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the web of life in southern Africa

Celtis africana (White stinkwood)

Witstinkhout [Afrikaans]; umVumvu [Xhosa]; umVumvu, inDwandwazane, uMoyawovungu ("stormy wind"), uSinga lwesalukazi ("old woman's sinew") [Zulu]; modutu, mohatlakgomo, lesika [South Sotho]; modutu [Tswana]; modutu, mogatakgomo [North Sotho]; mpopano, mumvumvu [Venda]

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 I >  Order: Rosales > Family: Cannabaceae > Genus: Celtis

Celtis africana (White stinkwood)

Celtis africana, near curio shop, Great Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Celtis africana (White stinkwood) Celtis africana (White stinkwood)

Celtis africana, Mukuvisi Woodland, office area, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Celtis africana, Greystone Park Nature Reserve, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]


See comparison of native Celtis and Trema species. Celtis africana is most easily confused with Trema orientalis because they both have hairy, serrated leaves that are conspicuously 3-veined from the base and asymmetric at the base. However, they can be easily distinguished by the fact that the serrations on the leaf are only on the upper half of the leaf in Celtis africana whereas they occur along the entire margin of the leaf in Trema orientalis.

According to Palgrave & Palgrave (2002), Celtis australis (from southern Europe and western Asia) and Celtis sinensis (from China and Japan) are planted as garden trees in southern Africa and are hybridising with Celtis africana, with hybrids germinating freely, especially noticeable in Gauteng. According to van Wyk & van Wyk (1997), Celtis australis can be distinguished from Celtis africana by having glossy green, hairless leaves, and Celtis sinensis by having course-haired leaves with a more tapering tip and larger marginal teeth.

Distribution and habitat

Widespread in South Africa and Zimbabwe except for semi-arid and arid regions. Also found along south coast of Mozambique. Grows in a wide range of habitats, including grassland, bushveld, coastal dunes, river banks and dense forest.

Ecological interactions


  • Planted as a shade tree in gardens and along avenues. For instance they are planted along the length of St George's Mall in Cape Town. They are used in this way because they are fast growing and are deciduous so that in summer they provide shade and in winter they let the sun through.
  • The wood is not highly prized as it is tough and difficult to work with. It is white to yellowish, sometimes tinged with green and has a long grain and a woolly texture. It has been used to a limited extent for items such as planks, yokes and tent-bows but is not regarded as having any commercial value. The wood has an unpleasant smell when cut, which is how the tree got its name. It should not be confused with the true Stinkwood Ocotea bullata, which is not closely related to Celtis africana and which yields commercially valuable timber.
  • It is believed by some that the wood of this tree has power over evil and that by driving wooden pegs of this species in the ground, one is driving witches away (Palmer & Pitman 1972).
  • In Botswana it is claimed that livestock will multiply if a stick of this species is used for stirring meat that is cooking (Palmer & Pitman 1972).



  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. and Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of Southern Africa covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Volume 1. A.A. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • van Wyk, B. and van Wyk, P. 1997. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Text by Hamish Robertson