Tarchonanthus camphoratus

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Abelmoschus moschatus
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Acacia elatior
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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
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Ailanthus triphysa
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Albizia saman
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Aleurites moluccana
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Artemisia annua
Artocarpus altilis
Artocarpus camansi
Artocarpus heterophyllus
Artocarpus integer
Artocarpus lakoocha
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Asimina triloba
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Aucomea klaineana
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Averrhoa carambola
Azadirachta excelsa
Azadirachta indica
Azanza garckeana
Related Links
T. camphoratus leaves. Note the velvety look.
© Bob Bailis
Shrub of T. camphoratus
© Bob Bailis
Sexes separate, on different plants. Flowerheads in terminal panicles. Individual flowers creamy-white, grouped into 3-5 flower capitula. Covered in white woolly hairs.
© Fouché HJ
Inflorescence a branched spray up to 90 mm long, covered in whitish woolly hairs, borne at the ends of the branches.
© Avenant PL
Thickened, clustered young growth caused by the microscopic mites of the Eriophyoidea. The mites were found amongst hairs on galled growth.
© Neser S
Fruit a small nutlet, covered with white, woolly hairs, the flowerheads resembling balls of cotton wool.
© Fouché HJ

Local names:
Afrikaans (vaalbos,kanferbos), English (wild sage wood,wild cotton,wild camphor tree,camphor bush), Swahili (mkalambati), Zulu (amathola)

Tarchonanthus camphoratus is an evergreen shrub or small tree to 9 m tall, usually much-branched with a narrow crown; trunk diameter to 40 cm; bark brown or grey, rough, longitudinally fissured, exfoliating in long strips; young stems densely covered by white felt-like tomentum.

Leaves shortly petiolate; petiole 0.2-1 cm long; blade narrowly to broadly elliptic or oblanceolate, 2-13.5 cm long, 0.4-4.5 cm wide, base cuneate or attenuate, margins entire, apex obtuse or subacute and shortly mucronate, discolourous, green and glabrous except for mid-rib above, felted with dense white or grey tomentum beneath, prominently pinnately veined, strongly camphor-scented when crushed.

Floral heads small, numerous in usually copious terminal compound open paniculoid thyrses leafy in lower part, with smaller bracts in upper part and yellow-brown tomentose when young, shortly pedicellate; involucres campanulate, 2.5-6 mm long; phyllaries 2-6 mm long, tomentose beneath, glabrous above, in male capitula connate in lower 1/2-1/4, in female capitula free. Male florets 12-66, corolla white, tube infundibuliform, 1.8-3.5 mm long with long white hairs, lobes ovate, 0.5-0.8 mm long.

Achenes obovoid in outline, narrowed towards the base and apex, brown, 1.6-4 mm long, 1-ribbed on the other, densely covered in long white cotton-woolly hairs and crowned with persistent corolla.

Tarchonanthus is a genus closely related to Brachylaena, with two species ranging from Saudi Arabia through East Africa to South Africa.


T. camphoratus is a common plant of the savanna biome, dry forest margins or secondary deciduous bushland, woodland and wooded grassland often dominant or co-dominant and commonly associated with Acacia spp. and Adansonia digitata.

Native range
Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe

Tree management

T. camphoratus has a moderate growth rate, 600-800 mm/year. Coppicing is an important management practice, and T. camphoratus coppices readily. It is an invasive colonizer, use of controlled burning and grazing management or arboricides such as 2,4,5-T, picrolam and 2,4-D check its spread. Application of a mixture of picloram and 2,4-D after the late long rains from May-July proves superior in managing it, injection is suitable for single-stemmed trees of diameter approximately 5 cm, while stump treatment is employed for plants that can be utilized for charcoal and foliar application is effective depending on the stage of growth. Goat browsing also checks regrowth of T. camphoratus.

Seeds germinate within 8 weeks after sowing.

T. camphoratus is a common plant of the savanna biome, dry forest margins or secondary deciduous bushland, woodland and wooded grassland often dominant or co-dominant and commonly associated with Acacia spp. and Adansonia digitata.

Propagation may be achieved by direct sowing, cuttings, and seedlings. Natural regeneration is good. Cuttings taken from young soft wood are treated with rooting hormones before planting.

The camphor tree is drought and fire resistant and can be used to reclaim drylands.

Erosion control:  The camphor bush can be used for dune fixation and prevention of soil erosion by wind and water.

 Leaves used to prepare a beverage, smoked as tobacco or inhaled as snuff.

Shoot and leaves browsed by cattle. Milled mature branches, 1.25 cm in diameter, of T. camphoratus and Grewia flava show great promise as cattle fattening feed.

Provides high quality fuelwood.

Timber:  Used for hut-building, making of general utensils and hunting weaponry e.g. bows and fishing rods, rungus or knobkerries are made from the rootstock. The wood is termite resistant.

Shade or shelter:  It is wind firm and can act as a windbreak for low winds. Its resistance to fire is remarkable, little mortality is seen in T. camphoratus even after three burnings, making it ideal for firebreaks.

Medicine:  Several African tribes use this plant as a treatment for bronchitis and chest ailments, for chilblains, tired legs and sore feet. A tea made of the crushed leaf is taken infused in one cup of boiling water for stomach ailments, asthma, over-anxiety and heartburn. Tarchonanthus essential oil has also been found to have excellent cosmetic and dermatological properties specially as soothing, anti-irritation, decongestant remedy for sensitive skins, dermatitis, sunburns, bedsores, etc. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania carry leaves of the plant as a deodorant.

Ornamental:  T. camphoratus is a popular indigenous ornamental in South Africa, specially suited for bonsai with its aggressive root system.

The wood is used in fencing.

Soil improver:  The slow decomposing leaves improve soil fertility.

Essential oil:  The essential oil extracted from leaves is the safest and most effective natural product for protection from mosquitoes, midges and many kinds of biting insects. The product, containing only 0.3% of the active ingredient, is effective for