General Info

The Tree has no spines, and may reach 14m high.  The glossy, hairy Leaves are simple.  The small, regular, white Flowers are 5-merous and dioecious.  Fruit is a berry producing 2-5 Seeds.


Diospyros whyteana, Royena acocksii, Royena lucida, Royena whyteana, Royena wilmsii, Royena goetzei, Royena nyassae.

RSA Tree No. 611.

Common names: Orange River Diospyros, Bladder-nut, Black bark, Cape Blackwood, Hottentots Cherry, Wild coffee, Swartbas, Bostolbos, African Bladder Nut, Cape blackwood.

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. 2019.07.12.

Name derivation: Diospyros (Dios – divine pyros – pear (referring to the flavour of some fruits).  whyteana: named after Alexander Whyte (1834-1908) a Scottish explorer who collected plants for Kew from Malawi and Uganda.  In southern Africa, there are about 20 species in the genus Diospyros.

Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern).  Assessment Date: 2005.06.30.


This Tree may reach 14m high or it can be a shrub.  The densely branched Trunk has a diameter of up to 30cm.  The Branches are roughish, light grey and occur low down.  The Bark is grey to almost black and smooth.  The greenish or pinkish Young branches are densely covered with fine rust coloured hairs.  These light to reddish brown branches are intertwined, long, flexible.  No milky sap or thorns are present.


This evergreen tree has alternate, narrowly elliptic to ovate-oblong or broadly lanceolate Leaves.  Young hairy leaves are coppery-green.  The simple (has a single blade, which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets) leaves are up to 5 x 3cm.  Leaves are slightly leathery and those from plants in the Cape are longer and wider than those further North.  The upper leaf surface is very glossy, dark, yellow-green or pinkish and has more hairs when young.  The lower leaf surface is much paler, duller green with some longish hairs, which occur both on the veins and between them.  About 6 pairs of Lateral veins are present but not very prominent and are sunken above.  Both the midrib and the lateral veins are raised and visible below.  Net veining is more visible on the lower side. Veins are more visible when viewed against a strong light – aided with a hand lens (photo 62). The Apex is narrowly or broadly tapering. The Base tapers and may be almost rounded or lobed. The slightly wavy Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented). It is fringed with distinctive white hairs that do not hide the gloss. The hairy Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 2cm long. An occasional bright red or orange leaf occurs.


This tree should be planted in gardens and visitors given a hand lens to view the very impressive small white, cream to pale yellow, fragrant and pendulous Flowers.  They are actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical.  Perianth, the calyx and corolla, are divisible into 3 or more identical sectors).  They have 2 nearly opposite leafy bracts which are about 2cm long and occur about half-way up the hairy Pedicle (flower stalk).  Flowers are dioecious (separate unisexual flowers occur on different trees) and up to 10mm long.  They may occur singly or in short axillary sprays.  The Calyx is hairy and has 5 Sepals.  The Corolla has 5 Petals which are united at the base and are urn-shaped.  The petals end with shortish, recurved lobes.  Male flowers are solitary and axillary with 10 stamens.  Here the Filaments are shorter than the basifixed (attached by its base) Anthers.  Female flowers are similar to male flowers but also have 6-10 staminodes (sterile stamens).  The single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) contains a superior Ovary situated on a somewhat fleshy, hairless Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle).  (Aug-Nov).


The very distinctive Fruit appears on female plants. It is an ovoid to an almost spherical Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato), which is up to 2cm in diameter.  The ripe fruit becomes bright red to scarlet and finally becomes reddish brown or blackish.  The persistent Calyx has 5 large inflated lobes, each up to 3cm long, which are accrescent (increasing in size with age like a calyx that continues to grow after the corolla has fallen).   These calyx lobes are loose but completely envelope the fruit making it look like a swollen bladder or capsule.  The persistent calyx remains on the tree for months after the fruit has fallen.  It is now reddish brown and papery (photo 213 above).  2-4 Seeds are produced.  They are about 8mm long, smooth and pale brown.  A single, thin straight line encircles each seed.  The Pulp around the seeds has a bittersweet taste. (Nov-Jun).

Distribution & Ecology

This tree is found in mountains, open forests, forest margins, shady kloofs, stream banks and rocky outcrops.  It grows taller and thinner if not in full sun and is found from sea level to 2 200m.  This plant occurs from Table Mountain in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng (common), KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and North West.  In addition, this plant grows in Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi and Ethiopia in the North.  Game brows the Leaves and birds like the African Green pigeons, barbets, louries (touraco), bulbuls and barbets consume the Fruit.  These plants may be grazed to such an extent that they remain dwarf shrubs.


This makes a good garden tree.  It thrives in both shade and full sun and can make an excellent hedge.  Both male and female trees are required for fruit production.  Wood is yellowish-white, evenly grained, fairly dense, hard and has been used for furniture.  Today it is used to make implement handles.  It also makes a good bonsai specimen.  Seeds should be scarified (to slit or scratch the outer coat of seeds in order to speed up germination) before planting.  Seeds were once used as a substitute for coffee.  It is relatively slow growing but is drought resistant.


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.

Ginn, P.J. McIlleron, W.G. Milstein, S. 1989. The Complete Book of Southern African Birds. Struik Publishers (PTY) LTD. Third impression 1991.

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.

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