General Info

Evergreen Tree is up to 5+m high. Trifoliate, drooping Leaves are gland dotted. Flowers small, regular, star-shaped, and in panicles. 4-locular Fruit has many tiny Seeds each with a basal tuft of long hairs.



Vepris lanceolate, Vepris undulata, Toddalia lanceolata.

RSA No. 261.

Common names. White-ironwood, witysterhout.

Family: Rutaceae. (Citrus family) has 160 genera and 2 000+ species. Leaves often have pellucid (clear, almost transparent in transmitted light) oil glands which are responsible for the aromatic smell. These gland dotted leaves are usually opposite but lack stipules. The regular Flowers are bractless, bisexual or unisexual and usually monoecious. They have 4-5 Petals, which are usually free. The Stamens have anthers that are dorsifixed and 2-thecous (have 2 pollen sacs). Staminodes are often present. The Ovary usually has 5 carpels and the style is simple. Fruit is variable. There are 23 species in the family. The Rutaceae in southern Africa are largely concentrated in the Western Cape. Indigenous genera with trees include Calodendron, Ptaeroxylon, Vepris and Zanthoxylum.

Name derivation: Vepris – bramble or spiny shrub. lanceolata – referring to the lance-shaped leaflets. There are 5 species of the genus Vepris in southern Africa.

Conservation Status: LC (Least Concern). 2009.

In forests and woodlands, the Tree may reach a height of 30m but it is usually up to 5m high. The Trunk is slender, straight and erect up to 1,5m in diameter, with a wide gently rounded crown. The Bark is grey, dark grey or purple grey and may be longitudinally striated (yellowish). Branches have smooth bark with visible lenticels (usually raised corky oval or elongated area on the plant that allows the uncontrolled interchange of gases with the environment).


This evergreen tree has Leaves that are alternatively arranged and trifoliate (compound leaf with 3 leaflets). Each Leaflet is up to 12 x 3,5cm. The central leaflet is the longest. Petiolules (leaflet stalks) are usually not distinctly visible. The hairless, slightly drooping leaflets are usually lance-shaped or elliptic to narrowly elliptic. The Apex is sharply to bluntly tapering or even rounded. The Base narrows. The Margin is entire and distinctly undulate (wavy up and down not in and out – photo 30). The Petiole (leaf stalk) is long – up to 15cm and grooved above. The Blade is densely dotted with glands, which can just be seen, using a hand lens when the leaf is viewed against a strong light (photo 586). When crushed, the leaves have a distinctive lemon smell. Stipules (basal appendages of the petiole) are absent.


The star-shaped, and actinomorphic (regular, symmetrical) Flowers are small (here a hand lens is essential). They are borne in Panicles (indeterminate, branched inflorescence with stalked flowers) which are up to 12cm long. They occur at the end of branches. The tree is dioecious (with male and female flowers on separate trees). The Calyx is cup-shaped, 4-lobed and the lobes are not joined at the base. The creamy-white, somewhat fleshy Corolla is gamopetalous (has united or joined petals at least at the base. Here the Corolla is removable as a single piece). The Flowers are unisexual. Male flower buds are green and obovate (like an upside down egg). Each male flower is small and has 4 very small Sepals, 4 yellow to green Petals and 8 Stamens which lack apical glands. The stamens are attached to the base of the Disc (a more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle). The Filament of each Stamen is white and the anthers are initially yellowish and eventually turn brown. The Anthers open by 2 longitudinal slits. Pollen grains are visible on my thumb in photo 500. Here the ovary is rudimentary. In the Female flowers, there is a single Pistil (a unit of the Gynoecium, the female element of the flower, composed of the Ovary, Style and Stigma) and 8 rudimentary Staminodes (sterile stamens) are present. The Ovary is superior and has a short Style and a single Stigma that is shield-shaped. (Jul-Jan).


The Fruit is small up to 0,5cm in diameter and 1,2cm long. It is 4-locular, almost spherical to ellipsoid, fleshy and leathery. It becomes dark purple to black when mature. The fruit is lemon-scented. (Feb-Jul).

Distribution & Ecology

The plant may be a bush in dunes or a tree and is adapted to a wide range of conditions. The best growing conditions occur in dry types of forests and at the eastern and southern coast. Porcupines eat the bark and this is a problem because they can also ring it during the process causing it to die. Trees occur in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West Province, Tanzania, Kenya and Mauritius. The drought resistant tree will tolerate light frost. Birds such as red-winged starlings and Layard’s Bulbul eat the fruit. Butterflies. The green-banded swallowtail (Papillo nireus), the white-banded swallowtails (Papilio echerioides), Papilio demodoeus, and the Christmas butterfly or citrus swallowtail (Papillo demodocus) butterfly larvae feed on the leaves.


The Wood is white, smooth, hard, strong and elastic. Uses include making roof beams, tent hoops and instrument handles. Flowers attract many insects – which in turn attract birds. Cultivated plants may have galls on the leaves caused by jumping Psyllid lice. They feed on the phloem tubes (which conduct products of photosynthesis) in the host plant. If fruit is required, both male and female trees need to be planted.


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. land2002. 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.