General Info

Tree may reach 4m high. Imparipinnate Leaves lack stipules. The bisexual, zygomorphic Flowers are in racemes. 4 anthers + 1 staminode. Fruit is a capsule that dehisces releasing winged Seeds.



Tecomaria capensis Subsp. capensis, Tecoma capensis, Bignonia capensis, Gelseminum capenses, Tecomaria krebsii, Tecomaria petersii.

RSA Tree No. 673.1.

Common names: Cape honeysuckle, Honeysuckle, Tecoma, Trompetters.

Family: Bignoniaceae. (Jacaranda family). There are about 104 genera and 810+ species. In the RSA, there are 6 genera + 2 naturalised with a total of 13 species. Here the indigenous genera include Bignonia, Kigelia, Markhamia and Tecomaria. Most species are woody. Leaves are usually compound, opposite and lack stipules. The usually large and brightly coloured Flowers are bisexual and irregular. They usually occur in panicles or racemes or are solitary. The Calyx has 5 partly united sepals which are shorter than the usually 5 joined Petals producing a conspicuous tube. The petals are often 2-lipped with the upper lip having 3 lobes and the lower lip with 2. There are usually 4 didynamous Stamens (2 long and 2 short) which arise from the corolla tube. A single staminode may be present. The Anthers have 2 pollen sacs which dehisce longitudinally. There is a superior Ovary with 2 united carpels. Many ovules are present. The Style is simple, terminating in a Stigma with 2 flattened lobes. The Fruit is usually a bivalved capsule. Seeds are usually flat and usually have a glassy, translucent wing.

Name derivation: Tecomaria from Tecoma – the Mexican name for a species of this genus. capensis – of the Cape. Subspecies capensis is the only one naturally occurring in the RSA.

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

These unarmed plants are usually a many stemmed scrambling shrub or rarely a Tree up to 4m+ high and a similar spread. Young shoots have raised white to creamy, clearly visible Lenticels (usually raised corky oval or elongated area on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment). In established stems, the Bark is pale brown, fissured lengthwise, having dark grooves and lighter raised portions. It does not flake off in round pieces.


The Cape Honeysuckle is evergreen – unless growing in very cold areas. The compound Leaves are thinly textured and imparipinnate (pinnately compound leaf ending in a single leaflet). Each leaf is up to 13cm long and has 2-5 pairs of usually oppositely arranged Leaflets and the terminal one. Leaflets near the end of the leaf are the largest and up to 3,5 x 2,5cm. They are round, oblong, ovate (egg shaped), obovate or elliptic with the terminal leaflet being mainly ovate. The Apex is tapering (usually) but may be acuminate (said of an acute apex whose sides are somewhat concave and taper to a protracted point) to rounded or even squarish. The Base is asymmetric and tapers or is rounded. The terminal leaflet is less asymmetric. The Margin is entire until nearly half way up the leaflet and it becomes scalloped or toothed towards the apex. The leaf Blade is dark green and smooth above and light green below. The 4 to 8 pairs of lateral Veins are sunken above and more visible and protruding below. Domatia (Hair-tuft domatia – a tiny chamber produced by plants that house arthropods and, to the naked eye the domatia appear as small bumps) may be seen in vein axils. The Rachis (axis – in this case bearing leaflets) is grooved above and slightly winged. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is up to 3cm (usually less) long and young petioles may be reddish. The Petiolules (leaflet stalks) are short or absent. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent.


Flowering is most abundant after rain and flowers appear in terminal sprays. The bisexual Flowers are Zygomorphic (petals can only be divided in one way to produce 2 equal halves) and borne in Racemes (a simple elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers that open in succession towards the apex) that occur at branch ends and are up to 32cm long. In individual flowers, the short Calyx is made up of 5 green Sepals forming a short tube at the base and each sepal lobe ends in a short tapering tip. The Corolla is tubular, glabrous (hairless) outside and has some hairs within. It is narrower at the base and curved. The corolla widens at the mouth and is up to 5cm long and has 2 lobes. The upper lobe resembles a hood and the lowermost lobe is lip-like. The vivid colours vary between orange (natural), red, scarlet and yellow.

The Stamens are epipetalous (attached to the petals) and the 4 fertile ones protrude through the mouth of the corolla tube. Here and the filaments end in Anthers that appear in an inverted V-shape (photo 439). A single, shorter posterior Staminode (sterile stamen) is also present.  The fertile anthers have linear to oblong theca (pollen sacs) and the stamens are didynamous (having 4 stamens in 2 pairs of 2 different lengths). A swollen, squat Receptacle (is that expanded tip of the flower stalk from which the floral parts develop. It is greatly expanded in the Compositae and Ficus) is visible below the ovary (photo 440). The single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) has a bilocular (2-chambered), superior Ovary containing several ovules. The Style ends in a bilobed (2-lobes), elliptic Stigma. The terminal flowers stand out against the dark green, shiny leaves. The stamens and style all extend beyond the petals. (Jun-Nov – but most of the year).


The Fruit is a hanging flattish Capsule (a dry fruit resulting from the maturing of a compound ovary – of more than one carpel – usually opening at maturity by one or more lines of dehiscence) which is narrow, pod-like, slightly curved and tapers to both ends. It is up to 13 x 1cm.The capsule dehisces releasing many seeds. The Seeds have 2 hyaline (having a glassy, translucent appearance), membranous wings (photo 55). The seeds lack endosperm (starch and oil containing tissues) and are approximately rectangular and up to 3 x 1cm. (Oct-Feb).

Distribution & Ecology

These plants occur along streams and in wet montane forests, forest margins and wooded kloofs. Altitude range is from sea level to 1 200m. They are found in in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Province, Limpopo, Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Malawi and northwards into tropical Africa. They are pollinated by sunbirds and bees. The plant is now cultivated in Hawaii, California, SE Asia and the Azores. The larvae of the Death’s Head Hawk Moth with a roughly skull-shaped pattern on the thorax (Acherontia atropos) and the Fulvous Hawkmoth (Coelonia fulvinotata) feed on the leaves.


The Leaves are eaten by bushbuck. Sweet nectar is produced which attracts many birds, including sunbirds. This nectar freezes below zero and is thus sought after on cold days. The plant is easily grown from seeds or cuttings, or from rooted suckers. This is a good, fast growing, bird tree which will benefit from pruning and the addition of a balanced fertilizer at the end of winter. It grows in full sun or partial shade. This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden merit. It has been on display at the Chelsea Flower Show. This plant can be used in erosion control.


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.