Osyris compressa

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Local names:
Afrikaans (pruimbos,pruimbas), English (msandali,coastal tannin bush,Cape sumach,Bark Bosch,African sandalwood), Xhosa (umbalanythi,mtekaaza,inTekeza), Zulu (umbulanyathi,mbulunyathi,inTshakasa,inGondotha-mpethe)

Osyris compressa is a fast growing shrub to a small bushy tree of 1–5 m in height. It is a partial parasite (hemiparasitic) on the roots of other plants with a smooth greyish bark.

Leaves evergreen, opposite, elliptical, tough, leathery, erect and crowded up the stem; 10–50 x 10–27 mm, and blue-green with a grey bloom.

Flowers small, about 2 mm across, yellowish green, slightly scented, inconspicuous, borne in small terminal heads or panicles. 

Fruits ellipsoid (elliptic in long section and circular in cross section), fleshy, about 15 x 10 mm, becoming bright, shiny red and then purplish black. 

The generic name is from the Greek ozos and means branched, referring to the branching habit of the plant. The specific ephithet compressa means laterally flattened. The tree is closely related to an inland species namely Osyris quadripartita ( Transvaal sumach), previously known as O. lanceolata but the latter can easily be recognized by the alternate leaves and the axillary flowers.


Osyris compressa occurs on coastal dunes and lower mountain slopes as well as savanna habitats and are very tolerant of windy conditions. It thrives in sandy conditions and grows with other species of the genera Rhus, Coleonema, Maytenus, Leucadendron, Metalasia and Chrysanthemoides.

Native range
Australia, India, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa

Osyris compressa occurs on coastal dunes and lower mountain slopes as well as savanna habitats and are very tolerant of windy conditions. It thrives in sandy conditions and grows with other species of the genera Rhus, Coleonema, Maytenus, Leucadendron, Metalasia and Chrysanthemoides.

The primary mode of propagation is by seeds which fall to the ground and grow together with other plants to serve as hosts.  It has not been possible to grow from cuttings.

Erosion control:  Plants thrive in sandy conditions and together with other species of plants forms an important soil stabilizer in coastal dune systems.

  The fruits are edible and were an important food of the early inhabitants of the South African Cape. The fleshy part could also be compressed and stored for lean times. The bark when boiled produces a dark coloured solution which was used to flavour tea.

The wood has also been utilized as firewood.

Timber:  The wood is heavy and fine-grained, suitable for curving ornaments and small utensils like pestles.

Tannin or dyestuff:  The fresh leaves of Osyris compressa were used to tan leather a light brown colour, while the bark was used to tan leather dark brown. A decoction of fresh leaves was used to tan cotton, fishing lines and nets to make them more durable in the days before nylon.

Medicine: A boiled concoction of the bark together with other herbs is reputed to be useful in improving blood circulation, digestive, respiratory and nervous systems. The boiled product is given to women after giving birth to boost their appetite. The oils and paste derived from the bark is used to treat skin diseases such as infectious sores, ulcers, acne and rashes. The tree is also known to be disinfectant and a sedative.  It is reputed to be effective against the killer hepatitis B. 

Ornamental:  The fruits are highly decorative on the plant. Fruits don't ripen all at once hence the plant can be very attractive for long periods throughout the year. They also attract birds and insects to the garden, wherever planted.

Boundary or barrier:  Cape sumach is recommended as a seaside subject and plants form very effective small windbreaks provided there are enough host plants.

Essential oils:  The bark, stem, seeds and roots are used in the manufacture of aromatic oils that are used in making expensive perfumes, quality lotions, rare soaps and sweet-smelling candles. The wood yields between four and 10 per cent oil when distill