• Glossy Bersama (E)
  • Glossy White Ash (E)
  • Shiny-leaf Bersama (E)
  • Blinkblaarwitessenhout (A)
  • uNdiyaza (Z)
  • isiNdiyandiya (X, Z)



  • An uncommon, compact, attractive shrub or small, multi-stemmed tree, with a neat growth habit and prominent, dense, foliage. The new leaves are a beautiful, striking, bright, glossy pink-bronze. It has pale, grey-brown, faintly creased bark, slender stalks of dainty flowers, knobbly, ligneous fruit capsules and conspicuous, compressed groups of leaves carried at the ends of branchlets. The trees are so highly sought after in traditional medicines that their wild populations are now threatened.


  • 439



  • Melianthaceae (The Honey-flower & Melianthus family)
  • A small family of flowering plants, with 3 genera (Bersama, Melianthus, Greyia), and somewhat 7 species of trees and shrubs found only in tropical and sub-Saharan Africa. The leaves are generally pinnately compound or alternate, with toothed margins and conspicuous stipules. The monosymmetric, unisexual flowers are usually carried in a terminal cluster or panicle, and have 4-5, unequal petals. Fruits are commonly a dehiscent, papery or woody, furrowed capsule, with or without a starchy, fleshy covering.


  • The trees are generally found along the eastern parts of South Africa, from the Eastern Cape through Natal and Transkei, to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Swaziland and the southernmost parts of Mozambique. The natural habitat is forests and forest margins, but they are frequently found in bushveld and coastal thicket, dunes and rocky areas, from sea level to elevations of just more than a 1000 m.

Main Features


  • A rather pallid grey to grey brown, with a slightly coarse, wrinkly texture, occasionally flaking in small strips. New twigs often have a very creased appearance, with a red-brown tinge. The main stem can be single or multi-stemmed.


  • Evergreen

  • Compound or 3-foliate leaves (65- 200 mm), with 2-4 pairs of oppositely arranged leaflets plus a terminal, unpaired one, carried on short leafstalk of up to 250 mm. The leaves are ovate to oblong-elliptic shaped (350-750 x 200-450 mm), with smooth, slightly hardened, wavy margins and curved, or often faintly notched tips and tapered, asymmetric bases. Glossy, dark-green, glabrous on both surfaces, with prominent, yellowish midrib and venation and a thick, rather rubbery texture.


  • Small, (4-6 mm diameter), greenish to creamy white flowers with elongated petals, carried on frim, rather erect, slender flower stalks (120-150 mm), growing from the axils of leaves. (September – May)


  • A woody, wrinkled and hairy capsule, with a diameter of up to 20 mm. The round fruits are carried in groups of 2-4 on velvety stalks (50-70mm), and mature to a dull green, splitting into 4 valves. (February – August)


  • 3-10 m


  • 1 – 3 m



  • The bark, stem bark (which shows antifungal activity), and roots are mainly used, and the trees are highly sought after for their medicinal benefits. A combination of the roots and stem bark is said to relieve menstrual pains, treat venereal disease and impotency, and a stem bark infusion is used to kill lice. The stem bark is pulverized, then inhaled to relive headaches, and treat strokes. A concentrate made from the bark is taken a san emetic to calm nervous disorders.


  • Parts of the plant, especially the leaves and roots, contain highly poisonous compounds (toxic heart glycosides), and have been deaths recorded, even though the plant is often used medicinally. Care should be taken if it wishes to be used.



  • The flowers attract bees, moths, beetles, insects and butterflies, and the trees are the breeding ground for the stunning blue Lycaenidae butterfly family. The fruits are eaten by Vervet monkeys, birds and bats. The host of insect life that the trees attract will in turn lure insectivorous birds.


  • Although they have not gained their deserved popularity as garden plants, these handsome, small trees make wonderful ornamentals for very small or townhouse gardens, as they do not grow big and have a neat growth habit. They also make excellent container specimens, as they will do well in a semi-shady area, are slow growing and do not have aggressive root systems. This also makes them suited for planting near driveways, next to pools or other permanent structures. Planted as a single specimen or focal plant, they are sure to attract attention, as they are very decorative, with prominent foliage and a striking fruit and flower display.



  • The trees are tolerant of very mild drought and light frosts, but young plants should be protected against extreme cold.


  • A slow-grower.


  • Full sun but will tolerate light shade if given 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day.


  • Loamy or peat, well composted and well-ventilated, soils are preferred, but the plants will tolerate slightly sandy soils. Added compost will benefit development, and a layer of mulch can be added around the plant to help the soil retain moisture. Medium to high water needs. Water regularly, (every 3-5 days), and give extra during very hot periods


  • Grown from seed. Sow the seeds in spring or summer, in a well-drained and well-aerated seedling mixture of fine river sand and compost (2:1), after treating with a pre-emergence fungicide (optional), and cover with another thin layer of sand. Place in a warm, brightly lit area and water often, but allow the soil time to dry out between watering. Germination typically occurs within 4-6 weeks. Transplant carefully once the first pair of true leaves have been developed.