Hippobromus pauciflorus

  • False Horsewood
  • Basterperdepis
  • isiPhahluka (Z)
  • uLwathile (X)


  • A charming, often multi-stemmed and densely leafy, resinous small tree or large shrub with a compact, neat shape, shiny, aromatic foliage and often deeply grooved, dusky brown bark. When autumn arrives, the tree becomes adorned with masses of delicate, cheery golden-yellow and fleecy textured flowerheads that are followed by dark, ebony fruits. All parts of the tree emit a strong albeit not unpleasant, balmy aromatic scent when handled. This oleaginous, somewhat resinous and fragrant substance makes the trees quite flammable.


  • Sapindaceae– The Litchi or Soap berry family.
  • A large family of flowering plants, belonging to the major order Sapindales, occurring in the moist tropical and subtropical regions of the world and especially abundant in tropical America and Asia.
  • This family contains about 135 accepted genera and somewhat 1800 species of trees, shrubs, lianas and herbaceous plants or vines.
  • Well-known members include the Litchi, Maple and Horse Chestnut.
  • Representatives of this family typically have compound leaves that are arranged in a spirally fashion on side twigs or sometimes oppositely.
  • The leafstalks are generally swollen at their basses and the stipules are absent.
  • The flowers are most often quite small and unisexual, but some members may be dioecious or monoecious.
  • The flowers are also clustered together in cymes or panicles and have 4-5 petals and sepals, as well as 4-10 stamens with hairy filaments.
  • The fruits are fleshy or dry and come in many forms.
  • This family contains many members that are of high economic importance, while others are prized for their timber, ornamental properties and extracts which are used as additives in detergent and cosmetics.


  • These small trees are mostly found along the eastern coastline of the country, from Natal, Transkei, the south eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Swaziland, to further inland where they can be found in parts of Gauteng.

  • They frequent rather moist areas and are often encountered along forest margins, on the edges of river and stream banks and in the adjacent thickets.

  • Also found on rocky slopes and outcrops, in bushveld, scrub and occasionally grassland.


  • This species is often a multi-stemmed tree with many sideward spreading branches, and the main stem is generally slender, with a diameter of 120-200 mm.

  • The bark is grey-brown and heavily fissured.

  • The yellow-brown underbark can often be seen showing through the multitudinous cracks.

  • Immature stems are greyish-brown, with a dense layer of fine, velvety russet hairs which fade as they mature.


  • Semi deciduous.

  • The leaves are compound in shape (40-200 mm long), alternately or somewhat spirally arranged, with 3-6 pairs of narrowly obovate, sub-opposite, asymmetric leaflets (5-50 x 4-20 mm) which can be rather varied in size.

  • The leaflets have a tendency to overlap, and the alternately winged rachis (between leaflets) typically culminate in an abrupt, slender apex.

  • The leaflets at the base of the rachis are noticeably smaller in size than the others.

  • The leaflets are nearly sessile, glossy, dark green above, paler green below, with a rather thinly leathery texture.

  • The margins are smooth and entire or slightly dentate and the midrib is conspicuously visible on both surfaces.

  • The petiole is wingless and 15-30 mm long.

  • When crushed or bruised, the leaves emit a distinct resinous smell.

  • New leaves have a reddish, almost coppery colour.


  • Compact, many-flowered, golden velvety inflorescences (20-60 mm long) are borne in the axils of the leaves.

  • Each flowerhead consists of numerous small (2-4 mm diameter), creamy-white, often red-tinged, bisexual flowers.

  • The floral parts are usually in 5’s, with petals that are shorter than the (unequal) sepals.

  • The ovaries are 3-chambered and there are typically about 8 stamens present.

  • March – September.


  • Glossy, globose, fleshy, smallish berry-like drupes (7-10 mm diameter).

  • They turn from red to black, and are edible, but the pulp is not very palatable.

  • October-December.


  • 2 – 9 m


  • 2 – 5 m


  • This plant has been used in traditional folk medicine to treat various human and animal diseases.
  • Extracts of the stem bark and roots were active against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as well as certain fungi.
  • A vapour emitted from the crushed leaves is said to help relive headaches upon inhalation, and a juice can also be extracted from them which is used against inflamed and infected eyes.
  • Concoctions of the roots are said to an effective remedy against dysentery and diarrhoea.
  • The roots also produce a froth when rubbed in water that is used to induce vomiting.


  • The wood from these trees is described by some as being hard, strong, heavy, close-grained and somewhat elastic, but as the pieces obtainable are usually quite small, it is not used extensively.
  • It is popular for hut building and smaller objects, as well as walking sticks.
  • The heartwood is a rich brown, while the sapwood is whitish with occasional brown streaks.


  • The roots and leaves are said to be poisonous in certain doses and caution is advised when using any of their extracts.
  • The root system can quickly become invasive so do not plant it too close to pools, paving, walls or other permanent structures.


  • It is a much favoured larval food plant of the stunning Swallow-tail butterfly (Papilio demoleus).
  • The flowers also attract a host of other butterfly species as well as bees, wasps, beetles and more.
  • Many bird species (insectivorous, fruit and seed eating) will flock to the garden whenever it is in flower or fruit.
  • The leaves and (sometimes the bark) are browsed by many game species as well as the black rhino.


  • This densely leafy, multi-stemmed little tree makes a wonderful and sturdy windbreak and can easily be trained into an effective screen or hedge.
  • It is suitable for smaller gardens due to its smallish stature.
  • In warmer areas it may remain evergreen and makes a lovely addition to background foliage, or as part of a mixed shrub border.
  • It will provide shelter and lightly shady condition for sensitive plants which can be planted in its wake.
  • It is a fine bird attracting specimen and has high potential as an ornamental.


  • A relatively hardy plant, able to survive through extended periods with little to no water.
  • High drought tolerance.
  • Established specimens can withstand a fair amount of cold, even the occasional frost, but younger and recently transplanted trees should be given adequate shelter from very low temperatures.
  • Shelter from extremes in temperature for at least the first 4 years of its life.
  • In very cold areas, plant indoors, against a sunny north facing wall or in the wake of larger trees.
  • Resistant to strong winds.


  • Will accept a sunny or semi-shady position.

Soil & Water

  • Hippobromus pauciflorus will grow best in a well-drained, nutrient rich loam or peat soil, but will also accept sandy soils, with a slightly acidic to neutral ph.
  • If planting in very sandy, nutrient poor soils, give it an extra dose of compost, liquid fertiliser or bone meal, as well as a layer of mulch around the trees.
  • The mulch will also help the soil retain moisture during very dry periods and acts as an insulator against the cold.
  • It likes a moist but not overly wet soil and has moderate water requirements.
  • Give more water during hot, dry days and less in winter.


  • Easily propagated from seed. Sow the seeds in spring or summer into a well-drained seedling mixture of fine, washed river sand and compost (2:1)
  • Place the seedling trays or containers in a well-lit (not direct sunlight), warm and temperate area and mist the soil often but allow adequate time for it to dry out between watering’s.
  • Germination is usually fair.
  • Transplant into larger containers once they have developed a few true leaves.