General Info

This unarmed Tree is up to 12m high and has a rounded crown.  The simple, thin Leaves are petiolate.  The 5-merous yellow Flowers are bisexual and actinomorphic.  Fruit is a small drupe: matures to red or yellow.


Berchemia zeyheri, Phyllogeiton zeyheri, Rhamnus zeyheri.

RSA Tree No. 450.

Common names: Red Ivory, Rooi-ivoor, Pink Ivory, Purple Ivory, Rooihout.

Family: Rhamnaceae. (Buckthorn Family).  This family mainly contains trees and shrubs.  It has about 58 genera and 900 species.  In the RSA, there are 9 genera and 203 species.  Here trees include Berchemia, Noltea, Rhamnus and ZiziphusLeaves are simple, usually alternate and stipules are present – if only for a short time.  Flowers are actinomorphic (regular and symmetric) and a prominent hypanthium (the cup-like receptacle usually derived from the fusion of floral envelopes and androecium, and on which are seemly borne calyx, corolla and stamens) is present.  Sepals and Petals are free and in 4’s or 5’s.  The Calyx is tubular and sepals do not overlap.  The free petals arise from the calyx tube or from the outer margin of the disc.  The 4-5 Stamens arise with, and opposite to, the petals.  Anthers have up to 2 pollen sacs and pollen is released through longitudinal slits.  The Ovary is usually superior.  Fruit is a drupe or capsule.  A persistent Calyx may partly enclose the drupe.

Name derivation: Berchemia named after M Berchem, a French botanist in the 17th century.  zeyhrai named after Carl L. P. Zeyher: noted German botanist for his fundamental work on Flora Capensis (a systematic description of the Plants of the Cape colony and neighbouring territories).  There are 3 species of the genus Berchemia in southern Africa.

Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern).  2009 (Raimondo et al.).  The good wood quality may pose a problem in the future due to illegal harvesting.


This unarmed Tree is up to 12+m high.  The Trunk is straight with a diameter up to 36cm ending in a rounded, leafy crown.  Young branches are green.  The Bark is initially smooth and grey.  Older trees have bark that is darker and cracked into longitudinally running segments, which may appear rectangular (photo 931).  Galls may occur on the branches.  Young twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) may be a reddish purple.


This usually deciduous tree has opposite or nearly so Leaves, which are thin and simple (has a single blade, which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets).  The leaves are opposite or nearly so.  In winter, the leaves may turn yellow or a clear golden colour before falling.  They are elliptic to ovate and up to 6 x 3,5cm but usually smaller.  Blade.  The shiny, usually hairless leaves are thin, dark green, blue-green or grey-green above and slightly lighter below.  Lateral veins end at the leaf margin and form a herringbone pattern.  The veins protrude and are more visible below.  Young leaves are initially bright green and become grey-green when mature.  The Apex is round or bluntly tapering and may be notched.  The Base is round or narrowed or notched and may be reddish.  The Margin is often entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented) but may be scalloped between lateral veins.  The Petiole (leaf stalk) is short – up to 5mm long.  It is channelled and slightly twisted on top and may be a reddish-purple.


The bisexual, yellowish green Flowers are small (up to 16mm long and 4mm wide).  They occur in small axillary clusters and supported by thin pedicles (flower stalks) are usually up to 10mm long.  Flowers are actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical: the perianth, the calyx and corolla, is divisible into 3 or more identical sectors).  Flowers have 5 ovate Sepals with a keel on inner face.  The 5 spatulate (shaped like a spatula with a broad rounded end) Petals are shorter than the sepals.  The Disc (more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) is swollen.  The 5 Stamens are situated opposite the petals and inserted outside the disc.  The Anthers open through longitudinal slits.  Flowers have a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the ovary, style and stigma) containing a superior (said of an ovary that is free from the calyx or perianth) 2-locular Ovary that is immersed in the disc.  Each locule contains a single basal Ovule.  The Stigma is glandular and the Style is conical, thick and 2-lobed. (Aug-Jan).


The small (up to 14 x 5mm), smooth Fruit is a drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach).  It may contain a persistent Style at the apex. The fruit is oval or widest at the base and is slightly pointed. It is fleshy, like a very small peach fruit.  It may be membranous e.g., apples or woody (like a peach pip stone).  The Fruit is situated on long thin pedicles (flower stalks).  The initially green fruit turns yellow or red when mature.  (Dec-May).

Distribution & Ecology

The Tree is located in the bushveld (is a sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of southern Africa), rocky hillsides, stony ridges, bushy stream banks, dry forests and termite mounds at low to medium altitudes.  It is drought resistant but sensitive to frost.  Trees are common in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga e.g. near Middelburg, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique.  The Flowers attract bees and other insects.  This is a heavily browsed plant.  Baboons, monkeys and bushbabies eat the Fruit.  Birds that include Loeries, Doves and Green Pigeons also eat the fruit.  Impala and Nyala eat both the fruit and leaves.  Porcupines eat the Bark.


The sweet, sticky Fruit is edible and good tasting.  It is much sought after and can be dried and stored for future use.  Local people sell the fruit.  The very hard, dense Wood has a fine texture and polishes well.  It is used for the manufacture of quality furniture, ornaments, fence poles, knife handles, knobkerries and bows.  Sapwood is pale cream and heartwood is an attractive pinkish red.  The wood is resistant to insect attack but difficult to plane.  A purplish dye is extractable from the Bark.  Propagation is easily carried out using cleaned seed but the plant is frost sensitive.  This is a good bird, bee and butterfly tree.


Boon, R. 2010. Pooley’s Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban. p332.

Burrows, J.E., Burrows, S.M., Lotter, M.C. & Schmidt, E. 2018. Trees and Shrubs Mozambique.  Publishing Print Matters (Pty) Ltd.  Noordhoek, Cape Town. p545

Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town. p669.

Lawrence, G. H. M, 1951. Taxonomy of Vascular Plants, The Macmillan Company, New York. Tenth Printing 1965. p587.

Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, Balkema, Amsterdam, Cape Town. p1396.

Schmidt, S. Lotter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and the Kruger National Park. p378.

van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town. p350.