Family : Sapotaceae (milkwood family)
Common names : Transvaal red milkwood (Eng.); moepel (Afr.); mmupudu
(Northern Sotho); umPushane (Zulu); Nhlantswa (Tsonga); Mubululu
The Transvaal red milkwood has gained its popularity with people,
birds as well as monkeys and baboons through its tasty fruit which
are sweet and high in vitamin C.
It makes large, neat, deep green canopies, which offer shade to
weary hikers in the African savanna as well as provide cool shade in
the home garden.
BarkMimusops zeyheri is potentially a large, evergreen tree with a
rounded crown which may reach up to 15 m under ideal conditions. It
is, however, often encountered as a shrub or small tree in its
natural range and only reaches its full potential in protected
valleys and forest margins where moisture is more available.
The leaves are glossy, dark green and carried on a spreading
crown, which could easily be as wide as the tree is high. It has the
potential to make an excellent evergreen garden specimen for larger
gardens, parks and golf courses. This tree casts a deep shade, which
offers a cool escape from the hot African sun. It is possibly
overlooked as a horticultural subject due to the erroneous
perception that it can be somewhat slow growing and consequently
takes many years to reach its full potential.
Small, white, sweetly scented flowers are borne in October to
February. Fruits are oval with a pointed tip ripening yellow or
orange from April to September.
FlowersDistribution and Habitat
This tree occurs across a wide range including the four northern
provinces of South Africa as well as Kwa-Zulu Natal, Swaziland and
Mozambique . It also extends northwards into Zimbabwe and tropical
Africa . It occurs naturally on rocky outcrops, wooded hillsides,
riverine and forest fringes as well as in open, dry woodland and
bushveld. The wide range of natural occurrence suggests that it
would be ideally suited to cultivation in summer rainfall areas of
meduim to lower altitude areas where frost is minimal or absent.
Experience at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden indicates
that it is tolerant only of a moderate degree of frost.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The botanical name is derived from the Greek mimo meaning ape, and
ops meaning resembling an ape. Some authors have speculated that
this may be in reference to the colour of the flowers or the shape
of the corolla. (Schmidt et al. 2002). The specific epithet honours
C.L.P. Zeyher (1799-1858), a German botanist and collector of plants
particularly in southern Africa .
The milkwoods are represented by four species in South Africa .
The genus Mimusops is a member of a large family of mainly tree
species predominantly from tropical climates. Members of this family
include the South American tree Manilkara zapotilla from which the
latex is extracted for the manufacture of chewing gum. As well as
Palaquim gutta which is used to make golf balls and some adhesives.
Nymph as well as Commodore butterflies breed on trees belonging
to the milkwood family. The Pied False Acraea breeds specifically on
this tree (Venter & Venter 1996). Certain caterpillars are known to
spin webs around the branches in autumn under which they devour the
leaves, often defoliating the tree. Baboons, frugivorous birds as
well as people favour the sweet fruits while antelope and elephants
browse the leaves. Vervet and Somango monkeys climb eagerly in the
tree in search of sweet, ripe fruit and knock many to the ground in
the process.Fruit which falls to the ground will be eaten by
bushpigs, and other mammals which cannot climb the tree such as
small and large antelope. The tree relies upon these animals to eat
the fruit and carry it some distance for effective seed dispersal.
Growing Mimusops zeyheri
The Transvaal red milkwood is easily cultivated and best utilized
in larger gardens and open spaces. They may be used as individual
specimen trees or groupings of several specimens where space
permits. It is the ideal tree under which to create an entertainment
area due to its wide canopy and dense shade created by the evergreen
leaves. However, while the tree is in fruit it may not be ideally
suited for this purpose as the birds and other animals may create a
mess under the tree. It is well suited to cultivation in the medium
to lower altitude regions of the summer rainfall areas of southern
Africa and in protected valleys of the highveld areas. It is a
popular bonsai subject and may also be attractive as an indoor
plant, it is said to have a root system which is safe for planting
near swimming pools, buildings and paving (Venter & Venter 1996).
The seed should be extracted from the fleshy fruit and sown fresh
for best results. Seed have a high viability and germination begins
within two weeks of sowing. The seedlings may be left in the
seedling trays until the following spring or pricked out at the
two-leaf stage into individual containers.
Growth rate of seedlings is fast and saplings of a metre or more
can be obtained within three to four years of sowing. Rapid
development under nursery conditions can be promoted by the use of
balanced horticultural fertilizers. During this time the plants
should be promoted to progressively larger containers to prevent
Saplings are usually ready to be planted out after four or more
years from sowing, at which time attention should be given to the
planting hole. Mix good compost with the back filling soil and add
bone meal or tree planting tablets to the bottom of the hole.
Saplings can be watered well for the first year, gradually reducing
irrigation over the ensuing two to three years to ensure the
development of a deep root system.
In higher lying areas young trees should be protected against
frost for the first three years while the tree becomes acclimatized
and attains some height to offer more resistance to mild or moderate
frost; this species will not survive any extreme degree of frost.
Mimusops zeyherii is not prone to disease, but may attract scale
insects on the young stems and growth tips, which should be
monitored on smaller specimens to ensure the damage is not
unsustainable. If it becomes necessary, they may be sprayed with a
product registered for use on scale. Mineral oil can be effective
and is harmless to the ladybird beetles and spiders as well as the
environment, in extremely stubborn cases mineral oil can be
alternated with products containing chlorpyrifos at 750g/kg.
The trees may attract caterpillars at certain times of the year
which should be left alone as they will pupate into beautiful
butterflies and the damage they do to the tree will quickly be
replaced with new growth. If such damage occurs on young saplings,
caterpillars can be removed by hand or by using a strong spray of