Rauvolfia caffra

Invasive species Disclaimer

In view of the fact that some tree species are invasive, the world Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has put in place a policy document on Invasive Alien Species, currently under draft available at Here.

For more information on this subject, please refer to
100 of the World's worst Invasive and Alien Species.

Species Index    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Multiple Criteria Search

Abelmoschus moschatus
Acacia aneura
Acacia angustissima
Acacia aulacocarpa
Acacia auriculiformis
Acacia catechu
Acacia cincinnata
Acacia crassicarpa
Acacia elatior
Acacia erioloba
Acacia etbaica
Acacia ferruginea
Acacia glauca
Acacia holosericea
Acacia karroo*
Acacia koa
Acacia laeta
Acacia lahai
Acacia leptocarpa
Acacia leucophloea
Acacia mangium
Acacia mearnsii*
Acacia melanoxylon
Acacia mellifera
Acacia nilotica subsp nilotica
Acacia pachycarpa
Acacia pennatula
Acacia polyacantha ssp. polyacantha
Acacia saligna
Acacia senegal
Acacia seyal
Acacia sieberiana
Acacia tortilis
Acacia xanthophloea
Acrocarpus fraxinifolius
Adansonia digitata
Adenanthera pavonina
Aegle marmelos
Afzelia africana
Afzelia quanzensis
Agathis macrophylla
Agathis philippinensis
Ailanthus altissima
Ailanthus excelsa
Ailanthus triphysa
Albizia adianthifolia
Albizia amara
Albizia anthelmintica
Albizia chinensis
Albizia coriaria
Albizia ferruginea
Albizia gummifera
Albizia julibrissin
Albizia lebbeck
Albizia odoratissima
Albizia procera
Albizia saman
Albizia versicolor
Albizia zygia
Aleurites moluccana
Allanblackia floribunda
Allanblackia stuhlmannii
Allanblackia ulugurensis
Alnus acuminata
Alnus cordata
Alnus japonica
Alnus nepalensis
Alnus rubra
Alphitonia zizyphoides
Alstonia boonei
Alstonia congensis
Alstonia scholaris
Altingia excelsa
Anacardium occidentale
Andira inermis
Annona cherimola
Annona muricata
Annona reticulata
Annona senegalensis
Annona squamosa
Anogeissus latifolia
Anthocephalus cadamba
Antiaris toxicaria
Antidesma bunius
Araucaria bidwillii
Araucaria cunninghamii
Arbutus unedo
Areca catechu
Arenga pinnata
Argania spinosa
Artemisia annua
Artocarpus altilis
Artocarpus camansi
Artocarpus heterophyllus
Artocarpus integer
Artocarpus lakoocha
Artocarpus mariannensis
Asimina triloba
Ateleia herbert-smithii
Aucomea klaineana
Averrhoa bilimbi
Averrhoa carambola
Azadirachta excelsa
Azadirachta indica
Azanza garckeana
Related Links
Trunk tall, erect, sometimes somewhat fluted.
© Ellis RP
© Ellis RP
© Ellis RP
Seeds ovoid, pitted, flattened; 10 - 15 mm long.
© Ellis RP

Local names:
Afrikaans (kinaboom), Bemba (mubimbi,mwimbi), English (rauvolfia,quinine tree), Lunda (mutoto,mutochi), Nyanja (mvumbamvula,mwimbe,msabua,mpambamvula,mnyesani,muyesani), Shona (makashu), Swahili (mwembemwitu,msesawe,mkufi), Tongan (mwimbi), Zulu (umHlamb

Rauvolfia caffra is a much branched tree to 35 m high, 1.5 m or more in diameter with a dense crown; bole straight, slightly buttressed; bark light brown or greyish-white with irregular fissures; slash cream, exuding a bitter white latex.

Leaves in crowded whorls, simple, stipules absent; blade oblanceolate to linear oblanceolate, 6-32 x 1.5-7 cm, apex obtuse to acute or subacuminate, base cuneate, margins entire, glabrous, shiny green above, paler below, lateral nerves 18-30 pairs; petiole 0.5-6 cm long. 

