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the web of life in southern Africa

Trilepisium madagascariense (Urn-fig)

Valsvy [Afrikaans]

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


  • Medium to large tree, reaching about 40 m in height, with drooping branchlets.
  • Leaves simple, alternate, elliptic, measuring 7-14 cm long and 3-6.5 cm wide, with distinct drip tip.
  • Bark grey, smooth; trunk often fluted at the base.
  • Flowers are unisexual with both male and female flowers situated in a bell-shaped receptacle. Stamens are long and obscure the view of the receptacle.
  • The fruit is a nut, contained within the fleshy receptacle and is similar looking to a wild fig but more elongate.

Distribution and habitat

Native to tropical Africa including West Africa and Central Africa, extending as far south as the Soutpansberg in Limpopo province, South Africa. Within southern Africa, it also occurs in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is also native to Madagascar, Annobon and the Seychelles Occurs in moist forest, often along streams.


  • Flowers have been observed from September to October.
  • Fruit have been observed from September to November.

Ecological interactions

No records.


  • The seeds are roasted and eaten.
  • The sap produces a red dye.
  • The wood is perishable and the tree is rarely cultivated.



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