General Info

This Tree is of medium height with a longitudinal furrowed bark.  Leaves are paripinnate.  The golden yellow Flowers are , bisexual zygomorphic and in racemes. They have 3 prominent stamens.   Fruit is an exceptionally long pod with shiny Seeds.


Cassia abbreviata, Cassia granitica, Cassia beareana, Cassia bequaertii, Cassia droogmansiana.

RSA Tree No. 212.

Common names: Sjambok pod, Sambokpad, Long-tail Cassia, Cloth of gold, Boontjieboom.

Family: Fabaceae, Leguminosae (Pea, bean or legume family).  After the Orchidaceae and the Asteraceae, the Fabaceae is the third largest Angiosperm (flowering plants) family with 700+ genera and close to 20 000 species.  Local Tree genera include Acacia (Vauchellia, Senegalia), Albizia, Bauhinia, Bolusanthus, Burkea, Calpurnia, Colophospermum, Cyclopia, Dichrostachys, Erythrina, Erythrophleum, Faidherbia, Indigofera, Mundulea, Peltophorum, Philenoptera, Schotia and Xanthocercis.  The Fabaceae are recognisable by their fruit and by their pinnately compound Leaves.  Leaves may also be simple and usually have stipules – some of which may be spinescent.  Leaflets are usually entire.  Flowers are bisexual and bracteate.  Regular flowers usually have 4-5 sepals and the same number of petals.  Irregular flowers have 4-5 sepals and 5 or less petals.  Stamens have anthers that have 2 pollen sacs and there are usually at least twice the number of stamens as petals – often 10.  The superior Ovary has one locule that may contain 1 or more ovules.  The Stigma and Style are simple.  The single carpel develops into the Fruit, which is usually a pod.  This pod dehisces on both sides and may break into segments.  Seeds vary.

Name derivation: Cassia – from the old Hebrew name.  abbreviata – means shortened but its significance is unclear. Common name “Long-tail” refers to the long, tail-like pods.  Cassia abbreviata is the only species of this genus in southern Africa.

Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern).  2009 (Raimondo et al.).


This unarmed and usually smallish Tree is up to 10m high and has a rounded crown which is usually at least as wide as the height of the tree.  On mature trunks, the Bark is brownish grey, rough to dark brown or black.  It is longitudinally furrowed.  Young stems are hairy and branches tend to droop.


This deciduous tree has Leaves that are paripinnate (compound leaves ending with a pair of leaflets).  These Leaflets are in 5-12 pairs or almost so.  These are alternately arranged and clustered at branches ends.  No glands are present on the Rachis (main axis bearing flowers or leaflets).  The Petioles (leaf stalks) have thickened bases and are up to 6cm long.  There are 2 short lived Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole).  Leaflets are thin, elliptic to lanceolate, dull green and initially finely velvety.  Shorter leaflets occur closer to the end of each leaf.  The Petiolules (leaflet stalks) are up to 6mm long.  The Apex is rounded or tapering and the Base is rounded.  Margins are entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented).  Veins are more visible against a strong light (photo 340).  Here a hand lens will help.


The most impressive yellow, sweet-scented Flowers are up to 4,5cm wide.  The buds are reddish.  Flowers appear in loose sprays of up to 20 x 15cm and usually precede the leaves.  They are bisexual and zygomorphic (irregular flower: when corolla is divisible into 2 equal halves in one plane only).  The inflorescence is a many-flowered Raceme (a simple elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers that open in succession towards the apex).  Each flower has a long Pedicel (stalk of a single flower in a cluster) with 2 Bracteoles (secondary usually smaller bracts) at the base.  The Calyx has 5 green Sepals.  The Corolla is much larger than the calyx and has 5 distinct Petals that are imbricate (having regularly arranged, overlapping edges, as roof tiles).  These petals surround 10 yellow Stamens.  3 of these stamens face towards the stem and are curved and much longer than their anthers.  The remaining 7 face away from the stem.  These are short and straight.  The dorsifixed Anthers dehisce via a basal pore.  There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) with a superior Ovary.  Projecting from the ovary is a single Style ending in a single truncate (appearing as if cut of at the end), curved Stigma. (Sep-Nov).


The exceptionally long, initially, golden-brown to brown Fruit is a indehiscent cylindrical Pod which is up to 90 x 2,5cm.  This is diagnostic.  The pods remain on the tree for many months.  The outer mature part is woody and surrounds a pithy layer, which is divided horizontally into compartments.  Each compartment hold a single Seed.  The pod is initially velvety and becomes smooth as it matures.  The shiny Seeds are flattish, round and either red-brown or black and are tinged with lime green. (Dec-Apr).

Distribution & Ecology

This Tree occurs naturally in Limpopo, Northern Province, Mpumalanga, widespread in Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, North-east Botswana; Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, DRC, Kenya, Somalia, Madagascar, Asia, Malaysia and Australia.  This is a bushveld (a sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of southern Africa) specimen, often associated with termite mounds in low frost areas and in low to medium altitudes.  They are also located in open woodland.  Trees are common on riverbanks and hillsides.  Elephants eat the leaves and branches.  Birds eat the fruit-pulp and seeds. It is the food plant for the emperor butterflies: coppers of the genus Charaxes, and white Pieridae – a large family mostly from tropical Africa.


At one time Root extracts were used to treat blackwater fever (a complication of malaria).  Proguibourtinidins – a type of condensed tannin is obtainable from this plant.  The Wood is light brown, marked with darker streaks.  It is coarse grained and little used.  Seeds germinate well and grow best in areas of little or no frost.  Plant the seedlings in direct sunlight.  The trees are frost tender – especially when young.  When in full flower this adult tree is a pleasure to see.


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

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

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.

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

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