Did you know that we have an indigenous orange in South Africa? This family member is a liana with fruit which, although much smaller, tastes like a cross between an orange and a lemon.
This woody liana can reach a height of 10m in forests as it uses other trees for support. The corky stems are covered with knobby thorns and are yellow when cut. The attractive shiny trifoliate leaves are light to dark green and are extremely aromatic, smelling of lemon when crushed. The twigs are covered in small, recurved thorns. The small, greenish-yellow flowers appear in spring and the plant continues flowering until the beginning of autumn. The berry-like fruits are borne right through summer. The fruit, 5-7mm in diameter, are orange in colour when ripe and taste like the skin of an orange.
Distribution and Habitat
Toddalia asiatica always occurs in forests near rivers or streams. It grows fairly well in clay soils. In South Africa, its natural distribution is on the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg and south to Swaziland. This liana occurs also further north in tropical Africa, Asia and Madagascar.
It will only flourish in frost-free areas with a fairly high annual rainfall.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Toddalia is a monotipic genus (only one species). In South Africa, close relatives are the genera Vepris, Teclea and Toddaliopsis.
The name Toddalia derives from kaki-toddalia, the Malabar name for an Indian species of climbing-orange.
Bees pollinate the flowers and birds and monkeys disperse the seeds. Birds love the fruit and therefore the seeds are carried over large areas.
Uses and cultural aspects
Toddalia asiatica is used medicinally by Venda herbalists. The fruit is used by the Massai as a cough remedy and the roots in the treatment of indigestion and influenza. The leaves are used for lung diseases and rheumatism. In Madagascar the root and its bark have been used as a remedy for fever, malaria, cholera, diarrhoea and rheumatism. Usher 1974 reports that in India a yellow dye is extracted from the roots (called Lopez Root) and the root bark is used medicinally as a tonic and for stomach ailements.
Growing Toddalia asiatica
Toddalia asiatica could be used very successfully in larger gardens where the glossy light green leaves will attract the attention of visitors to your garden. This plant tends to grow as a large shrub, not a liana if planted in full sun. Because it is extremely thorny, it could also be used as a security fence.
Toddalia asiatica is a strong grower and very easy to cultivate in warmer areas. The seeds germinate quickly. It will also grow from cuttings made of about 30cm long twigs from the growing tips, which are then placed in damp sand. A growth hormone can be used to stimulate the development of roots.
Fortunately Toddalia asiatica probably does not have many natural enemies or pests as the whole plant is covered in numerous glandular dots which contain acidic oils.
- Glen, H. 2004. Sappi what's in a name? Jacana. Houghton, Johannesburg
- Usher, George. 1974. A dictionary of plants used by man, Constable, London
- Watt & Breyer Brandwijk. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of Southern and Eastern Africa . E. & S. Livingstone LTD. Edinburgh and London
National Herbarium, Pretoria