General Info

This Tree may reach 10m high.  Simple Leaves with entire margins, lack stipules.  The bisexual yellowish and regular Flowers develop in spikes.  Fruit is a 4-winged nut with 1 Seed.


Combretum apiculatum

RSA Tree No. 532.

Common names: Red Bush Willow, Rooiblaar, Sabi Willow, Bush Willow.

Family Combretaceae (Bushwlillow family).  In this family, there are about 16 genera, which contain about 530 species.  In the RSA, there are 5 genera and 41 species.  The RSA genera with trees include Combretum, Lumnitzera, Pteleopsis and Terminalia.  The simple and usually entire Leaves lack stipules.  Flowers are usually bisexual.  There are usually twice the number of stamens as sepals or petals.  The inferior Ovary has 1 locule and usually only 1 of the ovules develops into a seed.  Fruit is usually indehiscent and may be winged or ridged.

Name derivation: Combretum – Name given by Pliny (23-79AD).  apiculatum: is based on the shape of the leaf apex which ends in a short sharp point.  There are in excess of 20 species of the Genus Combretum in the RSA.

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


This small to medium sized Tree may reach a height of 10m.   The usually single stem may be curved.  The unarmed tree has a scanty Crown.  The initially smooth Bark on the trunk becomes dark grey to dark brown or black and may be cracked or flaking.  Slight fissures develop and these becomes rough with age.  Branches tend to hang down.  The bark on Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) is stringy.


The widely lanceolate, ovate, oblong, elliptic or oval Leaves may all be on this deciduous tree at the same time.  They are simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the leaf into leaflets), thin or thinly leathery and olive to yellowish green or gold.  In winter, the leaves change and become an attractive brownish red or yellow.  Leaves are usually opposite but may be alternate or 3-whorled.  The Blade is slightly lighter below.  Using a hand lens, minute gland dots may be visible on the lower side of the leaf.  A bent leaf does not show a waxy margin.  Leaves may have a slightly varnish like sheen and can vary up to 13 x 8cm but are usually smaller.  The Apex may form a slender, distinctly twisted drip tip compared to the rest of the blade (photos 118 & 123).  The apex may also be rounded.  The Base is narrowed or rounded or slightly lobed.   Young leaves are sticky and shiny.  Older leaves are olive green and less shiny.  There are 5-7 pairs of main lateral veins.  These protrude below, are yellowish and may have rusty coloured hairs.  Linking these lateral veins are ladder-like connecting veins.  These are most noticeable when the leaf is examined against the sun (photo 123).  Here a hand lens will help.  The Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 1cm long.  Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent. The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) and wavy.  Hair tuft Domatia (tiny chambers produced by plants that house arthropods.  To the naked eye a domatium appear as small bump) may be present in vein axils.


The greenish creamy yellow and heavily scented Flowers occur in up to 4 small axillary Spikes (simple indeterminate inflorescence with sessile flowers on a single unbranched stalk).  These spikes are up to 7cm long.  The Flowers are bisexual and actinomorphic (Regular, symmetrical. The perianth, the calyx and corolla, is divisible into 2 or more identical sectors).  The flowers emerge at the same time as the leaves.  The Receptacle (that expanded tip of the flower stalk from which the floral parts develop) is divided into an upper and lower part.  Individual flowers have a Calyx containing 4 Sepals.  These form an extension above the ovary.  There are 4 Petals in the Corolla are triangular and fringed with hairs.  The 8 Stamens are in 2 whorls, which are borne inside the upper receptacle.  The Anthers are dorsifixed (attached by or at the back) and versatile (hung or attached near the middle, and usually moving freely).  There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) containing an inferior Ovary which can be mistaken for a pedicle (flower stalk).  The ovary has 1 Locule (chamber within an ovary).  The Style is free. (Sep-Feb).


The 4-winged, low density Fruit rests is on a stalk and measures up to 3 x 2,5cm. It is a nearly spherical Nut (an indehiscent, 1-seeded hard bony fruit).  Young green fruit is sticky, whereas mature fruit has a satiny sheen and becomes a glossy yellowish-green to reddish-brown.  The single Seed that the fruit contains lacks endosperm (the starch and oil-containing tissue of many seeds; often referred to as the albumen).  (Jan-May-Oct).  The fruit remains on tree for an extended period.

Distribution & Ecology

These Trees commonly occur on rocky hillsides in dry bushveld, at low altitudes and in well-drained soils.  This is a widespread African species.  It is located in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Swaziland, Mozambique (fairly widespread), Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and northwards into tropical East Africa.  The Flowers attract bees and ants.  Many animals including Kudu, Giraffe, Elephant and Eland eat the Leaves.  Larvae of the Striped Policeman butterfly (Coeliades forestan) that occurs from the Eastern Cape to Zimbabwe and Botswana, feed on the leaves.  Bushbabies consume the Gum arising from wounds.  The Brown-headed Parrots eat the Seeds.


The termite resistant Wood is, hard and fine grained with pale sapwood and dark heartwood.  It is often used for fuel and makes an excellent charcoal.  The tree is fire resistant and makes good fence posts.  Its relatively thin Stem limits it uses. Bark extracts can be used to tan leather.  Leaves are grazed by cattle – especially just before or after they fall.  Tea can be brewed from the leaves.  Seeds may be toxic to people.  The tree can be Grown from seed.  The presence of this tree is considered an indicator of mixed veld.  The Gum is edible.


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

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.

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.