General Info

The Tree is up to 8m high.  Bark has resin ducts; underbark green. Imparipinnate Leaves have 2-6 pair of opposite leaflets + terminal one.  Regular small Flowers are 4-merous.  Fruit a drupe with 1 black Seed.


Commiphora mollis, Commiphora welwitschii, Commiphora cinereal, Commiphora boehmii, Commiphora dekindtiana, Commiphora iringensis, Commiphora krausei, Commiphora montana, Commiphora ndemfi, Commiphora stuhlmannii, Balsamodendron molle.

RSA Tree No. 280.

Common names: Velvet Corkwood, Velvet-leaved Corkwood, Soft leaved Commiphora, Velvet Commiphora.

Family: Burseraceae (The torchwood family, which include frankincense from Boswellia sacra, myrrh from Commiphora myrrha both of which have an incense like odour).  Non-allergenic resin occurs in most plant tissues. Worldwide there are about 16 genera and in excess of 500 species, which occur in tropical South America, Malaysia and Africa.  In the RSA Commiphora is the only genus and there are about 20 species that may be regarded as trees.  The Bark is smooth, aromatic and pealing or flaking.  The Leaves are resinous and usually without stipules.  The usually dioecious Flowers have 4 or 5 petals and sepals that are imbricate (having regularly arranged, overlapping edges, as roof tiles).  Flowers are actinomorphic (regular, symmetric) and have Stamens are double or equal the number of petals.  The superior Ovary has 3-5 carpels with 2 ovules in each and the single Style ends in a capitate (forms like a head) or lobed Stigma.  The pitted Fruit is often an edible drupe.

 Name derivation: Commiphora: Greek: kommi – gum and phora – bearermollissoft – referring to the soft, silky hairs on the leaves.

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


The Tree has many branches, a wide crown and may reach up to 8m high.  Branches are spineless and hairy when young.  The Trunk is grey or greenish grey, smooth, shiny and may be fluted.  Bark that faces the sun is silvery and smooth with wrinkles around the branches where they are exposed to the sun.  Here the trunk is fluted and the bark may peel off in thick discs.  In branches that face away from the sun the bark is khaki-coloured and peels off in small flakes exposing the green below.  Branchlets are not spine-tipped but do have visible lenticels (a usually raised corky oval or elongated area on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment: photo 515).  Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) extend almost at right angles to the branches and have small white dots.  Brown aromatic Resin ducts are present in the bark.  Watery milky Sap is present.


This plant is deciduous and the leaves may be clustered at the ends of short side branchlets (photo 515).  The Leaves are almost at right angles to the branches and are Imparipinnate (pinnately compound leaf ending in a single leaflet).  There are 2-6 pairs of opposite leaflets, each ending in the terminal leaflet, which is the biggest.  The terminal leaflet narrows towards the base.  The smallest elliptic Leaflets occur closest to the petiole (leaf stalk).  In the paired leaflets, the Base is rounded and the Apex is pointed to rounded.  Leaflets are green above, lighter and hairier below – hence the specific name.  The leaves turn yellow before falling in autumn.  Margins are entire (with a continuous margin and not in any way indented).  The Petiole (Leaf stalk) is 1-3cm long.  Petiolules (leaflet stalks) are short or absent on lateral leaflets but visible on the terminal leaflet.  Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent.


The small yellowish to pinkish Flowers are cup-shaped and dioecious (having male and female flowers on separate plants).  Flowers may appear before or with the new leaves.  The pedicel (stalk of a single flower) is up to 4cm long.  The buds have a long, red slender pedicles.  The flowers are actinomorphic (Regular, symmetrical.  The perianth, the calyx and corolla, are divisible into 3 or more identical sectors).  The Calyx has 4 Sepals that have a joined base.  This bell-shaped flower has a Corolla with 4 Petals in a tubular base that open into pink to yellow lobes.  The petals alternate with the sepals.  A Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) is present.  The Male flowers are usually larger than female flowers.  Here a rudimentary ovary is present.  In the Female flowers, a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) is present.  The Ovary is superior and 2-locular.  (Sep-Jan).


The Fruit is initially pale green to brown and matures to a dull red.  It is up to 1cm in diameter.  This Drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach) is hairy and attached to a stout stalk.  The black Seed is almost covered the by a scarlet, 4-lobed Arilode (false-aril: a structure in certain seeds that resembles an aril but is developed from the micropyle of the ovule as opposed to the stalk).  (Feb-Apr).

Distribution & Ecology

This Tree occurs naturally in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Botswana, Mozambique (widespread), Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, DRC and into tropical Africa.  The Leaves act as food plants for the White Barred Gipsy Moth (Palasea albimacula).  Kudu and other game browse the leaves and young Shoots.  Animals dig up and eat the Roots.  These trees Occur at medium to low altitudes (up to 1 500m) in hot, dry types of mixed woodland or bushveld, on rocky outcrops and well-drained, sandy soil.


This Tree is one of the more attractive of the Commiphora species.  It is best propagated from cuttings.  Leaves are browsed by stock.  The Wood is of little use.


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.