General Info

Tree is usually less than 15m high. Shiny Leaves are simple. Stipules and petioles are present. The whitish yellow, bisexual, actinomorphic Flowers are 4-merous and staminodes are present. Fruit is a reddish berry and Seeds are brown and shiny.


Mimusops obovata, Mimusops oleifolia, Mimusops rudatisii, Mimusops woodii.

RSA Tree No. 584.

Common names: Forest red milkwood, Bosmelkhout.

Family:  Sapotaceae. (Stamvrug, latex-yielding family). This family include 35-75 genera and approximately 800 species. Local genera with trees include Englerophytum, Inhambanella, Mimusops, Sideroxylon and Vitellariopsis. Branches exude latex. Leaves are simple, entire and there are closely parallel secondary veins. Stipules are absent. Flowers are bisexual, usually actinomorphic (regular). There are persistent Sepals and fused Petals. The Stamens equal the number petals. Staminodes may be present outside the fertile stamens. The superior Ovary has locules containing a single ovule. One Style and 1 Stigma are present. Fruit is a berry. Seeds have a thick brown shiny testa (seed coat) with a distinct scar. There are 7 genera and 14 species in southern Africa.

Name derivation:   Mimusops (resembling an ape face – unusual!). obovata refers to the simple obovate leaves.. There are 3 species of the genus Mimusops in southern Africa and all trees. The other 2 are M. cafra and M. zeyheri.

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


This Tree may reach 19m high but is usually shorter. The Stem (main axis of the plant, the leaf and flower bearing as distinguished from the root bearing axis) is up to 0,6m wide and is straight. Fine hairs are present in young branches. The initially smooth, white or grey bark ages, becoming vertically fissured and cracked into segments.


This usually evergreen tree has spirally arranged Leaves that are simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets). The leaves are not conspicuously crowded at the ends of branches. Each leaf is up to 9 x 4cm. Blade: Only leaves growing in direct sunlight are leathery and only young leaves are pale green and have rusty coloured hairs. Leaves are glossy and smooth above, slightly lighter and duller below. The Veins are not neatly parallel or obvious and only the midrib is conspicuous on both sides. Leaves are ovate, obovate (the reverse of ovate, the terminal half is broader than the basal) or lanceolate. The Apex is bluntly pointed to tapering. The Base tapers. Margins are entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) and may be slightly rolled under. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is 1cm or more long. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are present.


The sweet smelling, whitish yellow Flowers are up to 1cm wide and develop in leaf axils. They occur singly or in groups. Each small flower is up to 1cm wide. Flower parts are in 4’s. They are bisexual and actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. Perianth, the calyx and corolla, can be divided into 3 or more identical sectors). The Pedicel (stalk of a single flower in a cluster) is up to 3cm long. The Sepals are basally connate (united or joined). They are divided almost to the base. The Calyx has 8 lobes in 2 whorls of 4 each. The outer whorl has reddish hairs (photo 638).  The Corolla has 8 Petal lobes arranged in 2 rows and are star-like. Each lobe has dorsal appendages. They are gamopetalous (united joined petals – at least at the base) and imbricated (having regularly arranged, overlapping edges, as roof tiles). The free Stamens are epipetalous (born on or arising from the petals). They are in 2-3 whorls but usually only the inner whorl is fertile. Anthers are lanceolate and end in a short, sharp, flexible point. The Theca (pollen sacs) have longitudinal slits. There are usually 8 hairy Staminodes (sterile stamens) present. There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) and the 8 locular Ovary is superior (one that is free from the calyx or perianth) and has 1 ovule per locule. There is a single, slender Style. (Aug-Dec).


The oval, bright orange to red Fruit is an Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) which is up to 3,5 x 2,5cm. It narrows towards the apex and resembles a miniature avocado (photo 684). A persistent Style and Calyx (photo 688) are present. The now grey calyx, curls backwards at the base of the fruit. The orange, mealy pulp of the berry is edible. It usually contains a single black or brown and shiny, keeled Seed. The seed is up to 2,5cm long, but are smaller than this when more than 1 seed develops. Seeds have a small circular basal scar and there is much Endosperm (the starch and oil-containing tissue; often referred to as the albumen) present. The Cotyledons (seed leaf; primary leaf or leaves in the embryo) are thin. (Oct-Feb).

Distribution & Ecology

This Tree is found in warm moist areas and occurs in open woodland from the coast – up to an altitude of 1 450m. The plant is drought resistant but frost sensitive. Found in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Swaziland Mozambique and Limpopo. Birds and monkeys consume the Fruit. The larvae of Boisduval’s butterfly (Pseudacraea boisduvalii) feed on the Leaves – as do larvae of the False Chief (Pseudacraea lucretia) and the false wanderer (Pseudacraea eurytus). Flowers attract bees, carpenter bees and sunbirds.


The Wood is hard, relatively dense and white or pinkish. It is used for hut building. When seasoned, it is termite proof. Milky Latex is present. Fruit is edible and tasty. Wine and jellies can be made from the fruit. Propagation is from fresh seeds, which should be shallowly buried. Plants can grow in full sunlight or shade and growth rate is slightly under 1m per year.


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.       good photos