Milletia grandis

  • Umzimbeet
  • Omsambeet (A)
  • umSimbithwa (Z)
  • umKunye (X)



  • A strikingly handsome tree, with a somewhat flattened crown of lovely, glossy leaves, impressive, large spikes of deep-purple flowers and golden-brown seed pods. The tree makes for a fine sight throughout the year and is an ideal candidate for beautifying gardens and parks. The roots house several symbiotic, nitrogen fixing bacteria, and the tree is able to harvest this crucial element directly from the air, and then effectively convert it back into the ground, thereby enriching the surrounding soil. This not only benefits the tree itself, but all plants growing in its vicinity.

SA Tree

  • 227


  • Fabaceae or Leguminosae (Legume or pod-bearing family).
  • This family is also divided into 3 subfamilies; mimosa or acacia subfamily, cassia and pea.
  • Regarded as one of the largest, as well as economically significant families, its members have been cultivated since early times for their plethora of uses – as food, medicine, fodder, for practical use (tannins) and ornamental displays


  • The trees naturally occur in low altitude, warm and temperate regions along the margins of and in coastal, evergreen forests from the Eastern Cape to Natal.
  • They seldom grow more than 20kn from the coastline in their natural distribution.


  • Distinctive, pale to dark grey or light brown, smooth or slightly flaky on older trees.

  • The main stem often grows in a tall, twisted, gnarled fashion.


  • Tardily deciduous.
  • In colder areas, the trees may lose some of its leaves, and this deciduous period has also been observed ensuing during the summer months, but gardeners should not be alarmed at the unconventional timing, as new growth is rapid.
  • The leaves are compound, with the main leaf measuring 200 – 250 mm, and 3-4 pairs of opposite leaflets, plus a terminal one. (20-50 x 6-18mm).
  • The leaflets are oblong, with an attractive dark to bluish green colour above, and yellowish green below, often seen with a fine, silky covering of rusty coloured hairs beneath.
  • The margins are entire, and the veins are very prominent below, often a light, reddish brown, and evenly spaced.
  • A minute pair of fine, leafy stipules (small sheath-like appendage enveloping the growing point) can be seen at the base of each leaflet.
  • New leaves and leafstalks are a lovely, dark reddish-brown or glossy yellow, the colour spilling into the veins, and are masked by a layer of dainty hairs.


  • Narrow, erect and somewhat spiky sprays (220-250mm long) of deep pink, purple or mauve, pea-shaped flowers.
  • New flower buds are covered with a dense layer of reddish brown hairs.
  • (November to March)


  • Decorative, large, flat and woody pods (up to 150 x40 mm).
  • These have a velvety layer of fine, gingery hairs, and the fibres often have a beautiful golden green glint when held against bright sunlight.
  • The pods are held erect above the leaves, and split open on the tree during hot, dry weather spells, scattering the seeds.
  • (February to July)


  • 3-13 m in open spaces or in adverse conditions, with soil that is more shale or in cultivation, but in its natural habitat of coastal forest, it may reach impressive heights of 25m or more, and tends to have a larger, more spreading crown.


  • 2 –4 m


  • Ground seeds are soaked in milk and used as a remedy against intestinal parasites such as tapeworm and roundworm.
  • Powdered roots, prepared and used in numerous ways, are said to encourage sleep and have a calming, tranquilising effect.


  • The deep reddish-brown heartwood is very hard, heavy and strong.
  • The sapwood is a pale, yellowish-brown and the wood is popular for making beautiful furniture, various domestic implements, walking sticks and for turnery.
  • It also makes for an excellent firewood.
  • The powdered roots are used as a hunting and fish poison.


  • The seeds, although used medicinally, are highly toxic.


  • Baboons have been known to strip and eat the bark, and the tree is known to be a food plant and breeding ground for several butterfly species; the Orange Barred Playboy (Deudorix diocles) lays its eggs inside the pods, and the butterfly then emerges through a small hole bored by the caterpillar.
  • Another species, the Pondo Emperor, (Charaxes pondoensis) also favours the tree.
  • The insects lured by the flowers and fruit will in turn attract insectivorous bird species.


  • This gorgeous tree does not have an aggressive root system, so it can be planted fairly close to permanent structures and pools where it can be fully appreciated.
  • Planted as a single specimen, it makes for a well-shaped, immensely decorative garden subject.
  • It also does very well when planted in rows along streets and avenues, as a natural hedge or as a fine shade giving tree.


  • The tree can endure only mild frost and is not suitable for areas where long periods of drought and high temperate are common.

Growth Rate

  • A fairly fast-growing tree, especially if planted in the right position.
  • Young trees can grow about 60-80 cm per year and will often start producing flowers at 3 years of age.


  • Prefers a sunny position, but will accept light, dappled shade.

Soil & Water

  • Loamy or sandy soils are accepted, with a slightly acidic ph.
  • In the wild, the trees do grow on shale, but the growth is then somewhat stunted.
  • Milletia grandis prefers deep, rich soils, where ample water is available.


  • Easily grown from freshly ripened seeds that have been soaked in hot water for 6-8 hours.
  • Sow in a well-drained, well-aerated mixture of river sand and compost. (2:1)
  • Place in a warm, well-lit area and mist the soil often.
  • The saplings transplant well.