Strychnos henningsii

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Local names:
Afrikaans (koffiehardepeer), English (walking stick,panda’s strychnos,Natal teak,coffee hard pear,coffee bean strychnos), Zulu (umqalothi,umnono,umdunye)

Strychnos henningsii is a small erect, much-branched tree, 2-12 m tall with a clean green-reddish stem. Bark peeling, crown compact with dark green, glossy foliage. Twigs with pale ashy or straw coloured waxy skin splitting lengthwise. Lenticels few and inconspicuous.

Leaves opposite, subsessile, ovate, 2.5-6.5 cm long and 0.8-4.5 cm wide, margins entire, leaf tips acuminate. Leaves strongly 3-5 nerved from base, cuneate or rarely subcordate at base.

Floral cymes borne on flat clusters in the leaf axils, 2-2.5 mm long, 4 mm wide when open, scented, yellowish-green in colour turning orange with age. Ovary globose; style short.

Fruit up to 1.9 cm long and 6-11 mm broad, oblong or roundish, 1-2 seeded (coffee-like); red, brown or orange when ripe.

The genus Strychnos has about 190 species mainly found in the tropics. The specific epithet honours Professor Paul Christoph Henning, 1841-1908, a mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Berlin-Dahlem.


S. henningsii commonly occurs in dry or moist forests, wooded hillsides, evergreen thickets on rocky hills, coastal forests and stream banks. It is often associated with Olea and Podocarpus spp.

Native range
Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda

Tree management

Coppices well; normally managed through coppice.

Pulp should be removed from the seed before sowing. Seeds exhibit orthodox storage behaviour.

S. henningsii commonly occurs in dry or moist forests, wooded hillsides, evergreen thickets on rocky hills, coastal forests and stream banks. It is often associated with Olea and Podocarpus spp.

Normally raised from seedlings or wildings, the species also suckers well.

Poison:  The bark contains a poisonous bitter alkaloid causing paralysis. Despite this the plant still has significant medicinal uses.

Erosion control:  The species is important in protecting soils from water erosion in highland areas.

  In East Africa S. henningsii is used in the preparation of fatty-meat and milk soups.

Timber:  Its valued timber is brown to dark grey, heavy, hard, durable and termite-resistant. Wood used for fencing, hut poles, and tool handles.

Shade or shelter:  S. henningsii is an important shade tree.

Medicine:  S. henningsii is used in African traditional medicine to treat various ailments including rheumatism, syphilis, gastrointestinal disorders (purgative) and snake bites. The ground bark is a mouth antiseptic and applied onto wounds in cattle and horses to hasten healing. Some of the applications can be explained partially by the presence of retuline-like alkaloids. S. henningsii has potential in the development of new antinociceptive and antispasmodic drugs.

Ornamental:  The physical attributes of S. henningsii, shiny foliage, pleasant shade and fragrant flowers make it a suitable choice for gardening.

S. henningsii is used as a live fence and its poles are good for fencing.