Forest Fever Tree Info: Learn About Growing Forest Fever Trees

Forest Fever Tree Info: Learn About Growing Forest Fever Trees

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What is a forest fever tree, and is it possible to grow a forest fever tree in gardens? Forest fever tree (Anthocleista grandiflora) is a striking evergreen tree native to South Africa. It is known by a variety of interesting names, such as forest big-leaf, cabbage tree, tobacco tree and big-leaf fever tree. It is definitely possible to grow forest fever tree in gardens, but only if you can provide the proper growing conditions. Read on to learn more.

Forest Fever Tree Information

Forest fever tree is a tall, straight tree with a rounded crown. It produces big, leathery, paddle-shaped leaves and clusters of creamy-white flowers followed by fleshy, egg-shaped fruit. In the right conditions, forest fever trees can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 m.) per year.

Traditionally, the tree has been used for a number of medicinal purposes. The bark is used as a treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure, the leaves to treat superficial wounds, and tea from the leaves and bark for malaria (hence the name fever tree). As of yet, no scientific proof of effectiveness has been established.

In its native environment of southern Africa, forest fever tree grows in rain forests or along rivers and damp, swampy areas, where it provides shelter and food for a number of creatures, including elephants, monkeys, bushpigs, fruitbats and birds.

Growing Forest Fever Trees

If you’re interested in growing forest fever trees, you can propagate a new tree by planting root suckers or cuttings – either hardwood or semi-hardwood.

You can also remove seeds from soft, ripe fruit that falls on the ground. (Be quick and grab one before it’s gobbled up by wildlife!) Plant the seeds in a pot filled with compost-rich soil, or directly in a suitable garden location.

Like all tropical plants, forest fever trees require a warm climate with frost-free winters. They grow in either shade or full sunlight and deep, fertile soil. A dependable supply of water is a necessity.

Forest fever trees are beautiful, but they aren’t a good choice for nutrient-poor soil. They’re also not good candidates for dry, windy areas or small gardens.

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Top 10: Iconic African trees

It's all about trees in our South African home base this week as the country celebrates Arbor Week. To mark the occasion, we're dedicating this Top 10 to our favourite trees from across the African continent, from iconic baobabs to eerily beautiful fever trees.

Fever tree (Vachellia xanthophloea)

This tall tree is one of our favourites! It's one of the few trees where photosynthesis takes place in the bark, giving it a stunning yellow-and-green colouration. The fever tree gets its name from its tendency to grow near swampy areas – early European settlers in the region noted that malarial fever was often contracted in areas where these trees grew (of course, we now know this was a mosquito-related mistake!). These beautiful trees are a favourite in gardens and their feathery foliage is a choice home for birds, but they're not revered everywhere. Fast-growing and short-lived, they can stage a quick takeover on other plant species – in Australia, a fever tree cousin (Acacia nilotica) costs the grazing industry over $3 million annually! (Image: Steve Garvie, Flickr)

Upside-down giants with record-breaking lifespans, baobabs are the continent's (and possibly the planet's) most iconic and outlandish trees. Add to that their towering bulk, fire-resistant bark and extraordinary drought resistance, and you've got yourself one truly epic tree. Perhaps the best place to feast your eyes on them is on the island of Madagascar (home to six native species), along the famous Avenue des Baobabs (pictured), where the 30-metre giants stand sentry along a dusty track. (Image: Ralph Kränzlein, Flickr )

Saugage tree (Kigelia africana)

It's not hard to figure out where the sausage tree gets its name. Weighing in at 5-10kgs, its hefty sausage-shaped fruit can make pretty dangerous projectiles for unwary passers-by or carelessly parked cars. That same fruit also makes the sausage tree a favourite with the local wildlife, from bush pigs and baboons to hippos and elephants (the animals kindly return the favour by dispersing the trees' seeds in their dung). Humans have also found uses for the fruit, from the medicinal to the intoxicating (the fermented fruit makes a great addition to traditional African brews). (Image: Lindsey Elliott, Flickr )

Quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma)

Because of its distinctive beauty, the quiver tree has been named one of Namibia's national plants. The thick tree is actually a giant aloe in disguise, and has soft pulpy tissue in the trunk and branches rather than actual wood. Its name comes from the indigenous San people’s tradition of hollowing out the tubular branches to make quivers for their arrows. But the tree allegedly has even more ingenious uses – dead quiver tree trunks are sometimes hollowed out and used as 'natural' refrigerators. (Image: Martin Heigan, Flickr.)

