General Info

The Tree with its greyish brown, rough and flaky bark may reach 8m high.  The large Leaves are simple, alternate with large stipules.  The dioecious Flowers are in drooping spikes.  Fruit is a single seeded berry.


Antidesma venosum, Antidesma bifrons, Antidesma biovinianum.

RSA Tree No. 318.

Common names: Tassel Berry, Tassel-berry, Voelsitboom.

Family: Phyllanthaceae. Latex as well as Spines are usually absent.  This is diagnostic and excludes them from Euphorbiaceae.  There are about 50+ genera and 2 000 species in this diverse family.  They are most numerous in the tropics and most members are trees.  Leaves are usually simple, alternate and petiolate.  Leaf margins are usually entire and leaves are present in most species.  The actinomorphic Flowers are usually unisexual and are monoecious or dioecious.  The superior Ovary has 2 ovules in each locule.  The Fruit is a berry, drupe or schizocarp.  Local genera include Antidesma, Bridelia, Cleistanthus and Heywoodia.

Name derivation:   Antidesma – against (snake) poison or it may refer to the banded bark used for rope.  venosum – with noticeable (leaf) veins.  Globally there are 100 species in Antidesma and in southern Africa, this genus contains 3 species.

Conservation Status: L C. (least concern).  2009 (Raimondo et al.).


This is a small round crowned Tree 4-8m high or it can be a shrub.  The Bark is greyish brown, smooth or rough and flaky.  The Stem (main axis of the plant) is usually twisted and branches occur low-down.  Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) are hairy with visible, pale grey Lenticels (usually raised corky oval or elongated area on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment).


The oblong to elliptic Leaves are simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the leaf into leaflets) and alternate.  This semi-deciduous plant has leaves that are glandless and large – up to 15 x 10cm.  Leaves turn yellowish before falling.  The Blade is leathery, shiny dark green above with sunken veins.  It is paler below and the conspicuous hairy veins are more visible here.  The Side veins are noticeable and loop around the margins.  Margins are entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented).  The Apex may be rounded or it may taper – in which case a drip tip may be present.  The Base is rounded to cordate (heart shaped).  The hairy Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 1cm long and is grooved on top.  Stipules (basal appendage of the petiole) are large, conspicuous and have tapering tips.


The attractive, unpleasantly or honey scented Flowers are found at the ends of twigs and are arranged in drooping catkin like Spikes (simple indeterminate inflorescence with sessile flowers on a single unbranched stalk) up to 8cm long.  They are dioecious (having male and female parts on separate plants).  The Calyx is small and membranous.  Petals are absent. The Male Flowers are small and a dull yellowish.  They have 2-8 Stamens and pistils are absent.  The Female Flowers are reddish and less fluffy.  The Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) is annular (in a ring or arranged in a circle) surrounding the base of the ovary.  The superior Ovary usually has a single locule with 2 ovules.  The Styles are usually bilobed.  Insects may parasitize the flowers causing them to be distorted and tangled with sterile growth. (About Oct-Jan.)


The long pendulous Fruit develops in Spikes up to 8 x 5mm.  The fruit is an almost spherical Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) and changes from white to red and finally to purplish black when mature.  All these attractive colours are often simultaneously visible.  This varied aging process aids dispersal.  Each berry contains a single Seed.  Seeds are flat, usually single by abortion and have broad, flat cotyledons (seed leaf; primary leaf or leaves in the embryo).  The albumen (starchy or other nutritive material surrounding the embryo; commonly used in the sense of endosperm, for the material surrounding the embryo) is fleshy.  (About Jan-May).

Distribution & Ecology

These plants can be Found mainly in the open in Eastern Cape near Port St Johns, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northern Province, Mpumalanga e.g. near Punda Maria, widespread in Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and northwards to Sudan.  They grow close to rivers in both forest margins and mixed deciduous woodland up to an altitude of 1 800m.  Game, including Kudu browse the Leaves.  The Fruit is consumed by birds including bulbuls, mousebirds, barbets, white-eyes thrushes, as well as by impala and monkeys.


Apart from the smell of the flowers, this tree would be worth planting.  Both male and female plants are required for fruit development.  The tree is slow growing and propagation by seeds is possible.  The flesh surrounding the seeds needs to be removed before planting.  This tree is frost sensitive.  The sweet Fruit is edible and has a flavour similar to mulberry.  The tree is usually small.  The Wood has a yellow sapwood and a dark heartwood and is used for hut building and fuel.


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Burrows, J.E., Burrows, S.M., Lotter, M.C. & Schmidt, E. 2018. Trees and Shrubs Mozambique.  Publishing Print Matters (Pty) Ltd.  Noordhoek, Cape Town.

Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.

Ginn, P.J. McIlleron, W.G. Milstein, S. 1989. The Complete Book of Southern African Birds. Struik Publishers (PTY) LTD. Third impression 1991.

Lawrence, G. H. M, 1951. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, The Macmillan Company, New York. Tenth Printing 1965.

Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town.

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