cultivation. The genus occurs in Africa and Arabia. It is closely related to Brachylaena, which also provides attractive, grey-leafed, small trees for the garden.

Growing Tarchonanthus camporatus

This tree can be used in the garden for areas with severe frost and drought. It is also an excellent tree for creating tall hedges or windbreaks in coastal gardens and for binding sand dunes. It provides a good shape and it can be also used as a bonsai specimen.

Propagate this tree from seed, which may take 8 weeks to germinate. It may also be propagated by softwood cuttings. Young plants transplant fairly easily. The tree requires no special nurturing.

Update: April 2008. See Tarchonanthus littoralis for updated taxonomic information on this genus.


  • Grant, R and Thomas, V. 1998. Sappi Tree Spotting Kwazulu-Natal. Jacana Publishers. Johannesburg.
  • Jackson, W.P. 1990. Origins and Meanings of Names of South Africa. UCT Publishers. Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1973. Trees of Southern Africa. A.A.Balkema. Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. Trees of Natal. Natal Flora Publication. Durban.
  • Van Wyk, B and Van Wyk, P. 1997. Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers. Cape Town.


Samson Moeketsi Letsela & Andrew Hankey
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
(with additions by Yvonne Reynolds)
May 2002

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This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com