General Info

This small Tree with a slender trunk has single spines.  The simple Leaves lack stipules.  The small creamy green Flowers are actinomorphic and dioecious.  The Fruit is a berry with Seeds within the fleshy pulp.


Dovyalis rhamnoides, Flacourtia rhamnoides.

RSA Tree No. 509.

Common names: Sourberry, Small Kei-apple, Crownberry, Suurbessie, Wine berry, Wild apricot.

Family: Salicaceae: (Willow family) has recently been expanded and includes 55 genera and 1 000+ species.  Trees may be deciduous or evergreen.  Leaves are simple and they and the bark often contain Salicin (a bitter alcoholic glucoside related to aspirin).  This glucoside can be used as an anti–inflammatory.  However, it may cause a skin allergy.  Flowers are usually genetically hermaphroditic, in catkins and usually lacking a normal perianth (a collective term for the calyx and corolla).  A bract subtends each flower.  There are 2-many Stamens.  The superior Ovary has 2-4 carpels.  The flowers are wind pollinated.  Fruit is variable with many small wind dispersed Seeds.  Local tree genera include Dovyalis, Oncoba, Salix and Scolopia.

Name derivation: Dovyalis – spear (Greek) referring to the spines.  rhamnoides – referring to the shiny leaf.  There are 6 species of the genus Dovyalis in southern Africa.

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


This small Tree is up to 7m high.  It has a slender Trunk up to 17cm wide.  It may also remain a shrub.  The smooth Bark is initially greenish to light grey, hairy and smooth.  Young branches have visible Lenticels (usually raised corky oval or elongated areas on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment).  The bark becomes brown, slightly ridged and fissured with age.  The Stem may have thin, single, straight, sharp Spines that are up to 8cm long.


The smallish, simple, waxy, shiny and evergreen Leaves are alternately arranged in a horizontal plane.  They are ovate to elliptic or oval and up to 4,5 x 2,5cm.  Larger leaves are usually found on coppice (young tree stems are repeatedly cut/burned down to near ground level. This may cause regrowth from the stump or roots) shoots.  The Lower surface is a lighter green.  The Apex is tapering or round and the leaf Base is usually rounded, square or cordate (heart shaped).  There are 3-5 veins, which arise from the base.  The Spines may pass between these base lobes (photo 456).  Lateral veins are more visible below.  The Blade is thinnish, hairy when young and becomes smoother with age.  The Midrib is clearer below and may be situated to one side.  The shallowly toothed Margin may be entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented).  The margin may also be wavy.  The Petiole (leaf stalk) is short: 2-3mm long and Stipules (basal appendage of the petiole) are absent.


The tiny, creamy green Flowers are dioecious (unisexual flowers with male and female parts on separate plants) and actinomorphic (Regular, symmetrical.  The perianth, the calyx and corolla, is divisible into 3 or more identical sectors).  All flower have Pedicels (flower stalks).  The Calyx has 2-6 lobes and the Corolla is absent (no petals).  The Male Flowers are in branched condensed axillary clusters and are located in leaf axils.  Here flowers have 15 protruding Stamens with hairy nectaries at their bases.  The Anthers dehisce through longitudinal slits.  The interior base of the flower is orange.  The Female Flowers occur singly or in clusters of 2-3.  Small, hairy scale-like bracts surround the base of the pedicels.  The calyx is deeply lobed.  A lobed Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) is present.  The Ovary is superior and the Styles are channelled.  (Jun-Sep).


The oval, fleshy Fruit is a Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) about 1,3 x 1cm that turns  from green to bright orange or red.  The ripe berry is fleshy, has a persistent Style and an enlarged hairy persistent Calyx.  Fruiting is erratic and does not happen each year.  Seeds are elliptic and imbedded in a fleshy pulp. (Dec-Feb).

Distribution & Ecology

This is a forest and bushveld (a sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of southern Africa) growing plant and usually occurs well below the canopy.  Plants are located from the coast to an altitude of about 1 700m.  They occur from Knysna in the Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.  They are also located on Inhaca Island in Mozambique.


The pleasant and acidic flavoured Fruit is used to make vinegar, good jelly, preserves and brandy.  Unfortunately, it does not produce fruit on a yearly basis and both male and female plants are necessary for fruit development.  The fruit attracts insects and birds.  The presence of spines makes it a good nesting place for birds.  Wood is fine-grained, light yellow, hard, crooked and tough.  It is used for implement handles and craft work.  The larva of the African leopard fritillary butterfly (Phalanta eurytis) feed on the Leaves.  This plant Grows well from both seeds and cuttings.


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.