Dovyalis rhamnoides

( Burch. ex DC.) Burch. & Harv
Family: Salicaceae
Common names : common sourberry (Eng.); uKhamgwindi (Zulu); uMqaqoba (Xhosa)


Dovyalis rhamnoides showing spines and male flowers

This is a spiny, evergreen shrub or tree bearing edible fruit. It is easily cultivated and attracts birds to the garden.

Dovyalis rhamnoides is an evergreen shrub or a small tree 1–7 m high. It has grey brown bark and is well known for the spines on the stem and close by the leaves. The plant is hairy when still young but leaves are glabrous or shiny later. Leaves are simple and oval shaped.

The flowers are tiny creamy green and male and female flowers odccur on different trees i.e. the plants are dioecious. Male flowers are more attractive displaying many stamens.

Female flowers
Female flowers

Male flowers

Female trees bear red oval berry fruits which are relished by birds. Unripe fruits are a shiny green before they ripen. Fruits are not produced each year. does not produce fruit every year.

  Conservational status
The plant is currently listed as Less Concern against the I.U.C.N criteria in Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009). It is not threatened in the veld although it has some economical value.But in-situ conservation is needed for research purposes and monitoring of this species is recommended.

Distribution and habitat
The species is widely distributed in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), but it can also be found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and Western Cape. It grows in a well-drained soil in bushveld and on forest margins or in riverine environment.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Dovyalis has been derived from the Greek word meaning spear. The specific name rhamnoides means ‘like Rhamnus ', a Greek name referring to various spiny shrubs. This species was first recorded by Burchell. Other species in this genus include D. caffra , D. zeyheri , D. lucida and D. longispina.

Uses and cultural aspects
The plant can be used as a hedge or can be planted as a tree. Its fruits are edible and very delicious. They can also be used to make jam, jelly preserve, vinegar and brandy. It attracts insects because of its fruits. It also makes a good nesting site for some bird species as it has thorns that can help to protect the bird from threats. Its stem can be used as timber for craft work and agricultural implements. There is also evidence of it being used for medicinal purpose although its use is very limited.

Unripe fruits

Growing Dovyalis rhamnoides

The plant easily propagates from seeds during October to February but it can also be propagated from cuttings while the stem is still soft. It grows in a sunny or a semi-shaded environment

List of references

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Glen, H.F. 2004. SAPPI What's in a name? The meaning of the botanical names of trees. Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Pooley, E. 1997. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei . Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, Braam [A.E] & Van Wyk, P.1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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Azwindini Mudau and Katlego Selemela

With images by Andrew Hankey

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

October 2012

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