Strychnos spinosa

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Related Links
Strychnos spinosa fruits
© Patrick Maundu
Strychnos spinosa slash
© Joris de Wolf, Patrick Van Damme, Diego Van Meersschaut
Strychnos spinosa foliage
© Joris de Wolf, Patrick Van Damme, Diego Van Meersschaut
Strychnos spinosa fruits
© Patrick Maundu
Strychnos spinosa fruits
© Patrick Maundu
Strychnos spinosa
© Paul Latham
Strychnos spinosa tree with ripe fruits
© Boffa, Jean-Marc

Local names:
Afrikaans (groenklapper), Bemba (kaminu,sansa,musayi), English (monkey orange,monkey ball,elephant orange,kaffir orange,Natal orange,spiny monkey ball,spiny monkey orange), French (oranger de brousse), Lozi (mukolo,mwimbili), Lunda (katonga,mubila,munkul

Strychnos spinosa is a thorny shrub or small tree 1-9 m in height. Bark grey, rough, tends to flake in rectangular segments but is not deeply fissured or corky; branchlets rather pale and thin, with or without short hairs, with hooked thorns; slash yellowish with green margin.

Leaves elliptic, ovate to almost circular, 1.5-9 x 1.2-7.5 cm, light to dark green and glossy at the base; veins pale green and curving along the margin; apex tapering to rounded, sometimes notched; base tapering, rounded or slightly lobed; margin entire, inclined to be wavy; petiole 2-10 mm long.

Flowers creamy green, up to 6 mm long, in compact heads about 3.5-4 cm, terminal on short lateral twigs, densely crowded together on short stalks about 10 mm long.

Fruit spherical, woody shelled, 5-12 cm in diameter, deep yellow to yellow-brown when mature, contains many flat seeds.

‘Strychnos’, meaning ‘deadly’, is an ancient Greek name that was given to a certain poisonous member of the Solanaceae family. Linnaeus, who founded the genus Strychnos on the Indian species which yields strychnine, S. nux-vomica, possibly associated the deadly qualities of both groups when he named the genus. The specific name ‘spinosa’ is Latin for spiny.


Occurs in savannah forests all over tropical Africa and grows in open woodland and riverine fringes.

Native range
Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia

Tree management

S. spinosa roots are pruned to produce root suckers.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; long-term storage. There are about 1800 seeds/kg.

Occurs in savannah forests all over tropical Africa and grows in open woodland and riverine fringes.

Natural and artificial regeneration by seedlings, root suckers and coppice. Seeds are soaked in hot water or the hard coat is burned to facilitate germination.

Poison:  A mixture of ground roots of S. spinosa and oil is applied to the skin as a fly repellent.

  The sweet-sour fruit pulp is edible but the seeds and unripe fruit are toxic; leaves are also eaten.

Leaves of S. spinosa are browsed by livestock.

S. spinosa provides firewood and charcoal.

Timber:  The straight-grained wood planes well and is used in furniture making.

Medicine:  Juice from the fruit and roots is dropped into the ears as a remedy for earache; the roots, leaves and bark are used in the treatment of disorders of the male organs. A decoction of the roots is taken orally for colds or is drunk with milk to cure dropsy. Roots or green fruits are used by the Zulu of South Africa as an antidote for snakebite. The roots alone provide an emetic and also a remedy for fever and inflamed eyes. An analgesic is made from a decoction of the leaves. Jigger fleas are removed from the feet after applying a paste in which the grated root is mixed with oil.

Other services:  Parts of the tree are believed to have magical uses ranging from being worn as a hunting charm to extraction of ‘bullets’ from a magic gun.