Dialium schlechteri

Family : Fabaceae
Common names : sherbet tree, zulu podberry (Eng.); zoeloepeulbessie (Afr.); umThiba (Zulu); ensiba (Tsonga); enziva (Ronga)

Dialium schlechteri tree

This very attractive forest tree, with shiny leaves and mottled white bark, will appeal to every tree lover in South Africa.

Dialium schlechteri is a small to medium-sized (515 m) deciduous tree found in sand forest and coastal forests in Maputaland (Tongaland) in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It is usually multi-stemmed with a dense rounded crown. Bark is pale grey, smooth and mottled. Leaves are compound, opposite, subopposite to alternate, with 36 pairs of leaflets and a terminal one; leaflets are oblong and shiny green with asymmetric bases and entire margins. Leaves turn yellow before dropping.

Small flowers (10 mm long) are borne in terminal compact branched heads (80 x 80 mm diameter). They have a strong but unpleasant scent. Petals are absent. The inside of the calyx lobes is white; on the outside they are covered with golden brown velvety hairs.

Fruit: the pods are oval, thin-shelled and velvety red-brown (25 mm long). A bright orange, dry pith surrounds the seeds. The brown fruits are usually borne in profusion from autumn onwards.


Conservation status
Dialium schlechteri is not threatened (Least Concern).

Distribution and habitat
In South Africa, D. schlechteri occurs only in Maputaland in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It also occurs in Mozambique.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific name honours Rudolf Schlechter who was a German botanist. He collected widely in South Africa between 1891 and 1894, and again between 1896 and 1898.

The flowers attract bees. Elephants are especially fond of the fruit.

Uses and cultural aspects
The fruits are edible and very popular with Zulu children, as they are very tasty. According to some people, they taste exactly like sherbet. The pulp is sometimes mixed with water and milk to make a refreshing drink.

The wood has a beautiful close grain, a good surface and a fine colour. It is reddish towards the centre, lighter outward and without sapwood. It is hard, heavy and insect-proof. Sim, in his Forest flora of Portuguese East Africa, describes the wood as the best hardwood seen. The Zulus grind the bark to a powder and apply this to burns.

D. schlechteri in flower

Growing Dialium schlechteri

This attractive tree can be grown from seed. Take note that D. schlechteri is frost-sensitive, and it may be difficult to grow it on the Highveld and in other areas where winter frost frequently occurs.

Collect seeds and place in warm water. Let them soak overnight. The water can be kept at a constant, warm temperature by placing it in a container with a fish tank heater. In the mean time, prepare a seed tray with growing mixture. A half-sand, half-compost mixture would be the ideal medium. First wet your growing mixture before placing seeds in the tray. Cover seeds with the 20mm layer of same mixture and wet again. Place your seed tray in a warm corner but out of direct sunlight. Wet your mixture with a fine spray as soon as the mixture seems dry.

References and further reading

  • COATES PALGRAVE, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • PALMER, E. & PITMAN, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • POOLEY, E. 1997. The complete field guide to the trees of Natal. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • VAN WYK, B. & VAN WYK, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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