Hyperacanthus amoenus

(Sims) Bridson

Family : Rubiaceae
Common names : Thorny gardenia (Eng.); Doringkatjiepiering (Afr.); Murombe (Tshivenda); Bembethu (Sesotho); isibhembedu, umbambangwe, umthembezwana (isiZulu); isende(isiXhosa).

Buda and flowers: Image Geoff Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

This shrub or small tree with its glossy green foliage and pretty flowers is an attractive option for gardeners looking to expand their collection of indigenous shrubs.

Small to medium multi-stemmed shrubs or trees that differ in height from 18 m depending on climatic conditions. Lateral branches are arranged opposite on the main stem. Leaves develop below spines, are simple, clustered and arranged in whorls of five with smooth margins. Growth tips of new leaves are red. Spines are smaller than leaves.

Branches with spines

Flower buds are red to pink and open into white star-like flowers with a delightful fragrance. Flowering time is from November to March. Green fruits develop after flowering and become fleshy brown as they ripen.

Conservation status
Hyperacanthus amoenus is Red Listed as Least Concern. This tree is abundant but due to unsustainable harvesting for firewood and domestic farming in rural areas it has become rarer in some areas. Reproduction rate of trees in the wild is also very slow.

Distribution and habitat
Hyperacanthus amoenus occurs naturally in Mozambique, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. Its preferred habitat is bushveld, forest and woodland.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Hyperacanthus amoenus belongs to the Rubiaceae family. The genus is relatively small in South Africa with only a few species. It was previously classified under the genus Gardenia, but has recently been shown to be clearly separate. The genus name Hyperacanthus is derived from the Greek hyper, meaning above, and akantha, meaning spine. The species name amoenus means pleasant or delightful.

Uses and cultural aspects
Leaves of Hyperacanthus amoenus are browsed by game.

Attractive foliage

Roots and fruits are used for traditional medical purposes to treat stomach complaints and for cleansing. It is also believed to be useful for giving courage. In certain rural areas, such as the Vhembe district, the strong stems are used to make kraal hedges or garden fences. The fruits are delicious and often eaten by people, birds and animals, which then distribute the seed. The calyx remains on the fruit making it easier to identify. Fruits can also be harvested while green and stored under the sand to induce early ripening. Trees are used for firewood, however the electrification of rural areas has greatly reduced this environmental pressure. It makes a good garden plant for formal and informal gardens especially for screening purposes and for flower displays.

In flower

Growing Hyperacanthus amoenus

Hyperavanthus amoenus is a slow-growing shrub or tree that can withstand winter drought. In its natural habitat it is found growing in full sun to semi-shaded areas. Plants can be propagated from seeds. Clean seeds and sow in potting medium. Place containers under shade net providing 60% shade. Seeds take about eight weeks to germinate with a relatively low success rate. Vegetative propagation through cuttings may also be considered if seeds fail to germinate.

References and further reading

  • 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.
  • Mutshinyalo, T.T., & Siebert, S.J. 2010. Myth as a biodiversity conservation strategy for the Vhavenda, South Africa. Indiliga: African journal of indigenous knowledge systems 9(2): 151171.
  • 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.
  • Siaga, N.M, 2007. Population dynamics of Millettia stuhlmannii Taub. Population of Ha-Makhuvha, Vhembe district in Limpopo Province . Unpublished Honours Thesis. University of Venda, Thohoyandou, South Africa.
  • Van Wyk, A.E & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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Thompson Mutshinyalo and Lufuno Nenungwi

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

November 2013


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 www.plantzafrica.com