General Info

This small Tree has single spines. The simple, Leaves lack stipules. The small creamy green Flowers are 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: The 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 bark often contain Salicin (a bitter alcoholic glucoside related to asprin, found in willow bark and leaves of some Salicaceae. It can function as an anti – inflammatory. It may cause a skin allergy). Flowers are genetically hermaphroditic, in catkins and usually lacking a normal perianth. 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 genera include Dovyalis, Oncoba, Salix and Scolopia.

Name derivation: Dovyalis – spear (Greek) referring to the spines. rhamnoides – 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.)

Tree is small – up to 7m high with a slender Trunk up to 17cm wide or it remains a shrub. Bark is greenish to light grey, hairy and smooth and slightly fissured. In young branches, which 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 is often armed with thin, single, straight, sharp Spines that are up to 8cm long.


The smallish Leaves are simple, waxy, shiny, evergreen, and alternately arranged in a horizontal plane. They are ovate to elliptic or oval and small – 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 colour. The Apex is tapering or round and the leaf Base is usually rounded, square or cordate (heart shaped). The spines may pass between these base lobes. Lateral veins are more visible below. There are 3-5 veins, which arise from the base. The Blade is thinnish, hairy when young and becomes smoother with age. Midrib is clearer below and situated to one side.  The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented) or shallowly toothed and may be wavy. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is short: 2-3mm long and Stipules (basal appendage of the petiole) are absent.


The tiny Flowers are dioecious (unisexual flowers found on separate plants) and actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. Perianth, the calyx and corolla, can be divided into 3 or more identical sectors). Flowers are small, creamy green and each has a Pedicel (flower stalk). There is no Corolla and the flowers are in axillary clusters. Male flowers are in branched and the Calyx has 2-6 lobes. These flowers are found in leaf axils and have 15 Stamens with nectaries at their bases. The interior base of the flower is orange coloured. Female flowers are on pedicels surrounded at their base by small, hairy scale-like bracts. These flowers are single or in small groups of 2-3. A 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 Fruit is an oval, fleshy Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) about 1,3 x 1cm, turning from green to bright orange or red. The ripe berry is fleshy, has a persistent Style and an enlarged hairy and persistent Calyx. Fruiting is erratic and does not happen each year. Seeds are elliptic and imbedded in a fleshy pulp. (Dec-Feb).

Distribution & Ecology

Distribution and ecology: This is a forest and bushveld growing plant and usually occurs well below the canopy. Plants are located from the coast to an altitude of about 1 700m from Knysna in the Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. They are also found on Inhaca Island in Mozambique.


Ethnobotany: Fruit is a pleasant and acid flavoured. It 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. 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. The 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.