General Info

The Tree, with its grey-brown bark, may reach 20m high. The palmate Leaves have 3-5 leaflets. Flowers are 5-merous and occur in umbels. Fruit is a small, almost spherical, 2-locular red berry.


Schefflera umbellifera, Cussonia chartacea, Cussonia umbellifera, Neocussonia umbellifera.

RSA Tree No. 566.

Common names: Forest cabbage tree, Forest kiepersol, Sambreelboom, False Cabbage tree.

Family: Araliaceae: Ivy and cabbage-tree family with 50+ genera and about 700 species. In southern Africa, there are 5 genera and about 18 species. These genera include Cussonia and Schefflera. Leaves are usually alternate and petaloid. They may also be once or twice digitally compound. The regular Flowers usually have 5 petals and the calyx is attached to the inferior, 2-locular ovary. Each locule has a single ovule. There are as many stamens as petals. Anthers contain 2 pollen sacs. Fruit varies.

Name derivation: Schefflera The genus was named in honour of Johann Peter Ernst Schefflera, an 18th century botanist and physician born in 1739. umbellifera refers to the arrangement of the flowers in umbels (inflorescence in which flower stalks arise from a common point). Schefflera umbellifera is the only species of the genus Schefflera in southern Africa.

Conservation Status: L C (Least Concern).


This tall, semi-deciduous and straight Tree may reach 20m high. It either has large spreading branches or is unbranched. The Trunk that may reach 0,6m wide. This trunk has grey-brown bark and is smooth with long lenticels (usually raised corky oval or elongated areas on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment) when young. With ageing, longitudinal fissures appear between which the bark may form longitudinal rectangles. In older trees, the trunk may be buttressed. The Branches are smooth and mottled.


The shiny, dark green and leathery Leaves occur at the ends of branches and may reach 25+cm long. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 20cm long. Stipules (basal appendage of the petiole) are absent. The 3 to 5 Leaflets are palmate (with leaflets arising from a single point at the end of the petiole). Individual leaflets are ovate, oblong or lance shaped. Leaflets may reach 15 x 6cm. They rest on petiolules (leaflet stalks) which are up to 4cm long. Veins are best observed against a strong light (photo 40). The Blade is dark green and glossy above. The lower surface is lighter. The Margin may be entire or serrate in the upper portion. The Apex is round, tapered, broadly pointed or notched. The Margins may be toothed on the upper half and are usually distinctly wavy. The Base tapers. On the lower leaf surface the Midrib is raised. Seedlings have simple leaves.


This tree is conspicuous when in Flower. The small flowers are in Umbels (inflorescence in which flower stalks arise from a common point). The umbels are up to 18cm wide and extend far above the leaves. They are yellowish white and stand on pedicels (stalks of single flowers in a cluster) that are up to 4cm long. Flowers are actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. Perianth, the calyx and corolla, are divisible into 3 or more identical sectors). The 5 Sepals are indistinctly toothed and valvate. There are 5 greenish cream to yellowish Petals. The 5 Stamens have Anthers that are 2-thecus (with 2 pollen sacs). The inferior Ovary has 2 locules (chambers within an ovary) and 2 Styles (structures supporting the 2 Stigmas). (Jan-May).


The small – up to 4mm wide Fruit is an almost spherical, 2 locular Berry (pulpy, indehiscent fruit like a grape or tomato) which matures to a deep red colour. (Jun-Aug).

Distribution & Ecology

This tree is generally found in and around warm and moist forests – ranging from the coast to an altitude of 1 800m. It is mildly frost tolerant. Trees are less common on grassy hills. Specific locations include the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal (where it is common in swamp forests), Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Insects pollinate the flowers. Birds consume the fruit and are responsible for seed dispersal.


The Wood has a low density. It is soft, white, and used for carving, fruit boxes and was once used for matchmaking. Leaves and Bark are used in local medicine. Seeds are difficult to germinate and difficult to grow. However, this is a good garden tree. Young trees should be protected from frost and trees do best in areas that are not excessively dry. A plant extract has some antiplasmodial (anti-malarial) activity.


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.