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the web of life in southern Africa

Trema orientalis (Pigeonwood)

Hophout [Afrikaans]; umVumvu, umVangazi, umBengele, uPhakane [Xhosa]; umSekeseke, umBhangabhanga [Zulu]; umBalalaqane [Swazi]; mpukupuku [Tsonga]; modutu [North Sotho]; makuru-kuru [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

Trema orientalis (Pigeonwood)

Trema orientalis, Leopard Rock Game Reserve, Vumba, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Trema orientalis (Pigeonwood) Trema orientalis (Pigeonwood)

Trema orientalis, Rusitu Forest, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]

Trema orientalis, Leopard Rock Game Reserve, Vumba, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]


A shrub or small tree, growing to a height of 13 m. Trema orientalis is most easily confused with Celtis africana 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.  See comparison of native Celtis and Trema species.

Distribution and habitat

Native to Africa south of the Sahara, Madagascar, Mascarene Is and tropical Asia. Within southern Africa, it is native to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northwest Province, northwestern Namibia, Swazilind, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is absent from the drier parts of the region and from the Western Cape.

Ecological interactions


  • Young leaves are eaten like spinach by people in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • The roots are used in combination with other plants as an emetic.



  • 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