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the web of life in southern Africa

Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

Wildepruim [Afrikaans]; Mothękęlę [North Sotho]; umGwenya [Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid II > Order: Sapindales > Family: Anacardiaceae

Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

Harpephyllum caffrum, Harry Pichanick Drive, Alexandra Park, Harare, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten ©, Flora of Zimbabwe]

Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

Harpephyllum caffrum. [photo H.G. Robertson, Iziko ©]

Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum) Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

Harpephyllum caffrum. [photo John Burrows ©]

Harpephyllum caffrum. [photo H.G. Robertson, Iziko ©]


A medium to large tree, growing to about 6-15 m in height. Has compound leaves with 4-8 pairs of sickle-shaped leaflets plus a terminal one. Leaves spirally arranged, crowded at the end of thick branches, and leaving a scar on the branch when they fall off. The shape of the leaf and the positioning of leaves at the ends of branches is similar to that of Ekebergia capensis (Cape ash) but the two species can be distinguished by the following characters:


Harpephyllum caffrum Ekebergia capensis
The red fruit are oval-shaped. The red fruit are round.
Leaves stiff and erect. Leaves drooping.
Breaking off a leaf produces a watery sap from where the petiole was attached to the branch. No watery sap produced.
Tend to have the odd red leaf. All leaves green.

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa, with a distribution extending from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal and into Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Occurs mainly in coastal forest.



  • The wood is used for furniture, beams and other miscellaneous uses but is not considered to be very durable. It is pale reddish, quite heavy and polishes well.

  • The sour-tasting fruit are eaten off the tree by people. They are also harvested to make wine, jams and jelly.

  • This is a very popular garden and roadside tree in South Africa. It has been selected, along with Diospyros whyteana (Bladdernut) and Markhamia zanzibarica (Bell bean tree) as Tree of the Year for 2008 (see more on Department of Water Affairs and Forestry website). For information on cultivation, see PlantzAfrica.com.

  • The bark is used for treating skin problems such as acne and eczema. Sprains and bone fractures are treated with powdered burnt bark.

  • The bark is used for dying, producing a mauve or pink colour.



  • Joffe, P. 2001. Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants. A South African Guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

  • Kroon, D.M. 1999. Lepidoptera of Southern Africa - Host-plants & Other Associations. Lepidopterists' Society of Africa, P.O. Box 477, Jukskei Park 2153, South Africa.

  • Palgrave, K.C. & Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

  • van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.  

  • van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 1997. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Text by Hamish Robertson