Vangueria infausta

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Related Links
© Botha AD
The fruit is crowned with a circular scar left by the calyx.
© Botha AD
The bark is grey and smooth, becoming roughish and longitudinally grooved with age.
© Botha AD
The fruit is edible with a rather dry, sweet-sour flesh and a glossy yellow-brown, leathery skin when mature.
© Botha AD
Immature fruits on 3 year old trees at Makoka, Malawi
© Anthony Simons

Local names:
Afrikaans (wildemispel,grootmispel), English (wild medlar), Swahili (viru,mviru,muiru,mtiegu), Zulu (umViyo)

Vangueria infausta is a deciduous tree 3-8 m in height with a short trunk and hanging branchlets. Bark pale grey-brown, peeling in untidy flakes; branches usually opposite with reddish tomentose young branchlets.

Leaves dull green, opposite, rusty tomentose, medium to large, 5-24 x 3.8-15 cm, shape varying from ovate or obovate to lanceolate or rounded; net-veining, conspicuous below. Leaf apices either obtuse or sub-acuminate; base tapering; margin entire; petiole 3-10 mm long. Leaf stalks short, 5-10 mm long; stipules long, between young leaves.

Flowers about 4 mm long and 6 mm in diameter, hairy, profusely borne on opposite and axillary cymes; petals yellow-green, the corolla falling early to leave 5 triangular sepals less than 2 mm long on the young green fruit; buds pointed.

Fruit subglobose, glossy, 3-6.5 x 3.5-6 cm, greenish when unripe, turning brownish after ripening and with a soft fleshy pulp. The fruit bears a characteristic star-shaped scar from the remains of the calyx. It contains 3-5 hard-coated seeds, 2-3 cm long, 1-5 cm wide.

The generic name ‘Vangueria’ is derived from a Malagasy word, and ‘infausta’ means unlucky; making fire with the wood is taboo.


V. infausta is found in all types of woodland, especially on rocky ridges and hillsides or in wooded grassland; also near the sea on sand dunes. It can withstand long periods of drought and frost. Widely distributed in savannah-like communities derived from forest (including forest remnants), and often in rocky or sandy places.

Native range
Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe

Tree management

Young plants transplant well but must receive regular watering for the 1st 5 weeks after transplanting. They are light demanding, and the growth rate is usually slow; 40-50 cm/year. Groups of V. infausta can be planted scattered in fields, near water points and along homestead fences. The flowers attract insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; seed can retain viability for up to 1 year in storage if dried properly. There are about 500 seeds/kg.

V. infausta is found in all types of woodland, especially on rocky ridges and hillsides or in wooded grassland; also near the sea on sand dunes. It can withstand long periods of drought and frost. Widely distributed in savannah-like communities derived from forest (including forest remnants), and often in rocky or sandy places.

The species regenerates naturally by suckers, coppice and, rarely, by seed. Soak seeds overnight and plant the following morning in seedling trays filled with river sand and cover with a thin layer of sand. Germination rate is good (usually 80% or more), and cracking the hard seed coat may increase the rate, but germination takes a long time. Transfer seedlings to nursery bags when they reach the 3-leaf stage and keep them for at least 1 year before planting them into the field. Cuttings can be made from the present year’s growth, but they must be treated with a root-stimulating hormone powder. Plant them during early spring in river sand.

 The fruits are eaten raw and the pulp sometimes soaked in water and then dried to use later. The pulp, when mixed with a little sugar and water, makes a good substitute for applesauce; it has a sweet and slightly sour taste. Each 100 g fresh fruit contain 3.7 g vitamin C, 1.4 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 28 mg sodium, 0.61 mg nicotinic acid and high levels of calcium and magnesium. Seeds can be eaten roasted.

Fodder: The leaves of V. infausta are seldom browsed by cattle, but very much so by goats, and the leaves and young branches are eaten by elephant, giraffe, kudu and nyala. Red-footed squirrels, bushbabies, vervet monkeys and baboons eat the fruit on the tree, and bushpig eat it on the ground.

V. infausta is a good source of firewood.

Timber: Poles for houses, agricultural implements and handles are some of the ways in which the wood is utilized.

Medicine: Traditional healers use the roots for a variety of illnesses such as malaria and pneumonia. An infusion made from the roots is used to treat coughs and other chest troubles. A decoction from the root is used as a purgative and an anthelmintic (especially for Ascaris), and is also a popular snakebite remedy. The pounded leaves are applied to tick-bite sores on livestock and dogs to speed up healing. A poultice made of the leaves is used to treat swellings on the legs and inflammation of the navel in children. An infusion of the leaves is used in treating abdominal pain and for the relief of dental pain. In southern Africa, a decoction is used as a remedy for menstrual troubles.

Alcohol: In South Africa, farmers distil ‘mampoer’ from the ripe fruit.