General Info

This Tree with its pale-grey bark is up to 9m high.  Simple Leaves are up to 5cm long. Actinomorphic, bisexual Flowers are 3 to 4-merous.  Fruit is a hard-shelled drupe that matures to a red colour and is up to 2cm long.  Brown Seeds have endosperm.


Elaeodendron transvaalense, Elaeodendron croceum var. heterophyllum, Elaeodendron croceum var. triandrum, Cassine transvaalensis, Crocoxylon transvaalense, Hippocratea seineri, Pseudocassine transvaalensis, Salacia transvaalensis.

RSA Tree No. 416.

Common names: Transvaal Saffron, Savanna Saffronwood, Ingwavuma.

Family: Celastraceae. (Spike-thorn family, staff-tree Family, bitter-sweet family). There are currently close to 100 genera and in excess of 1 300 species. The family has about 60 trees in southern Africa – including those in the genera Catha, Elaeodendron and Maytenus. This family has simple leaves. Flowers are usually small, actinomorphic (regular), bisexual or unisexual and sepals and petals are usually persistent. One or 2 Pollen sacs are present in the Anthers which open by longitudinal slits. The Ovary is usually superior and usually has 2-5 locules. The Style is usually thick and the Stigma has 2-5 lobes. Fruit is various.

Name derivation: Elaeodendron – Greek: similar to Cassine orientalis whose fruits resemble small olives. This local tree in Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues is known as Bois d’Olive. transvaalense – occurring in the old Transvaal.

Conservation Status: Near Threatened.  2009 (Raimondo et al.).  This plant is slow growing and is heavily harvested for local medicine.  The plant cannot survive repeated bark removal.


This spineless Tree may be up to 18m high further north, but is bushy and usually about half this height in the RSA.  It can also be a shrub.  The Bark may be finely fissured horizontally.  It is smooth, cracked, a clear pale grey colour and has a slight aromatic scent.  The Crown is wide spreading.  The many Branches tend to be rigid and may droop.  Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) are stiff and light coloured.  They may resemble blunt spines that grow at almost 90 degrees to the branches.


The hairless, hard, leathery and smooth Leaves are simple (has a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets).  The tree is deciduous or evergreen.  Bigger leaves may be found on younger stems.  They are usually up to 5 x 2 cm.  The leaves are opposite, alternate or spirally arranged on longer stems or appear clustered on dwarf spur-branchlets.  They may appear in threes.  In mature leaves, both sides are a clear green to grey-green.  Leaves are oval, ovate or widely lance-shaped.  The Apex is rounded to broadly tapering and may have a hair-line tip.  The Base tapers and the veins are prominent on both sides but more so the lower side.  The Blade becomes translucent when viewed against a strong light.  This helps distinguish it from Olea, which has opaque leaves.  The usually entire Margins, may be finely or strongly serrated, especially on young and coppice growth.  They are not rolled under.  The slender Petioles (leaf stalks) are short – up to 5mm long.


The very small: about 5mm in diameter Flowers develop in leaf axils and are greenish-white.  They are borne in clusters of 20-30 heads.  Individual flowers are on long slender Pedicels (stalk of a single flower in a cluster).  There 3-4 Sepals – joined at the base and 3 spreading Petals.  The bisexual flowers have 3 Stamens present.  The Ovary is partially immersed and adnate (fusion of unlike parts) in the Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle).  The Stigma is inconspicuous. (Dec-Apr).


The hard-shelled edible Fruit is a Drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach) which may be roundish, oval or ovate and up to 2cm long.  It is initially white to yellow, dries to red, and is up to 2 x 1,5cm.  The drupe has a smooth surface.  The brownish Seeds possess endosperm (the starch and oil-containing tissue of many seeds; often referred to as the albumen) and the 2 Cotyledons (seed leaf; primary leaf or leaves in the embryo) are fleshy.  (Feb-Nov).

Distribution & Ecology

These Trees can be found in KwaZulu-Natal e.g. Makuze and Hluhluwe reserves, Mpumalanga, Limpopo as well as in Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and northwards.  The plant is widespread but nowhere common.  The plant is found in different soils, but the tree seems to favour soils containing lime.  Trees are also associated with termite mounds and may occur from low to medium altitudes.  Giraffe, elephant, impala and kudu browse the Leaves and Branches.  The Fruit is consumed by birds, including loeries (turaco) and hornbills.  It is also consumed by monkeys.


The Wood is whitish pink, cross-grained, brittle and of medium density and hardness.  It is fine textured and insect resistant.  It is used to make cattle troughs, kitchen utensils, sticks and tobacco pipes.  The village of Ingwavuma in KwaZulu-Natal, near the southeast boarder of Swaziland, may have been named after this tree.  The Bark contains at least 13% tannin which can be used for tanning.  It is sold by a great number of herbalists who call it umGugudo or inGwavuma.  In Venda, traditional healers know it as mukuvhazwivhi which literally translated means sin-washer.  The Fruit is edible.  Seeds should be soaked in warm water overnight and scarified before planting.  The plant is slow growing.


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.

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. 334