Inflorescence a terminal compound umbel, peduncle 2-6 cm long, bracts minute; flowers bisexual, 5-merous, white, pedicles 1 mm long. Calyx cup-shaped, 1 mm long, 5-toothed or lobed; corolla salver-shaped, white, tube 3-4.5 mm long, lobes ovate, 1 mm long, mouth filled with whitish hairs; stamens 5, inserted above the middle; ovary of 2 more-or-less united carpels, often only 1 developing. 

Fruit a subglobose to obovoid drupe, smooth and green at first, becoming wrinkled and blackish purple, 1-1.5 cm long, 2 cm in diameter if 2-seeded; seeds 1 or 2, white, ovoid-compressed, endosperm fleshy. 

The generic name Rauvolfia (sometimes mis-spelt Rauwolfia), commemorates a 16th century German physician, Leonhart Rauvolf, who travelled widely to collect medicinal plants.  The specific name ‘caffra’ means ‘of Kaffraria’ (Eastern Cape). The common name ‘quinine tree’ refers to the bitter and supposedly quinine-like properties of the bark.


Naturally distributed from Tanzania to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Occurring near rivers and streams. When growing away from rivers and streams it is always associated with available ground water, therefore regarded as an indicator of water. R. caffra is a frost sensitive species.

Native range
Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Tree management

Seedlings and young plants transfer well. Give them sufficient water for the first 3 months until they are established. It has a fast growth rate, up to 1.5 m/year. The tree is a shade demander especially when very young. However, as the tree grows older its light requirement changes. The old trees do not tolerate shade. Unfortunately its large size and invasive root system make it unsuitable for the smaller garden.

Naturally distributed from Tanzania to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Occurring near rivers and streams. When growing away from rivers and streams it is always associated with available ground water, therefore regarded as an indicator of water. R. caffra is a frost sensitive species.

R. caffra regenerates naturally from coppice, suckers and seed. The seed germinates after staying on the forest floor for quite a long time. 
The tree grows easily from seed, cuttings or truncheons. Collect fruit and make sure that the pulp is removed, wash with water and sow in seedling trays filled with a mixture of river sand and compost (1:1). Press the seeds into the mixture until they are flush with the surface. A thin layer of sand over the seeds is optional. Transplant the seedlings into nursery bags when they reach the 3-leaf stage.

Leaves browsed by nyala, and the leaves, flowers and fruit eaten by vervet monkeys.

Apiculture:  It is an important species in bee keeping. 

The tree is a good source of fuel.

Timber:  Wood is yellowish-white with a small heartwood, soft and light (air-dry 540 kg/m³). It is suitable for general timber work and takes nails well. An excellent wood for making fruit boxes and is ideal for kitchen furniture and shelving. Household utensils are sometimes carved from this wood. 

Shade or shelter:  It is used as a shade tree in coffee plantations.

Medicine:  The pharmacological studies of the plant show it to be an anti-depressant; it has sedative action and an anti-hypertensive effect accompanied by brachycardia. R. caffra alkaloid (resperine) exerts important effects on behaviour and on autonomic functions, and has been very useful in the treatment of hypertension and psychoses. The root of the plant is traditionally used for treating insomnia and insecurity. A bark decoction is drunk for general body swellings, rheumatism and pneumonia. The stem and root bark can be used as an ascaricide and the powdered unopened inflorescence as a local application to sores on the legs. The root juice, mixed with honey, is applied to fractures. The bark has been used as an astringent and as a colic remedy. The root bark is dried and ground or pounded while fresh and an infusion prepared for the remedy of roundworms and tapeworm. It also acts as a purgative and/or an emetic. The bark is used as a cure for coughs and toothaches.

Ornamental:  This is a fine, fast-growing tree for sheltered gardens, easily raised from seed and unusually decorative.

Alcohol:  The root and stem bark is added to a local alcoholic beverage made from banana to increase the potency of the drink.