Vangueria infausta 

Burch. subsp. infausta

Rubiaceae [gardenia family (Eng.); katjiepiering familie (Afr.)]
Common names: wild medlar (Eng.); wilde mispel (Afr.); Mpfilwa (Tsonga & Shangaan); Mmilo (Northern Sotho); muzwilu, mavelo (Venda); umViyo, umTulwa (Zulu); umVilo (Xhosa); umbizo, umViyo (Ndebele); Mmilo, mothwanyê (Tswana); and umVile, amantulwane (Swati)
National tree list no:

Green fruits of Vangueria infausta: Photo: T Basson

This species is one of South Africa's more popular veld fruits, and can be enjoyed while walking. This lovely little tree is considered to possess evil powers and not even the wood should be used for making fire. It is believed that it could cause cattle to bear only male offspring. Despite this, the plant is used extensively.

This is a deciduous shrub or small tree that varies in height from 3-7 m, depending on the habitat. It can be single or multistemmed, but usually the latter. The bark is greyish to yellowish brown, smooth and peeling in irregular small strips. The branchlets are covered with short, woolly hairs, especially when young. The leaves are single, oppositely arranged, as is typical of this family. The leaves are light green in colour, covered with soft, velvety short hairs and even more so when young. The margin of the leaf is entire. The shape of the leaf is elliptic to ovate with the net veining conspicuous below. When older, the leaves often appear twisted and are rough to the touch.

Ripe fruitsSoft, velvety, acorn-shaped buds appear either before or simultaneously with the new leaves around September to October. These open into small flowers, greenish white to yellowish in colour. They occur in clusters along the short lateral branches. The fruit is almost round, glossy dark green when young and changing to a light brown when ripe. The ripe fruit is soft and fleshy with a leathery shin that encloses 3-5 seeds embedded in soft pulp. The fruit is edible and has a pleasant sweet-sour, mealy taste. It tastes like an apple. It can be found on the plants from January to April. The remains of the old flower base can be seen on the tip of the fruit.

This plant can be found in woodlands, scrub, on stony koppies or in sandy valleys. It is most common in open, exposed grassland. It occurs from the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo, the North-West to Northern Cape.

Name derivation
The generic name Vangueria was derived from the Madagascan name for Vangueria edulis: voa vanguer. The word infausta (Latin) means unlucky, referring to the magical properties it is believed to have.

Ecological value
Insect galls on leavs. Image T BassonAntelope graze the leaves. Bushbabies, monkeys, baboons, squirrels and bushpigs eat the fruit when ripe. Butterflies and flies visit the flowers. One often finds elongated, papillate galls on the leaves that are caused by insects.

Uses and economic value
The fruit is mostly eaten raw but in some parts it is stored as dried fruit to be used in time of food scarcity. It is said that mampoer, a strong alcoholic drink or brandy can be distilled from it or fermented to make beer. If mixed with a little water and sugar it produces an acceptable substitute for apple sauce. The fruit juice can also be used for flavouring purposes by squeezing it out in water, discarding the seed and skins. This is done often for flavouring porridge. According to Betsie Rood (1994) vinegar can be produced from the fruit. This plant has medicinal value as well. An infusion of the roots and leaves has been used to treat malaria, chest ailments like pneumonia, as a purgative and to treat ringworms. An infusion of the leaves is used for the relief of toothache. For the treatment of swelling of the limbs the affected parts are bathed in a decoction of the pounded leaves and small twigs, especially in children.

Growing Vangueria infausta

The wild medlar is a hardy and drought resistant plant that can withstand moderate cold. It is rarely cultivated in the trade. It can be propagated from fresh seed or cuttings. To make sure that it germinates readily, remove the outer skin and the pulp. Sow in well-drained, sandy seedling mix.

This plant is slow growing, but would make an attractive garden plant if trimmed from the start to form a specimen plant.


  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Fox, F.W. & Norwood Young, M.E. 1982. Food from the veld. Delta Books, Johannesburg.
  • Germishuizen, G. 1982. Transvaal wild flowers. Macmillan, Johannesburg.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. 3. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Rood, B. 1994 Kos uit die veldkombuis. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
  • Steel, B. & Behr, K. 1986. A small tree for rocky gardens-Vangueria infausta, wild medlar. Veld & Flora 72: 89.
  • Thomas, V. & Grant, R. 1998. Highveld and the Drakensberg. SAPPI Tree Spotting Series. Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Malan, S. 1988. Field guide to the wild flowers of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria region. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B.,Van Wyk, P. & Van Wyk, B-E. 2000. Photographic guide to the trees of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, P. 1984. Veldgids tot die bome van die Nasionale Krugerwildtuin. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J-A. 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingston, London.

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Pretoria National Botanical Garden
March 2004


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