General Info.

The Tree may reach 9m high. Simple Leaves ae aromatic. Dioecious, 5-merous Florets in terminal panicles. Fruit: a cypsela imbedded in a white, cotton wool like covering. Fruit has 1 Seed.



Tarchonanthus camphoratus, Tarchonanthus abyssinicus, Tarchonanthus camphoratus L. var. litakunensis, Tarchonanthus litakunensis, Tarchonanthus procerus.

RSA Tree No. 733.

Common names: Wild Cotton, African Fleabane, Camphor Bush, Camphor Tree, Camphor Wood, Wild Sage, Wild Camphor Bush.

Family:  Asteraceae, Compositae (Daisy family: includes sunflowers, lettuce, chicory, marigolds). There are in excess of 1 900 genera and close to 33 000 species. This is possibly the second biggest plant family. In southern Africa, there are 246 genera and about 2 300 species. Some members have flowers grouped in heads and the whole head may appear to be a single flower – like the “sunflower”. Surrounding each flower are bracts. Individual Flowers have sepals replaced by a pappus which may be bristle, plume, scale or awn like. Individual flowers are called Florets, which may have 5 fused petals. The Ovary is inferior and contains one Ovule and the Style has 2 lobes.

Name derivation: Tarchonanthus funeral rites: perhaps because of the camphor aroma. camphoratus -like camphor. There are 2 species in southern Africa. The other is T. trilobus.

Conservation Status: L C. (Least Concern). 2009.

The small tree is up to 9m high. It may branch from the base or it may be a stunted bush. The Trunk may be clean and crooked. It is up to 30cm wide. The Bark is rough, vertically fissured and brownish grey. All parts of the plant smell of camphor – especially when rubbed.


The tree is semi-deciduous and the aromatic Leaves occur along the branchlets. Twigs are leafy throughout whereas in T. trilobus, leaves occur towards the ends of branches. Leaves in T. camphoratus are simple (has a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets), alternate, lanceolate, oblong, elliptic or ovate (shape of an egg) and similar to those of Brachylaena species. Leaves in northern areas may be oblanceolate (the reverse of lanceolate, the leaf is broader at the apical third than at the middle and tapering towards the base). The Blade is leathery, green or greyish green above, white or greyish and the young leaves are minutely hairy below. Veins are prominent below (photo 305 & 668). The surface may be pitted and rough. The Margin is usually untoothed. When toothed, the teeth are fine. Leaf size varies up to 15 x 3,8cm. The Apex is round to tapering and may end in a sharp point. In T. trilobus, the apex is strongly serrate. In T. camphoratus the Base is narrowed. Here the Petiole (leaf base) is up to 1,2cm long. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent. Coppice (damaged growth occurring from the stump or roots) shoots usually have larger leaves that may be toothed.


Flowers / Florets (individual flowers mainly in Asteraceae and grasses that make up a dense form of inflorescence) are small, Dioecious (having male and female parts on separate plants) and arranged in terminal Panicles (indeterminate, branched inflorescence with stalked flowers). Flowers are in a compound inflorescence. Florets are usually covered with white wooly hairs. In each, the honeycombed Receptacle (the expanded tip of the flower stalk from which the floral parts develop. It is greatly expanded in the Asteraceae and Ficus) is flat or slightly convex and not covered with chaffy scales. The Corolla consists of 5 joined petals in a very short tube. Male Flowers are in small, greenish-white balls with initially joined petals, which become recurved. They are more numerous than female florets. The 5 exserted (extending beyond the corolla) Stamens are epipetalous (born or arising from the petals or corolla) and form a cylinder around the style. Anthers are spurred and caudate (having a tail-like appendage). There is an abortive ovary present. The Female Flowers are woolly, whitish and form many-headed sprays at the ends of branches. Here the Corolla is shorter than the ovary. Flowers appear in heads of 4 or 5. There is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) with an inferior Ovary. There is a single exserted Style ending in 2 stigmas (Feb-Aug+).


In the family Asteraceae, the Fruit is a Cypsela. This is a dry, single-seeded fruit formed from a double ovary. However, only one develops into a seed. The fruit is embedded in a cotton wool like covering that is a clear white – at least initially. (Mar-Nov).

Distribution & Ecology

This plant grows in a wide range of habitats from coastal dunes (often) and swamps to the Kalahari sands and from sea level to 1 800m. Location: Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and northwards. It binds the sand in dune areas. Animals such as giraffe, impala kudu and springbok browse the leaves. Burnt trees often shoot again from the ground (coppice). When close to the sea it can survive salt water better than most trees. It is also drought resistant.


Stock feed on the Leaves. The Wood is very hard and termite proof. It works well on a lathe and produces good furniture when polished. The wood is also used for boat-building, long lasting fence poles, spear shafts and walking sticks. When used as a fuel it gives off a strong aromatic smell. In dry areas the Leaves serves as a valuable browsing source. Seeds germinate easily and transplant well. Zulu women use the leaves to decorate their hair.


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. s