General Info

The Tree may reach 25m high.  Dark Bark has longitudinal fissures.  Simple Leaves lack stipules.  The white to yellowish, 5-merous Flowers are regular and dioecious.  Fruit: a berry with red to brown Seeds.


Diospyros mespiliformis, Diospyros bicolor, Diospyros holzii, Diospyros senegalensis, Diospyros sabiensis.

RSA Tree No. 606.

Common names: Jackal-berry, Jakkalsbessie, Transvaal Ebony, Rhodesian Ebony, African Ebony.

Family: Ebenaceae (persimmon and ebony family).  The latter is known for its useful wood. There are more than 700 species, in 4 genera, worldwide.  The 2 genera that occur in South Africa are Euclea and Diospyros.  The simple, coriaceous and entire Leaves are usually alternate and lack stipules.  The usually unisexual and regular Flowers have a persistent calyx that is often divided to near the base and the corolla usually has a short tube.  The basifixed Anthers are longer than the Filaments.  The superior Ovary has up to 2 ovules in each locule.  The Styles may have 2-5 branches.  Fruit is a berry, which may slowly dehisce.  Young fruit contains tannins – initially avoided by animals.

Name derivation: Diospyros (Dios – divine; pyros – pear (referring to the flavour of some fruits). mespiliformis – like Mespilus germanica fruit in the Rose family – found in SW Asia.  Another possibility: mespiliformis “half bullet” referring to the shape of the fruit.  Either may be valid.  In southern Africa, there are about 20 species of the genus Diospyros and several subspecies.

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


No milky sap is present on this Tree, which is up to 25m high.  It occasionally grows as a shrub.  This is the biggest tree of this genus and has a much-branched Crown.  Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) are initially light coloured, drooping and hairy, changing to smooth and hairless.  Their growing tips are pinkish.  Bark is dark, blackish grey and rough with deep longitudinal fissures.  The inner bark is reddish.  The Stem (main axis of the plant, the leaf and flower bearing as distinguished from the root-bearing axis) is single, upright, fissured and branches high up.  It has a diameter of up to 1,5m and the base is buttressed.  The tree can survive for at least 150 years.


The alternate, usually oblong to elliptic Leaves often remain on the tree until the new leaves form.  The usually evergreen tree has simple (has a single blade, which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets) leaves are up to 14 x 4,5cm.  Leaves tend to group at the ends of branches.  The thin, translucent, pubescent (hairy) New leaves are a bright reddish colour and are attractive – especially in young plants (photo 627).  Mature leaves have a dull shine and are glossy dark green above and lighter green below.  They are thickish, leathery and may turn yellow in autumn.  Veins are delicate and are more visible below.  Here the midrib protrudes and is clearly visible.  The vein pattern is best seen when a youngish leaf is viewed against a strong light (photo 684).  The Blade in a mature leaf may be leathery.  The Apex is tapering or round.  The Base is rounded or narrowed or tapering and may be asymmetric.  Silky hairs may be present.  The often distinctly wavy Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy).  The short Petiole is up to 1cm long and Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent.


The cream to pale yellow, narrowly bell-shaped and fragrant Flowers are actinomorphic (Regular, symmetrical). Flowers arise in leaf axils.  Each flower is up to 1,2cm long.  The flowers are Dioecious (separate male and female flowers are on different trees).  The Perianth, the calyx and corolla, is divisible into 3 or more identical sectors).  The 5-lobed Calyx is hairy and attached to the corolla.  The whiteish, urn-shaped Corolla appears as a single piece with 5 united Petals.  It has short lobes and is externally hairy.  The Male flowers are in small sessile bunches, are more numerous and have a rudimentary Ovary.  The solitary Female flowers have a short pedicel (stalk of a single flower) and a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma), which rests on a hairless somewhat fleshy Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle).  The Ovary is superior.  Creamy grey hairs are visible on the calyx and pedicels.  Pollinators are mainly insects, including bees. (Oct-Jan).


The ovoid to almost spherical Fruit is a solitary, fleshy Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato).  It is up to 3cm in diameter.  The berry has a conspicuous, fairly deeply lobed accrescent (increasing in size with age) Calyx with recurved tips, reaching about a third of the way up the fruit.  Short, soft hairs are present only when young.  The green berry becomes yellowish or purplish when ripe.  The surface remains smooth or it may become slightly wrinkled.  It has a tough skin with a thin layer of flesh.  At maturity, it is dry and dehisces slowly.  Between 3 and 6 smooth Seeds, up to 1,3cm long, are formed.  Each seed is reddish brown, mottled and flattish. Seeds have a nearly straight visible groove.  (Feb-Oct).

Distribution & Ecology

The frost sensitive Tree grows in woodland bush.  It is widespread in tropical Africa – mainly close to riverbanks and termite mounds in low-lying areas.  It seldom grows above an altitude of 2 000m.  The Termite mounds provide both air and water for the tree and termites feed on the roots – a mutualistic relationship.  Elephant, eland, kudu and the larvae from the Bushveld Emperor butterfly Charaxes achaemenes feed on the Leaves.  Birds including Grey Hornbills, African Green Pigeons, Brown-headed parrots, Purple-crested turaco and others consume the Fruit.  Monkeys, baboons (which help with seeds dispersal), jackals and kudu also feed on the fruit.  From this point of view, this is a significant tree.  The tree occurs in Limpopo, Mpumalanga: an excellent specimen is visible at Tshokwane in the Kruger National Park (photo 494).  This tree also occurs in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Northern Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, and Senegal and from Ethiopia to Yemen.


Recently cut Wood is pink but dries to be almost black.  It is close grained, and has reddish to dark heartwood.  It is heavy, hard and difficult to work.  The wood is used to make planks, flooring, carvings, household utensils and furniture.  The bar at Leydsdorp (a former gold rush town) – about 11km from Gravelotte in Limpopo was made using this wood).  Dugout canoes in the Okavango Swamps, firewood and charcoal manufacture are other uses of this wood.  In Gambia, the tree is classified as an important timber species.  Livestock consume fallen FruitBark and leaves contain tannin.  The lemon-like flavour Fruit is edible either fresh or dried.  It is used to make beer and brandy.  After grinding, porridge can be made.  The Seeds have a nut-like taste.  This is an important feeder Tree, which can be Grown from seeds and cuttings.  However, it is relatively slow growing.  It is also used for re-afforestation, windbreaks and shade.  Root, bark and leaf extracts have shown antimicrobial activities against bacteria and fungi supporting the traditional use of the tree as medication.


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