Leadwood (Combretum imberbe)

As the name suggests, this is one strong and hardy species – in fact, its wood is so dense, it actually sinks in water. That density also makes the tree incredibly resistant to termites, which is why leadwood skeletons (like the one pictured) remain dotted across the African landscape long after the original trees have died. You can also identify this tree, one of the largest in Africa, by its distinctive rectangular bark pattern. (Image: krugergirl26, Flickr)

Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea)

Indigenous to southern Africa (and parts of West Africa and Madagascar), the marula tree is known for its sweet, yellow fruit – and local lore says that same fruit becomes 'elephant alcohol' once it's fallen to the ground and fermented. Although scientists debunked the drunk elephant myth back in 2005, the alcohol association is not really surprising as the fruit is used to produce Amarula, the second-best-selling cream liqueur in the world. Traditionally the tree is used for everything from malaria cures to insecticide, not to mention as a food source – even more so in the summer months when the branches are often decorated with brightly coloured mopane worms, themselves an important source of protein for millions of people in southern Africa. (Image: Steven Tan, Flickr.)

Whistling thorn (Vachellia drepanolobium)

Ever heard a tree whistle? With the help of several ant species that bore holes into the thorns of Vachellia drepanolobius, these spiky appendages are transformed into natural whistles that come alive when the wind blows. And the ants aren't just useful for making music, they have a symbiotic relationship with the whistling thorn tree. In exchange for shelter and a bit of nectar, the ants are believed to defend the whistling thorn against hungry herbivores like elephants and giraffes. (Image: Mike LaBarbera, Flickr.)

Mopane tree (Colophosphermum mopane)

Here’s one with some serious African roots – you won't find the mopane or 'butterfly tree' anywhere else on the planet! To beat the heat in its hot, dry habitat, the tree has developed butterfly-shaped leaves that open and close to control moisture loss. These leaves also give the tree its name: 'mopane' is the Shona word for butterfly. Hardy and heavy, mopane wood is termite resistant, but not all bugs have abandoned this tree. Mopane worms (the larvae of the emperor moth) hatch on the mopane after the rainy season and these tasty grubs are a staple snack in many African cultures. (Image: krugergirl26, Flickr)

Sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus)

As far as trees go, the sycamore fig has a pretty impressive résumé. These lofty characters get several mentions in the Bible, and their timber, fruit and even twigs have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, where the sycamore fig is believed to have been a kind of Tree of Life. And that's a pretty fitting title. The sycamore fig provides food for a greater variety of animals than any other tree in Africa. Its marble-sized fruit is also a vital first home for a species of wasp that lays its eggs inside the figs, triggering the start of a pollination process that results from this fascinating symbiotic relationship. (Image: Bernard DUPONT, Flickr.)

Dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari)

Before we set off any geographic alarms, we're going to come right out and admit that, yes, the dragon blood tree falls outside the African realm. The slow-growing evergreens occur on the Indian Ocean island of Socotra, which is officially part of Yemen – but with just a handful of miles separating the island from the Horn of Africa, we're claiming it for this countdown anyway. Besides, who can resist a tree so strange-looking and so shrouded in myth . and one that's named for its (highly prized) blood-like resin. Sadly, the species is now listed as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN, and is facing threats linked to human development. (Image: Rod Waddington, Flickr.)

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Anthocleista grandiflora

Common names: forest fever tree, big-leaf fever tree, big leaf, forest big-leaf, cabbage tree, tobacco tree (Eng.) grootblaarboom, koorsboom, wildetabakboom (Afr.) mueneene (Tshivenda) geludzu/galudzu (Xitsonga) umhobohobo, luvungu (siSwati) mophala (Northern Sotho)


Anthocleista grandiflora is a striking tree with a tall straight trunk topped with a crown of huge leaves. It needs a warm, sunny garden with plenty of water and protection from frost and cold winds.



Anthocleista grandiflora is a medium to tall evergreen tree, 5-35 m tall, with a slender, straight, smooth, light grey or brown trunk, branching high up the trunk. Trees have long bare branches arching upward with leaves densely clustered at the ends, forming a rounded, spreading crown.

It has very large, stiff, leathery, simple leaves 150-700 mm long and 70-250 mm wide on average, with some leaves up to 1.35 m long and 0.5 m wide. The largest leaves are found on young trees or on low-level branches. The leaves are paddle-shaped oblong, broader in the upper half and narrowing towards the base. They are the largest simple leaves of any tree in southern Africa. The specimens in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden drop a steady supply of giant yellowed leaves throughout the year, and some become playthings for visiting children.

