General Info

Tree may reach 9m high. Large opposite, paired, hairy Leaves are simple. The 5-merous, bisexual and actinomorphic Flowers are in cymes. Fruit reaches 5cm wide and contains 3 large Seeds.



Vangueria infausta, Vangueria tomentosa.

RSA Tree No. 702.

Common names: Wild-medlar, Velvet Wild-medlar, Mispel, Grootmispel.

Family: Rubiaceae. (Coffee family). This family of dicotyledonous plants has in excess of 600 genera and about 13 000 species and members include trees, shrubs and herbs. Local genera include Afrocanthium, Canthium, Coddia, Gardenia, Pavetta, Rothmannia and Vangueria. Leaves are simple, opposite or whorled and have interpetiolar stipules. Flowers are bisexual or unisexual. They are gamosepalous (a calyx whose sepals at least partly united) and Gamopetalous (united joined petals – at least at the base). Stamens usually as many as and alternating with corolla lobes. The Ovary is inferior. Fruit is a drupe, berry or capsule.

Name derivation: Vangueria – from voa vanguer the Madagascan name for Vangueria edulis. infausta – unlucky – referring to the local belief that burned wood causes mainly male calves to develop. There are 10 species of the genus Vangueria in the RSA.

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

The Tree is up to 8m high but is usually smaller and has a sparse crown. It can also be a multi-stemmed shrub. The Trunk is smooth and grey to white when young but becomes rough, knobbly, ribbed with age. Pinkish under-bark may be visible. It branches low down. Branchlets are short and hairy. Small branches are stout and in opposite pairs (photo 873).


On this deciduous tree the opposite, paired Leaves (photo 234) are light green when mature. The leaves are large, up to 30 x 18cm, and display early autumn colours. They are often obovate, elliptic, oval or roundish and thick. New leaves are light green, thick and velvety in spring. The Apex is round or bluntly pointed. The Base is round or tapering. The Margins are entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented but may be hairy) and may be wavy. The Blade on both sides is densely covered with soft hairs. It is medium green above and lateral Veins and midrib protrude and are visible here. All veins are visible below and here the 6-8 pairs of lateral veins and the midrib protrude. The Petiole (leaf stalk) is hairy and short – up to 1cm long. The hairy Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are broad, joined at the base and up to 2cm long (photo 467).


The actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical. The perianth, the calyx and corolla, is divisible into 3 or more identical sectors) Flowers are bisexual. Buds are acorn-shaped and in cymes (broad, more or less flat-topped, determinate flower cluster, with central flowers opening first) and they are always in axillary position. They emerge before or with the new leaves. Flowers attract both flies and butterflies. The Calyx is green initially, hairy and persistent. The 5 Petals of the Corolla are yellow or greenish yellow or whitish and are valvate (meet at the edges without overlapping). The 5 Stamens alternate with the corolla lobes. They arise in the hairy corolla mouth and extend slightly beyond the mouth. There is a single Pistil (unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma). The 5-locular Ovary is inferior. One or more whorls of small leaves or bracts stand underneath a flower or flower-cluster. There is one ovule in each locule. The Style extends beyond the corolla. The single, thickened cylindrical Stigma extends just beyond the petals and is 5 lobed at the apex (photo 181). (Sep-Nov).


The fleshy Fruit is indehiscent. It develops below the leaves and either occurs singly or in pairs. When mature, it has a diameter of 5cm, is almost spherical and has a light blown to orange leathery skin. The fruit ends with a ring-like mark caused by the persistent Calyx. Usually about 3 large Seeds are contained within the fruit which is surrounded by a pithy sour-sweet dry flesh. (Nov-Apr).

Distribution & Ecology

The Plant is common in sandy valleys, dunes and coastal scrub. It is also found on rocky hillsides and wooded grassland. Tortoises and squirrels consume Fruit on the ground. Monkeys, game and bush babies consume the Leaves. Trees are found in Eastern and Northern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya.


The Fruit contains a high Vitamin C content and is safe to eat. It can be eaten raw or the pulp soaked and separated from the seeds, mixed with milk or dried. It is used to flavour porridge after first removing the seeds and skins. A brandy can be distilled from the fruit. Pulp mixed with a little sugar and water is a good substitute for applesauce. Puddings can be made from it. The hard, green fruits make good tops for children. Many local people will not burn the Wood because they believe that it will cause their cattle to have only male calves. Sticks are used for manufacturing wood-traps. Goats browse the Leaves. Propagation is from cuttings and planted seeds. The seeds should have all pulp removed and soaked before planting in well-drained, sun-drenched soil.


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.