General Info

This small Tree has a light brown bark. Simple Leaves are at branch ends. Sweetly scented, white Flowers are regular. They are up to 8mm long and 5-merous.  Fruit is a fleshy, 1-Seeded drupe with a persistent calyx.



Cordia caffra, Cordia natalensis, Cordia zeyheri, Cordia erosa.

RSA Tree No. 652.

Common names: Septee Tree, Septee Saucer-berry, Septeeboom.

Name derivation: Cordia named after a German physician and botanist Valerius Cordus (1515-1544). He was also a physician and herbalist. caffra – from the eastern Cape. Six species of the genus Cordia are located in southern Africa.

Family: Boraginaceae (Borage/Forget-me not family) There are about 140 genera and 2 000+ species in this family. In the RSA, there are 2 genera that contain trees. They are Cordia and Ehretia. Leaves are alternate or are opposite and usually entire. Stipules are absent. Most Flowers are bisexual and 5-merous. The 5 Stamens that alternate with the petals, have anthers that have 2 pollen sacs that dehisce through longitudinal slits. The Style is attached to the base of the superior Ovary. The Fruit may be a schizocarp (a dry, dehiscent fruit that splits into 2 one-seeded portions called mericarps at maturity) or a drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach).

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

Description. The Tree is up to 20m high and the trunk may reach 25cm wide. It may also be a single or multi stemmed shrub. The tree may have a clearly spreading crown or it may be rather ragged. The Bark is light brown, smooth, often mottled with pinkish blotches. It may have large, dry flaking pieces resulting in visible marks.


This deciduous tree has Leaves that are simple (has a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets), drooping and thin. They are arranged alternatively and are concentrated at the ends of young branches. Leaves are ovate with a pointed tip, up to 12 x 5cm and are wider in the bottom half. Blade. Young leaves have white to yellow hairs, which are lost at maturity. The upper surface is dark green, smooth and slightly glossy. The lower surface is a lighter green. Up to 6 pairs of lateral veins are present and are slightly more prominent below. The Apex tapers to a narrowly pointed tip and the Base is rounded to square and may be asymmetric. More than half of the Margin, away from the base, may be finely or coarsely toothed. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is thin and up to 5cm long. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent. Many scattered, clear dots are visible on the leaf when it is held against a strong light and observed through a magnifying glass. (Photo 323).


The campanulate (bell shaped), sweetly scented Flowers are on short stalks, in dense, many-flowered terminal heads. The very small pear-shaped buds are smooth, shiny and light green. Flowers are actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. Perianth, the calyx and corolla, can be divided into 3 or more identical sectors), bisexual, white and short lived. Individual flowers are found in the axils of leaves and are about 8mm long. The inflorescences lacks bracts. There are 5 Sepals in the bell-shaped Calyx. These surrounds the Corolla that usually has 5 Petals with lobes which may curl backwards. There are 5 Stamens alternate with the petal lobes and are protruding and epipetalous (attached to the petals). The oblong Anthers are 2-thecae (2 pollen sacs – the microsporangia of an anther. They produce microspores – the pollen grains in seed plants). They open through longitudinal slits. There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma). Each of the 2 branches of the style is bifid. The 4-locular superior Ovary has a thick fleshy wall containing a single Ovule in each locule. The unusual Stigma (tip of the style, which receives the pollen) is 4 lobed. (Sep-Oct).


The small – up to 1,5cm in diameter Fruit is a fleshy Drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach), with a sharp tip. It has 1 stone (the hard covering enclosing the seed). The fruit becomes yellow to orange when ripe. The Calyx is accrescent (increasing in size with age after the corolla has fallen), cup shaped and surrounds the fruit base. It is persistent and remains on the tree after the fruit has fallen. Only 1 or 2 of the 4 locules in the ovary bear seeds. Seeds are furrowed.

Distribution & Ecology

The Trees do not usually occur in large numbers and are found in frost free areas like dune bush, coastal forest, inland forest margins and in woodland. They occur naturally in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo. They are also found in Swaziland and southern Mozambique. Kudu, impala and other wild animals browse the Leaves. Birds, especially coucals, eat the Fruit. The Flowers attract insects, the pollinating agents. This plant tolerates coastal conditions.


The Wood is used for carving and roofing. The Sapwood is light and soft but the Heartwood is dark brown or black. The friction caused by rubbing dry sticks together can can replace matches to light fires. Fruit is edible but not very tasty. Propagation is easy by using Seeds. The germinating seeds will develop in full sun, but will do best in light shade. Flowering may take 6 years or longer.


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

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.