General Info

This Tree is up to 4m high and is often a climber.  Simple, entire Leaves lack stipules and appear after the bisexual, regular Flowers, which are in spikes with red sepals, petals and stamens.  Fruit is usually 4 winged.


Combretum microphyllum, Combretum paniculatum.

RSA Tree No. 545.

Common names: Flame Creeper, Flame Climbing Bushwillow, Burning Bush, Riverine flame-creeper.

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: Combretuma climbing plant.  microphyllum – small leaves (probably refers to small leaves sometimes found close to flowers).

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


This Tree is up to 4m in height and can be a vigorous woody climber.  It can also be a scrambling shrub.  The Trunk may reach 25cm wide.  The grey to pale brown Bark is smooth and hairy on young branches.  It becomes rough and flaking with age.  The many Branches in this climbing plant are long thin and square.  Occasionally a single or pairs of recurved spines, each up to 2,5cm long may be present.  These arise from persistent Petioles (leaf bases) and aid the climbing habit.


On this deciduous plant, the thinly leathery Leaves occur on new growth and are alternate, opposite or 3-whorled.  The new simple leaves appear after the flowers.  The thinly leathery leaves are ovate or oblong elliptic to almost circular.  They are up to 10 x 7cm, but usually much smaller.  Young leaves may be purplish and covered with hairs.  The Blade – above is glossy dark-green and slightly hairy having slightly sunken veins whereas below there is more hair and it is slightly lighter.  Less hair is visible as the leaf ages.  The midrib and lateral veins are visible on both sides but on the lower sides they protrude and net veins may be visible.  The best view of the veins is obtained by holding the leaf against a strong light before examining it with a hand lens (photo 363).  Hair-tuft domatia (a tiny chamber produced by plants that house arthropods.  To the naked eye they appear as small bumps) are present.  The Midrib may retain its hairs and has 5-6 pairs of lighter lateral veins arising from it.  The Apex is round, broadly tapering and may end in an abrupt sharp point (photo 527).  The Base is square to rounded or shallowly lobed.  It may be slightly asymmetric (not equal to the opposite side).  The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented), and may be wavy.  The Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 3cm long, and may have persistent hairs.  Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent.


Before the leaves open, the Flower buds are green and hairy.  The bisexual, actinomorphic (having symmetrically arranged perianth parts of similar size or shape that are divisible into 3 or more equal halves), bracteate (bearing bracts – modified specialised leaves usually found with flowers and inflorescences).  The showy flowers occur in small Spikes (simple indeterminate inflorescence with sessile flowers on a single unbranched stalk) along the trailing branches.  Flowers are in small axillary clusters.  The Calyx has 4 hairy green Sepals with slightly red lobes.  In the Corolla, the 4 Petals are red but are less than 3mm wide and long.  It is the 8 red, relatively long (up to 1,5cm) Stamens that make the major contribution to the spectacular flowers.  Here both the Filaments and the Anthers are blood red and their appearance is especially distinctive before the new leaves emerge.  There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) and an inferior, single chambered Ovary that can be mistaken for a pedicle (flower stalk).  The solitary red Style is slender and emerges before the stamens (photo 319).  A dry winter enhances flowering.  The blood red flowers are spectacular when the plant is in full bloom.


The Fruit is usually a 4 and occasionally a 5 winged samara (a dry, indehiscent winged fruit.  The wings are papery and develop from the ovary wall).  It is about 2,5 x 2cm or more and matures quickly.  Initially it is greenish-pink to red (photo 18) but changes to almost white and quickly turns to a light brown.  Fruit tends to fall early. Some fruit may form before the flowering ends. The wings are thin, whitish and papery. (Sep-Jan). The plant may climb over a small tree – making the tree top whitish (Photo 635).

Distribution & Ecology

The Trees are drought resistant, but are sensitive to frost – especially when young.  Plants are located up to an altitude of about 1 200m in hot summer rainfall areas including northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo Province.  They also occur naturally in Swaziland, widespread in Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and northwards.  Game browse the Leaves.  The larvae of the butterfly: Forest Glade Nymph (Aterica galene) feed on the leaves of this and other trees.  The Flowers attract other insect (photo 526) and sunbirds.


This Plant grows well from both seeds and cuttings.  Plants should be sparingly watered in winter.  Antibacterial compounds have been extracted from Leaves, which apparently are effective against some gram positive and gram-negative bacteria.  Research at UPA shows the presence of antimutagenic compounds in Combretum microphyllum, which have activity and protective effects against some forms of cancer.


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.