White Milkwood • Sea Oak • Witmelkhout • aMasethole-amhlope (Z) • umQwashu (X)

Sideroxylon inerme, the only one of its species in SA, has a variable growth form, ranging from a tall, gracefully spreading tree, to a petite, densely leafy shrub. It has lustrous, dark foliage, attractive, edible fruits and an elegantly flanged, sturdy trunk covered with rippled, corky bark. A non-toxic, milky latex is present in the leaves, twigs and fruit. The trees are amazingly long-lived, and 3 longstanding specimens have been declared as National Monuments. It is a protected tree in SA.

  • 579
  • Sapotaceae (The Milkwood and Stamvrug family)
  • A large family of the tropics and subtropics, consisting of somewhat 53 genera and a 1000 species of evergreen trees and shrubs, 7 genera found in Southern Africa. Members usually have simple, alternate or whorled leaves, clustered at the ends of branchlets, with entire margins. Most fruits are brightly coloured and edible, and exude a milky, non-toxic latex, which can also be found in the twigs, leaves and bark. Economically significant species of this family include the Manilkara zapotilla, from South America, from which the latex is extracted to make chewing gum, as well Palaquium gutta, from which golf balls and certain adhesives are made
  • The trees are scattered along the eastern coastline of Africa, from Somalia southwards to South Africa. They are predominantly found in coastal woodland, thicket and forest, from the south-Western Cape to Natal and Transkei, where they often form dense copses. Further inland, they can occasionally be found in dry woodland and shrub, where they frequent termitaria. They also grow along the beds of rivers and streams.


  • Dark grey-brown to black, smoother on younger trees but becoming thicker and rougher, eventually splitting with numerous rectangular cracks. New twigs are enveloped by a layer of fine grey to russet hairs, and become smoother and brown as they mature. Distinctive, blemish-like swellings are often present on the fresh growth. A milky, non-toxic latex is present whenever leaves or twigs are broken. The main stem has a diameter of 400-600 mm and is often crooked and robust in shape.
  • Evergreen
  • Simple, alternately or spirally arranged, broadly ovoid leaves (35-120 x 2-45 mm), with tapering to rounded tips and smooth, slightly rolled under margins. Dark-green and glossy above, blancher underneath, with clearly defined midribs and a thick, tough and rubbery texture. The lateral veins are widely spaced, coiling around and meeting up well before the margin. Young leaves often have a layer of soft bronze scales, which diminish with age. The petiole is 0.5-2 cm long and hairy on immature leaves. Old leaves turn red before being shed.
  • Small, yellowish-white to greenish-white, bell-shaped flowers, 3-4 mm. They occur singly or in many-flowered clusters and are carried on hairy stalks growing from leaf axils on old woody stems. They are strongly, even unpleasantly scented and bisexual. (November – April)
  • Globose, succulent, purple-black berry (1-1.5 cm diameter), often tipped with the persistent remains of the calyx. They grow singly or in clusters, on short stalks along the stems. Milky latex present. (July – January)
  • Semi-spherical, indistinctly angled or grooved single seed, 5-8 mm in diameter.
  • 3-15 m
  • 2-5 m



  • An infusion of the root and stem bark is applied to bruised and fractured bones in traditional medicine, and is also used to dispel nightmares, treat coughs, paralysis and alleviate fever. A tonic made from the bark is given to livestock suffering from gall sickness. Root concoctions as used as enemas, and pulverized roots are chewed to treat conjunctivitis.
  • The yellowish-brown timber is fine-grained and dense, very hard, strong and durable, but due to its protected status and the scarcity of logs, its increased importance as a source of timber is not likely. It is however used for boat building, fencing poles, implements and carpentry. A good quality fuel wood.


  • The flowers are eaten by certain birds, especially the Speckled Mousebird, and also attract moths, beetles, wasps, butterflies and honeybees. The fruits are loved by birds, bats, monkeys, baboons, smaller antelope and bush pigs.
  • Due to its densely spreading foliage, it is a superb shade giving tree. Planted as a single specimen on a large lawn, it is an elegant, tall tree, and it also does well in large containers, where it can be planted close to patios and windows to appreciate it fully. It grows very well in difficult coastal garden, and is a prime choice for a sturdy firebreak when planted gregariously, as the trees are remarkably fire resistant.


  • The trees are resistant to strong winds, and are able to tolerate occasional, light sea-salt spray. Mild periods of drought can be endured, as they have average water requirements, but they are only semi frost resistant. They are however remarkably resistant to fire, and can grow in and, slightly saline soils.
  • Slow to moderate.
  • Prefers full sun but semi-shade will be accepted.
  • The trees favour a medium to light, well-drained soil, but are highly adaptable and will thrive in clay, sandy or loamy, even saline soils. They require regular, deep watering’s, and grow best in areas with an annual rainfall of 400 – 1200 mm.
  • The trees are easily propagated from seed, cuttings or layering. Seeds should be sown in a well-drained seedling mixture of river sand and fertiliser (2:1) and placed in a bright, sheltered area. Germination is fair, and should occur within 4-8 weeks. Only semi-mature, hardwood cuttings should be taken from actively growing shoots on the tree, and treated with a pre-rooting hormone. Place in similar mixture and mist often. Cuttings normally root in 6–8 weeks.