General Info

Small Tree has milky latex.  Leaves: leathery, simple, alternate and entire. The small, white Flowers are 4-merous, bisexual and actinomorphic. Fruit is a fleshy berry – bright yellow when mature. The berry usually has 1 Seed.


Mimusops zeyheri, Mimusops kirkii, Mimusops decorifolia, Mimusops monroi.

RSA Tree No. 585.

Common names: Transvaal Red Milkwood, Moepel, Red-milkwood, Red Milkwood, Northern Red Milkwood.

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 – unusual!). zeyheri – honours the botanist who discovered the tree: Carl L. P. Zeyheri (1799-1858). He visited South Africa from 1822 and collected plant specimens in Gauteng, Free State and the Eastern and Western Cape. His specimens formed the basis of Floral Capensis. There are about 20 species of the genus Mimusops in Africa.

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


This small Tree has spreading branches resulting in a dense rounded crown up to 6m and occasionally 15m high. The spread of the crown may equal the height of the tree. Reddish Hairs are only present on new growth. The Trunk is usually long and straight but can be short, twisted and even forked. Milky Latex is present. The Bark is grey, dark brown to blackish and rather smooth when young. On older trunks, it is lengthwise cracked or grooved. Older trunks may be hollow. Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) are knobbly.


On this evergreen tree, the alternate, elliptic, oblong or obovate-elliptic or even lanceolate Leaves are leathery and simple (has a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets). They are up to 11 x 5cm. The spirally arranged leaves are not densely crowded at branch ends. The Blade is glossy dark green above and paler green below. Fine Lateral Veins are present and are more visible below. Youngish leaves are a lighter green and tend to be at branch ends. Their dense rusty hairs are soon lost. The Midrib is slightly ridged above and more prominent below. The Apex is round or tapers to a pointed tip. The Base is narrowly tapering and blunt. It may be notched. The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) and slightly thickened. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is reddish and up to 3,5cm long. Broken off leaves exude a milky Latex (photo 739). Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) may be present.


The star shaped, sweet scented, small Flowers are bisexual and actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. Perianth, the calyx and corolla, are divisible into 3 or more identical sectors). They develop in the axils of leaves and are about 1cm in diameter. The Pedicel (stalk of a single flower) is long, curved and hairy.  Flower parts are 4-merous. The Calyx has 8 lobes in 2 whorls. In the bud only 4 are visible and these are rusty-red to greyish. The Corolla has 8 lobes and each lobe has 2 dorsal appendages. The flowers are white to cream coloured and clustered in axillary groups of 1-7, often in abundance. The Stamens arise from the throat of the corolla tube. Their Filaments are shorter than the lanceolate, apiculate (ending in a short, sharp, flexible point) Anthers. Eight Staminodes (sterile stamens) are present. The single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) contains a superior, 8 locular Ovary with 1 Ovule in each locule. The single Style is slender. (Oct-Mar).


The ovoid, fleshy yellow to orange Fruit is a Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) that is up to 5cm long. Each fruit has a pointed tip. The young berries are initially green and covered with tiny white dots. The berry has a persistent calyx at maturity. A persistent bristle like style may still be visible. Each berry usually has a single shiny brow Seed that is up to 2cm long and has a circular basal scar. The Endosperm (the starch and oil-containing tissue of many seeds; often referred to as the albumen) is conspicuous. (Apr-Sep).

Distribution & Ecology

These Trees are common in savannah (a rolling grassland scattered with shrubs and isolated trees, which can be found between a tropical rainforest and desert biome), bushveld (a sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of southern Africa), close to streams and rivers up to an altitude of 1 600m. They also occur on rocky outcrops and dry wooded hillsides. The trees can survive moderate frost and reach greater heights with a steady water supply. Provinces where the tree occurs naturally include Gauteng, North West e.g. Hartbeespoort Dam and Magaliesberg (where it was first collected); Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo. It is also found in Botswana, Angola, Tanzania, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe (e.g. at the Temple) and northwards into tropical Africa. Larvae of the Butterflies Boisduval’s False Acraea (Pseudacraea boisduvalii) and the False Chief (Pseudacraea lucretia) feed on the Leaves. Monkeys, baboons and bushpigs eat leaves and elephants eat the Branches as well. Pigeons (Green and Rameron) and barbets eat the fruit. This tree may occur together with Englerophytum magalismontanum (Transvaal Milkplum or Stamvrug).


The pinkish green Wood dries to a beige-brown colour. It is reasonably hard, light and has a wavy grain. It is useful when great strength is not required. Fumes from cutting green wood can causes sneezing. This plant has been used for bonsai. The Fruit is edible, pleasant tasting, flowery and has a reasonably high vitamin C content. Fresh Seeds germinate within a couple of weeks. Transplant seedlings during the following spring. They can tolerate mild frost.


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.

van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997 Field guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town.