Family: Sapindaceae (litchi or soap-berry family)
Common names: jacket plum, Indaba tree, bushveld cherry (Eng.);
doppruim (Afr.); umQhokwane, umVuna, iNdaba (Zulu); iliTye,
umGqalutye (Xhosa); mongatane, Mopsinyugane (Northern Sotho);
liLetsa (Swati); Xikwakwaxu, Gulaswimbi (Tsonga)
Pappea capensis fruit
The red fruit of this tree is a tasty treat for humans and a firm
favourite with birds and animals. A fine oil is extracted from the
seeds. The jacket plum is related to the litchi and is a natural
addition for the bird or wildlife garden. It is easily cultivated,
although slow-growing in colder climates.
The jacket plum is a long-lived, hardy, evergreen, small to medium
tree with a height of 2-8 m. Under ideal conditions it can grow at a
moderate rate but can be slow-growing under dry and/or cold
LeavesThe leaves are simple and oblong, hard-textured and wavy.
The leaf margin may vary from sharply toothed (especially in young
growth) to almost smooth in mature growth. The greenish flowers are
borne on catkins in the axils of the leaves, followed by round green
velvety fruits which split open to reveal bright red flesh with a
dark brown to black seed imbedded within.
Pappea capensis is widespread in southern Africa from the Northern
Cape through the drier Karoo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, to the
northern provinces, as well as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and northwards
into eastern and southern tropical Africa. It naturally occurs in
bushveld, riverine thicket, wooded grassland and rocky outcrops in
grassland as well as scrub veld and is often found on termite
mounds. Due to its wide distribution range it is well suited to
cultivation in a wide variety of climatic conditions.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The generic name Pappea is named after a German physician and plant
collector Carl Pappe, while the specific name capensis refers to
southern Africa. Pappea capensis belongs to the same family as the
popular fruit, the litchi. The family is represented is South Africa
most notably by the false currants (Allophylus spp.), the well-known
and widely cultivated sand olive (Dodonaea viscosa) and the bushveld
red-balloon (Erythrophysa transvaalensis).
This species was previously known as two separate varieties (Pappea
capensis var. capensis and P. capensis var. radlkoferii). However,
it is now widely accepted that it was just regional variation which
resulted in confusion between an arid form from drier areas and a
more lush form from regions of higher rainfall.
The fruit is eaten by various frugivorous birds and animals which in
turn distribute the seeds in their droppings. The leaves are browsed
by game such as elephant, giraffe, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, and grey
duiker as well as domestic stock animals.
The jacket plum has also been recorded as the larval food plant
to the caterpillars of the following butterflies of southern Africa:
Common hairtail butterfly (Anthene definita definita)
Brown playboy butterfly (Virachola antalus)
Pearlspotted charaxes (Charaxes jahlusa)
Gold-banded forester (Euphaedra neophron)
The sweetly scented flowers attract a wide variety of insects
which in turn attract many birds. The seed is parasitized by a
small, bright red bug (Leptocoris hexophtalma) which sucks the oil
from the seed on the ground below the tree.
Uses and cultural aspects
The delicious and very juicy fruit with a tart flavour is used to
make preserve, jelly, vinegar and an alcoholic drink.
Fragrant non-drying golden yellow oil is extracted from the
roasted seeds. There are reports of it being used for oiling rifles.
It is also used as a purgative and for lubrication, as a cure for
ringworm, to restore hair, as well as for making soap.
Leaves, bark and the oil extracted from the seed are used
medicinally against baldness, ringworm, nosebleeds, chest
complaints, eye infections, and venereal disease. Bark is also used
in protective charms that are sprinkled on the ground. Some research
has reported that the leaves are very effective in killing snails.
Infusions of the bark are also used by Kenyan Masai warriors to gain
courage as well as an aphrodisiac and a blood-strengthening tonic.
The root is used orally or as an enema and as a purgative for
Lobengula's Indaba tree, which stands in the state house in
Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, is an ancient specimen of Pappea capensis.
The wood is hard, light brown with a reddish tint, tough and
heavy with a twisted grain. There is apparently little difference
between the heartwood and the sapwood. The stems seldom attain
significant girth and therefore do not yield much useable wood. It
is, however, used to make sticks, poles, cattle yokes, furniture and
kitchen utensils. This tree is still used as an important source of
traditional medicine today.
Growing Pappea capensis
P capensis can form shady tree.The jacket plum is a worthy
addition to any garden no matter what part of the country you live
in. It can tolerate both cold and heat as well as prolonged periods
of drought. It may be used as a specimen tree or as a focal point.
Its attractive pale grey stem often has patches of darker colours.
It is useful as a street tree or for shade in parking lots as it
does not have an aggressive root system. It is also well suited to
being employed as part of a mixed screen or wind barrier or as part
of a natural bushclump in a wildlife-friendly garden or in large
landscapes such as parks and golf courses. As it seldom attains
tremendous dimensions it also lends itself to being used in
townhouse gardens. It develops a closed, dense crown under
cultivation in areas of higher rainfall, which creates a cool shady
place for a garden bench.
The new leaves are an attractive pinky-bronze when they emerge in
spring, this contrasts well with the dark green of the old leaves
making an attractive display.
The trees flower from September to May (southern hemisphere) and
the rather special fruit is produced from December to July. The
dense crown is popular with nesting birds as it provides a concealed
and sheltered nesting sites.
Seed should be collected from the ripe fruits. Remove the red
flesh. Store or sow immediately. Sow seed in trays using a
well-drained seedling mixture with some river sand added.
The seed should be pressed into the medium and covered with
approximately 5 mm of sand or seedling medium. Keep the trays in a
warm and lightly shaded position until germination, which may take
from six to ten weeks under ideal conditions. The seedlings are best
left in their trays until they are approximately 20-50 mm tall
before planting out, taking care not to bruise or damage the young
Nursery-grown plants adapt well to cultivation and respond well
to organic and synthetic horticultural fertilizers. Saplings are
slow-growing especially when young but growth increases as the tree
matures. Growth is also considerably quicker in warmer climates or
warmer positions of the garden.