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the web of life in southern Africa

Milicia excelsa (Iroko, Mvule)

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: Moraceae


  • A large tree, reaching about 50 m in height.
  • Leaves simple, spirally arranged, large, measuring about 12-18 cm long and 6.5-9.5 cm wide, green above and paler below with velvety pubescence.
  • Flowers in spikes, unisexual with sexes on separate trees. Male flowers white, female flowers greenish.
  • Fruit has a similar structure to a mulberry

Distribution and habitat

Native to the African tropics, with the distribution extending into southern Africa where it is found in southeastern Zimbabwe (where it is considered rare) and Mozambique. Grows in low-altitude evergreen forest.


  • Flowers from September to October.
  • Fruits from October to December.

Ecological interactions

Fruit are eaten by birds and bats.


  • The wood is brown, becoming darker with oiling and exposure. It is termed iroko or mvule and is sought after as timber, used mainly for building.



  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Text by Hamish Robertson