General Info

This evergreen, dioecious Tree may reach 12m high. The simple Leaves have deeply immersed veins on the upper side. The many, small, dioecious, finely hairy Flowers (florets) are pale yellowish to cream. Fruit is a wind-dispersed cypsela.



Tarchonanthus trilobus, Tarchonanthus galpinii.

RSA Tree No. 734, 735.

Common names: Northern Broad-leaved Camphor-bush, Broad-leaved Camphor-bush, Wild Camphor Bush, Sagewood, Wild Sage.

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 flower – perhaps because the crushed leaves smell of camphor. trilobus 3 lobes – referring to leaves. There are 2 tree species currently recognised in southern Africa. T. camphoratus is the other species.

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

The Tree is up 8-12m high with a trunk that may reach 30cm wide. It may also be a shrub. The Trunk is single, stout and bare. The grey to dark grey Bark is vertically, roughly fissured and cracked, flaking in narrow pieces. Young branches are pale whitish and hairy or woolly, with well-marked leaf scars (photo 541). Twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) are hairy.


This evergreen tree has simple (have a single blade which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets) dark green to olive green Leaves. They are slightly aromatic – smelling of camphor, spirally arranged and situated towards the ends of branches. Each of the non-shiny leaves is obovate (the reverse of ovate) or narrowly so, to oblong-elliptic or widely lanceolate and up to 20 x 7cm. The Upper surface has deeply immersed veins causing the leaf to appear roughly corrugated and wrinkled. The leaf is puckered above and the veins on the Lower surface are raised and prominent. The persistent, creamy white hairs below do not hide the veins. The Apex is often has a 3-lobed (variety trilobus), sometimes with 5-8 teeth, or rounded to broadly tapering and broad leaved: variety galpinii. The Base tapers. The Margin is entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) or irregularly toothed, crisped and crinkly. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is stout – up to 3cm long. The petiole and young leaves are initially covered with dense, creamy woolly hairs.


The axillary pale yellowish to cream and numerous Flowers / Florets are straw-coloured and very small – a hand lens will help. The florets (individual flowers mainly in the Asteraceae and grasses that make up a dense form of inflorescence) are finely hairy. The flowers are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). Capitula (a dense inflorescence composed of an aggregation of usually sessile flowers on a flattened axis) are in woolly clusters and lack ray florets (outer modified floret). The Corolla is tubular to funnel shaped with 5 recurved lobes. Male florets are in heads of 10-16 flowers. Here there is no ovary, although a long thin style is present. Anthers are calcarate (spurred) and caudate (having a tail-like appendage). Female florets contain single flowers and have a short (4-6) lobed Corolla with external woolly hairs. The corolla is shorter than the ovary. 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 unilocular (containing a single chamber or cell) Ovary. There is a single, very short and flat-branched Style, ending in 2 Stigmas. Female flowers are without Stamens. (Aug-Feb).


The wind dispersed Fruit is a Cypsela (Asteraceae fruit – a dry single-seeded fruit formed from a double ovary of which only one develops into a seed). It is about 5mm in diameter including the covering with fine silky hair. They are located in terminal clusters. A Pappus (modified outer perianth series of Asteraceae, borne on the ovary and it may be bristle, plume, scale or awn like) is absent but present in Brachylaena. (Jan-Oct).

Distribution & Ecology

This plant is located in the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal e.g. near the Oribi Gorge hotel, Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The tree grows on rocky outcrops, forest margins and woodland. Black rhino graze leaves, stems and flowers. Game browse the leaves. Both the stem and leaves have a smell of camphor.


Wood is bright brown with yellow graining. It is hard, durable and aromatic. The plant is best grown from seeds planted in early spring. It is quick growing and has non-invasive roots. Oils extracted from the leaves have some antibiotic properties.


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.