Harpephyllum caffrum

  • Wild Plum (E)
  • Wildepruim (A)
  • Mothêkêlê (NS)
  • umGwenya (X, Z, S)


  • The sole species of its genus, and one of our forests giants, the Wild Plum is a magnificent, tall, robust tree with a dense, lush, beautifully dome shaped canopy and thick branches that grow in a striking candelabra-like formation from the solid, often beautifully buttressed, central trunk. The sickle-shaped, dark and glossy leaves grow in an attractive spirally arrangement from the ends of branches, and an odd, bright scarlet leaf is often visible. New growth is a vivid, striking, flushed coral pink, and the tree bears rather insignificant, yellowish flowers that are followed by large, bright red, fleshy fruits that contracts beautifully with the dark foliage. Hugely popular as a garden and street ornamental.


SA Tree

  • 361


  • Anacardiaceae (The Mango family)
  • A family of flowering plants belonging to the Sapindales order, commonly found in the warmer and temperate regions of the world, with somewhat 80 genera and 870 species of evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs and woody vines.
  • Several members are of commercial importance, producing useful, edible fruits, such as the Mango, Cashew and Pistachio trees, and many produce a watery or milky latex, which has been known to cause skin irritation or be toxic, such as the Poison Ivy from America.
  • Members usually have minuscule flowers, male & female borne on separate trees, and fruits that are fleshy, often edible, drupes.
  • The leaves are typically compound, comprising of several smaller leaflets in various formations.


  • Coastal and inland forests, marshlands, occasionally bushveld or wooded grasslands, from the Eastern Cape, to Natal, Transkei, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the warmer parts of Gauteng, also Swaziland and Mozambique.


  • Smooth, rather shiny, pale grey-brown when young,
  • As the tree matures, it becomes dark-brown and rough.
  • Very old specimens generally have thick, heavily buttressed and often deeply grooved trunks, and the thick roots can often be seen above the ground, spreading away from the tree.
  • The main stem is typically tall and straight, with a diameter of 450 – 700 mm.
  • Young branches grow in a conspicuous candelabra-like formation from the main trunk, and a watery latex-like sap is exuded from broken stems.


  • Evergreen.

  • Firm, compound leaves (200-300 mm), crowded towards the ends of branchlets in a distinct spiral, stiff rosette-like formation, with the occasional odd, bright red leaf.
  • Each leaf consists of 4-8 pairs of opposite, lance-like, oval or sickle-shaped, hairless leaflets (4-10 x 1-2.5 cm), plus an unpaired, terminal one.
  • The margins are entire, with a faint curve, and the leafstalks are between 4 & 10 cm long, with a distinct groove on the top.
  • The leaves are glossy, dark-green, with 6-8 pairs of lateral veins, and a ridged, off-centre midrib.


  • Short, branched panicles of dainty, whitish to yellowish-green, unisexual flowers, each flower between 100 and 200 mm long, carried near the ends of branchlets.
  • The male and female flowers are carried on separate trees.
  • Plant at least three plants to ensure fruiting as only the female tree produces fruit.
  • November – February.


  • An oblong (25 x 13mm), thinly fleshy, plum-like drupe, containing a single stone.
  • The fruits are carried in drooping bunches and mature from green to bright red.
  • March – August.


  • 4-15 m


  • 2-7 m


  • Extracts from Harpephyllum have shown numerous antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, due to the presence of several polyphenolic compounds and flavonoids.
  • The bark of the trees is mostly used, especially the fresh stem bark.
  • Purifying facial and skin washes are concocted from the bark and is said to treat skin problems such as acne and eczema.
  • The concoctions are also used as emetics and are said to help purify the blood (powdered bark is dissolved in water, and small doses are taken daily).
  • Preparations are occasionally used to treat fractures and muscle sprains.


  • The pale, pinkish-red wood is fairly hard and heavy, and takes a good finish, but is not particularly durable.
  • It makes an average quality general purpose timber and has been used in the construction of furniture, fencing poles and beams.
  • It makes good fire wood and charcoal.
  • A pink dye can be extracted from the bark, and the fruits, which have potential as a commercial crop, make delicious jellies, preserves and alcoholic beverages.


  • The juicy fruits are some of the most delicious and nutritious of all the indigenous trees, and are loved by a variety of wildlife, even humans.
  • Fruity-eating birds, monkeys, baboons, bushbabies, bats and smaller mammals such as wild bushbuck devour them, and Cape parrots have been known to crack open the stones to get to the kernels inside.
  • Larvae of the Hairtail (Anthene definita) butterfly live on the flowers and buds, and it is also the host plant of a number of moth species.
  • The flowers in turn attract bees, wasps, beetles and butterflies, which will also lure the occasional insectivorous bird species.


  • One of the neatest and most prolific fruit bearing evergreen indigenous trees, it will provide lovely, cool, deep shade all year round, and attracts a myriad of wildlife to the garden.
  • It does not have an aggressive root system, which makes it the ideal choice for parking bays, schools, streets and smaller gardens, and it can be planted close to pools, walls and other permanent structures.
  • The trees have a pleasing shape, dense, lush foliage, and can be trimmed down to form a good, solid screen or windbreak.
  • A wonderful garden ornamental and suited for difficult coastal gardens as it tolerates strong, salt-laden winds.


  • Once established, the trees can withstand short periods of mainly seasonal drought, but they should be deeply and regularly watered during the first few years.
  • They grow best in areas where winters are mild and are intolerant of severe frosts but will survive light cold spells if adequately sheltered.
  • Harpephyllum is tolerant of a wide range of soils, including poor and dry soils, and can withstand the scorching effect of salt laden, heavy coastal winds.

Growth Rate

  • In warm and wet environments, the trees are fairly fast growing.
  • And a rate of just under 1.5 m per year can be expected.


  • Full sun or semi-shade, but should receive at least 6 hours of strong sunlight, whether it is in the afternoon or morning.

Soil & Water

  • The trees are tolerant of a wide range of soil types and can succeed in slightly saline and dry or sandy soils.
  • Optimum development will occur in humus rich, peaty or loamy, well-drained soil. It has moderate to high water requirements.


  • Easily grown for seed or cuttings.
  • Stored seeds should be soaked in warm water for one day and then scrubbed with a brush to remove the fleshy part.
  • Sow in trays filled with a mixture of fine river sand and compost (2:1).
  • Do not place the seeds too deep in the soil as they are prone to rotting.
  • Place in a brightly lit, warm area, and keep moist, but do not let the soil become waterlogged.
  • Germination is rapid, but can be erratic, so plant numerous seeds to ensure a decent number of successful germinations, which typically occurs within 2-4 weeks.
  • When they have reached the two-leaf stage, transplant into nursery bags.
  • If propagating by means of cuttings or truncheons, make sure to dry these out properly before planting (they can be left lying in the shade for a day or until all exudate has dried).
  • The hole in which the truncheon is to be planted in should first be filled with a layer of river sand to encourage root formation and improve drainage, and then filled with a similar seedling mixture.