Croton sylvaticus

  • Forest Fever-berry (E)
  • Forest Croton (E)
  • Boskoorsbessie (A)
  • Wilde Moerbei (A)
  • Without (A)
  • umFeze (X)
  • inDumbahlozi (Z)
  • moema-tswetsi (NS)


  • A most charming and versatile, deciduous to evergreen, small to medium sized tree, with a typically broad, tall, cylindrical bole and a densely leafy, somewhat rounded to elegantly dome-shaped crown of fresh green leaves. The bark is a beautiful, chromatic grey to greenish-brown, with shallow horizontal fissures, and emits an aromatic, pepper-like smell when handled. Long, pendulous stalks of bright orange fruits adorn the tree during summer and early winter, enticing a vast array of bird species. The species name means ‘forest loving’ and refers to the fact that these trees frequent moist, densely wooded areas. A most worthwhile and handsome subject for warmer gardens.

SA Tree

  • 330


  • Euphorbiaceae (The Spurge family)

  • A large family of flowering plants, belonging to the order Malpighiales, with 218 genera and somewhat 6700 species of trees, woody shrubs, annual and perennial herbs, as well as a few climbers and succulents.

  • The plants are most common in temperate and tropical regions, but can be found worldwide, except for the very cold arctic and alpine regions.

  • Members have flowers that are typically unisexual, carried on the same plant, and have a high radial symmetry.

  • The fruits are 3 chambered capsules, or less often, a drupe, and the stipules are occasionally reduced to hairs, glands, spines, or can be absent completely.

  • The leaves are mostly simple, or if compound, never pinnate, but always palmate, and are generally alternately arranged along the stems, which often contain a milky or watery latex.

  • Many members are important food and medicinal sources, but many are dangerous due to their poisonous fruits, leaves or sap.


  • A tree of forests (mixed, evergreen and secondary), and associated dense woodland, found from the coast to elevations of about 1600 m.
  • Less often, it can also be found in semi-deciduous grasslands and along river banks.
  • In southern Africa, their distribution is somewhat restricted to the east coast, and they are mainly found in Natal, Transkei, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, extending their reach into Swaziland, Zimbabwe and further north into tropical Africa.


  • A light to dark grey or greenish brown, smooth and shallowly striated on immature trees, becoming rougher and mottled with age.
  • The longitudinal fissures show the pale, pinkish-brown inner bark, and the bark has a distinct, aromatic smell.
  • New growth is grey, with a dense to sparse layer of dark orange-brown hairs.
  • A watery latex is exuded from broken stems.
  • The main stem is typically broad, tall and straight, with a diameter of up to 1 m.


  • Semi-deciduous, depending on environment.
  • Under ideal conditions, it can remain evergreen, but the leaves often turn yellow and fall during dry periods, often ahead of winter.
  • The tree very rarely loses all of its foliage.
  • Simple, alternately arranged, elliptic or ovate to broadly lanceolate leaves (30-210 x 20-140 mm), which emit a strong, almost almond-like smell when crushed.
  • The leaves have a thinly rubbery texture, and are a smooth, fresh green above, with paler undersides.
  • Young leaves are finely, softly hairy on both surfaces, while mature leaves are usually hairless and smooth.
  • The margin is shallowly serrated, tapering to a pointed tip, and the leaves are 3-5 veined from the base, with 4-6 pairs of prominent lateral veins below.
  • A pair of distinct, knob-like glands can be seen near the rounded or lobed base of the leave, where the stalk (15-70 mm), and the leaf-blade meet up.


  • Cream coloured, small (2-3 mm diameter), unisexual flowers, carried in terminal racemes or spikes (60-180 mm).
  • The male flowers have more distinct petals and outnumber the female flowers.
  • Male flowers are typically carried towards the tops of the inflorescence, and the few female flowers are situated towards the base. (September- January).


  • A soft, semi-spherical, somewhat fleshy, 3-lobed capsule (6-10 mm diameter), hanging from the tree in conspicuous clusters.

  • It is a light green when young, slightly warty, and ripens to a bright, apricot-orange or light red. (December- May).


  • 6-15 m (specimens of 25 m or more have been recorded)


  • 3-6 m


  • Croton is a genus of great chemical complexity, and several classes of phytochemicals have been isolated from a variety of extracts, with a wide range of pharmacological activities such as antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory.
  • Larvicidal central nervous system effects have also been reported.
  • The bark is used against several disorders, including abdominal pains and disorders, inflammation, swellings, boils and uterine disorders.
  • Extracts are also administered as enemas, and are said to provide relief from rheumatism, fever, malaria and tuberculosis.
  • Sap from the leaves is used for healing cuts, and the leaves are made into a poultice to treat pleurisy.
  • Roots decoctions are said to bring relief from indigestion.


  • The wood is light, with a soft texture, and is easy to work with.
  • It is used in the construction of shelves, fruit boxes, furniture and small implements and poles.
  • It makes an excellent fire wood, burning even while still green.


  • The diterpenoids of Croton are toxic irritants of the skin and mucous membranes, producing a burning sensation when they come into contact with skin.
  • The bark and roots have been used as a fish poison.
  • The fruits are said to be poisonous to humans upon ingestion.


  • The fruits are hugely attractive to many fruit and seed eating bird species, despite their toxic properties.
  • The trees are also the favoured breeding ground for froghopper larvae, and these will in turn lure certain insectivorous bird species.
  • Fallen fruits are readily devoured by smaller mammals such as duiker and bushpigs.
  • The flowers attract butterflies, bees, flies, wasps and beetles, and the trees are the larval host food plant to the beautiful Green-veined Charaxes species.
  • Several moth species also breed on these trees.


  • C. sylvaticus tolerates shady areas and will make a beautiful addition to a large patio or other very shady areas.
  • It is an important and attractive shade giving tree for parks, farms, streets and larger gardens.
  • Fast-growing, low maintenance and easy cultivation make this the ideal tree for a variety of landscaping uses, and the trees make magnificent focal or accent specimens.
  • They can be trimmed down or planted in groups to make excellent hedges and make good background foliage additions.


  • Although the trees prefer humid, moist and temperate growing conditions, they will accept less favourable conditions, if given adequate protection and care.
  • Young plants are very susceptible to damage from frosts and cold winds, and they must be sheltered against extremes for at least the first 2-3 years, wherafter they can withstand mild frosts.
  • If the trees are to be planted in a typically cold area, they will require a sunny, sheltered spot, preferably behind a screen, wall or in the wake of larger trees.
  • Unestablished trees should be given regular, deep drenching’s, but once settled, they can endure the occasional dry spell.

Growth Rate

  • Moderate to fast, about 100-150 cm per year.


  • The Forest Fever Berry prefers deep, shady conditions, but will accept full sun.

Soil & Water

  • Deep, nutrient rich and well-drained, loamy or peaty soils are preferred, with a slightly acidic ph.
  • The trees will accept sandy soils, with a little added compost.
  • Moderate water needs, 1-2 deep drenching’s per week, but more will be needed during hot, dry summer months.
  • Young trees require more water until established.


  • Propagated from seeds.
  • Sow in a seedling mixture of two parts fine river sand and one-part fertilizer, and place in a warm, semi-shady area.
  • Mist the soil often, ensuring it stays moist but not overly wet.
  • Germination is even and rapid, usually within 2-4 weeks.
  • Once the seedlings have developed their first 2-3 true leaves, they can be transplanted into bigger containers.