Strychnos decussata

(Pappe) Gilg

Family : Strychnaceae/Loganiaceae (wild elder family)
Common names : Cape teak (Eng.); Kaapse kiaat (Afr.); umHlamahlala, umKhangele (Xhosa); umKhombazulu, umLahlankosi, umPhatha-wenkosi (Zulu)

Strychnos decussata growing in Kirstenbosch NBG
© Geoff Nichols

Strychnos decussata is a handsome tree for the garden with an attractive shape.

Strychnos decussata is a small to medium tree, 3-12 m high. It has a dense crown with many stems. The bark is smooth or wrinkled and dark purplish grey. Branchlets are in opposite pairs, knobbly, sometimes with raised white dots with no spines. The leaves are small, 15-50 x 10-30 mm, oppositely arranged, hard, shiny, dark to pale green. The leaf blade is curved upwards. The leaf margin is entire, rounded or blunt with a sharp tip. The flowers are small, creamy white, scented and formed in branched clusters on old wood in October to December. The fruits are asymmetric with sharp tips and thin skin, and are orange, round to oval, small, 17 mm in diameter.

Strychnos decussata flowers
© Geoff Nichols
Stychnos decussata fruit
© Geoff Nichols

Conservation status
Strychnos decussata is listed as Least Concern on the Red Data List (Raimondo et al. in prep.) It is not considered to be currently declining.

Distribution and habitat
Strychnos decussata occurs in the coastal belt of the Eastern Cape from Knysna up to KwaZulu-Natal, and east and northeastern Gauteng. It is also found in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It grows on rocky slopes and on stream banks. It is drought resistant.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific epithet decussata is a Latin word and refers to the leaf arrangement, meaning in 'pairs alternately at right angles'.

In the wild, antelope, Nyala and bushbuck eat the leaves and shoots. The fruits attract birds such as the White-eared Barbet, Black-bellied Starling, and the Purple-crested Turaco (Lourie). These birds are very effective agents of seed dispersal.

Uses and cultural aspects
The bark and fruits are poisonous especially when green. Roots and bark are used medicinally for stomach problems and as snuff. Traditionally mixed with crocodile fat, this is a well-known remedy for protection against lightning, hence the common name umKhombazulu (to point the lightning). The Zulu people use it to make the ceremonial stick for their king, hence the common name UmPhathawenkosi (it is carried by the King).

Strychnos decussata trunk
© Geoff Nichols

Growing Strychnos decussata

Strychnos decussata is propagated from seed. Collect the seed when the fruit is ripe. Sow fresh seeds in spring or summer in a seed tray in a well-drained soil mix. Cover the seeds with fine bark. Treat the seeds with fungicide to prevent damping-off. Keep the seed tray moist in a warm area.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, K. 1977. Trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Raimondo, D. et al. in prep. National Red List of threatened plants of South Africa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam) & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.


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Giles Mbambezeli
Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden
December 2008







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