General Info

This evergreen Tree may reach 30m high. Twigs have rusty brown hairs. The dark green Leaves are imparipinnate. Flowers are zygomorphic and pea-like. Fruit is a pod – up to 12cm long.


Philenoptera sutherlandii, Millettia sutherlandii.

RSA Tree No. 228.

Common names: Forest Apple–leaf, Giant Umzimbeet, Bastard umzimbeet

Family: Fabaceae, Leguminosae (Pea, bean or legume family). After the Orchidaceae and the Asteraceae, the Fabaceae is the third largest Angiosperm (flowering plants) family with 700+ genera and close to 20 000 species. Local Tree genera include Acacia (Vauchellia, Senegalia), Albizia, Bauhinia, Bolusanthus, Burkea, Calpurnia, Colophospermum, Cyclopia, Dichrostachys, Erythrina, Erythrophleum, Faidherbia, Indigofera, Mundulea, Peltophorum, Philenoptera and Schotia. The Fabaceae are recognisable by their fruit and by their pinnately compound Leaves. Leaves may also be simple and usually have stipules – some of which may be spinescent. Leaflets are usually entire. Flowers are bisexual and bracteate. Regular flowers usually have 4-5 sepals and the same number of petals. Irregular flowers have 4-5 sepals and 5 or less petals. Stamens have anthers that have 2 pollen sacs and there are usually at least twice the number of stamens as petals – often 10. The superior Ovary has one locule that may contain 1 or more ovules. The Stigma and Style are simple. The single carpel develops into the Fruit, which is usually a pod. The pod dehisces on both sides and may break into segments. Seeds vary.

Name derivation: Philenoptera Greek: tractable + winged. This refers to the slightly winged pod. sutherlandii – named after Dr Peter Cormac Sutherland 1822-1900. He was a doctor, Government geologist in Natal in 1854 and Surveyor-general of Natal in 1856.

Conservation Status: L C (Least Concern).


This big, evergreen Tree is up to 30m high and has a trunk that may reach in excess of 1m wide. The Trunk is usually light, pale grey and ends in a dense crown. Forest trees are typically buttressed and here the bark may be olive-grey and often cracked into tiny squares. Branches are smooth and grey. Rusty brown hairs cover young twigs.


The dark green imparipinnate (pinnately compound leaf ending in a single leaflet) Leaves are up to 30cm long and usually have 3+ pairs of opposite, or nearly opposite leaflets. These entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented) Leaflets are light to dark green, broadly lanceolate or oblong. The smooth leaflets are up to 4cm long when mature. Stipellae (secondary stipules situated at the base of a leaflet of a compound leaf) may be present. The Petiole (leaf stalk) has a swollen base. Lateral veins curve and finally join to the margins. These and other veins are clearly visible when the leaf is held against a strong light (photo 419). Here a hand lens will help.


The light red to purple Flowers have velvety-hairy buds. These buds develop into flowers and occur at branch ends. They are typically pea-shaped. Each Flower is bisexual and zygomorphic (irregular flower: when corolla is divisible into 2 equal halves in one plane only). The Calyx has 5 joined Sepals which are hairy, rust coloured and the lobes are teeth like. The Corolla is divisible into 5 petals as follows: the uppermost is the conspicuous Vexillum or standard petal, which has a light triangular portion at its base. Below this, on either side are 2 Wing petals and these are outside the lowermost 2 joined, incurved Keel petals. Inside this, there are 9 Stamens joined to form a tube at the base and the tenth, upper stamen, is free. All Anthers are uniform. The superior Ovary has one locule (cavity or compartment) with a number of ovules. This extends into a simple curved Style and a simple Stigma (Dec-Jan).


The initially green Fruit is a visible pendulous Pod that becomes a flat, woody and light brown. It is and is up to 12cm long. Reddish-orange hairs cover the mature pod. (Feb-Sep). The pod dehisces on the tree. Old pods may remain on the tree.

Distribution & Ecology

This tree is Endemic (Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location.) in southern Africa. Trees are normally found in the Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu-Natal e.g. Ngoya Forest, which is on an extensive granitic ridge which rises between 200 and 450+m above sea level. It is about 150km north of Durban and 12km from the coast. This tree may occur in Swaziland (one report). The tree grows best on sandy soil. The Striped Policemen butterfly (Coeliades forestan) larvae feed on the Leaves of this tree.


The Wood is soft and not much used.


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.

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