Flowers are fragrant, creamy-white with a green tube, turning yellow then brown with age, in branched terminal clusters. The corolla tube is up to 35 mm long, with 8-13 narrow spreading petals. A crown-like ring of joined stamens at the mouth of the corolla tube surrounds the fleshy green rounded stigma. The fruit is a fleshy, smooth, oval to egg-shaped, green berry, soft and yellowish brown when mature, up to 30 mm long, containing many small dark brown seeds. In habitat, trees flower in spring-summer (from September to January) and fruit from late summer into winter (January to June).

The Kirstenbosch trees continue flowering into autumn (March-April). The flowers are attractive and sweetly scented, but are not noticed because they are so high up. They can be appreciated at Kirstenbosch thanks to the 80 year old tree in the Dell (planted in 1934) that has low-hanging branches on its southeastern side that bring them almost within our reach. This tree produces fruits but does not seed itself in the Garden, whereas the trees in the Lowveld National Botanical Garden in Nelspruit do. The reason for this lack of seedlings has not been explored.

Conservation Status


Least Concern (LC), Anthocleista grandiflora is not threatened.

Distribution and habitat

Distribution description

Anthocleista grandiflora occurs in forest and along forest margins, in kloofs, beside densely wooded streams, in patches of relict forest on hillsides and in open swampy places, in tropical and subtropical areas in East Africa, from Uganda and Kenya southwards to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa where it is found in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. It also occurs in the Comore Islands and Zanzibar. It is common in medium to low altitude forest in mountainous regions with high rainfall, from sea level to 2300m altitude.

Derivation of name and historical aspects


The name Anthocleista is derived from the Greek anthos, meaning flower, and cleistos, meaning closed or shut up. This could refer to how the stamens with their joined filaments form a ring around the mouth of the corolla tube, closing it off, or it could refer to the fact that only a few flowers of the inflorescence are open at any time, so most of the flowers are still closed buds. The specific epithet, grandiflora means large flowered, from the Latin grandis, meaning large, and floreo, to flower.

Its other common names namely big leaf is self-explanatory, cabbage tree refers to how the clusters of large leaves at branch ends resemble a cabbage head, and tobacco tree refers to the superficial resemblance of the leaves to those of tobacco plants ( Nicotiana tabacum ).

The genus Anthocleista is a small genus of about 15 species of trees found mostly in tropical Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. Anthocleista grandiflora is the only species found in southern Africa. This species is called fever tree on account of it being used to treat malaria.



In its natural habitat elephants eat the leaves and branches, birds, monkeys and fruit bats eat the fruits and bushpig eat the fruits that fall. Many different insects are attracted by the flowers, and many insect-eating birds are, in turn, attracted by these insects.

In South Africa the tree is valued for its medicinal properties. The leaves and bark are used to brew a tea to treat malaria, and bark is chewed to treat diarrhoea, and used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure and venereal disease. In the Congo the leaf and leaf ash is used to treat wounds of teats. In Tanzania leaves are used to treat malaria and roots to treat diarrhoea.

The bark is used to treat epilepsy in Zimbabwe, and to treat diarrhoea, fever and hepatitis in Madagascar. The leaves are used as a tonic, but are laxative in large doses. The smoke of burning bark is inhaled to dispel bad spirits, and pieces of root are braided into the hair as a lucky charm. In vitro tests have shown leaf extract to have significant anti-bacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Bacillus subtilis , but show no significant anti-malaria activity.

The wood is whitish yellow, light, soft and easy to saw and work. It finishes and polishes well, but is brittle, not durable and attacked by termites, and is thus useless for anything but light construction, short-lived items or for crates, boxes, or firewood.

Growing Anthocleista grandiflora

Anthocleista grandiflora needs a warm, well-watered position, deep fertile soil and protection from frost and cold winds. Its ideal position is in a forest situation beside a perennial stream. It can be grown in full sun, or in shade. Under ideal conditions young trees can grow fast, reaching nearly 5m in their first four years. Use it as a foliage plant to give a lush tropical effect, as a striking feature plant or a shapely shade tree, but bear in mind that it will develop into a tall tree. It is not suited to an exposed, dry, windy position or to small gardens, nor is it recommended as a street tree. They do not have aggressive roots, but are quite messy, dropping large leaves, flowers and fruits, and can produce root suckers at the base. Feed generously and regularly for rapid growth and lush heads of leaves.

Cape Town, with its nutrient-poor soils, lack of water in summer and strong winds, does not offer ideal growing conditions for Anthocleista grandiflora, nevertheless it has done well at Kirstenbosch, which has a perennial water supply and is protected from Cape Town's notorious southeast winds. The oldest tree is an 80 year old with a magnificent spreading canopy, planted in 1934 in the Dell, beside the perennial Bath Stream. There is a 25 year old nearby, which is a handsome specimen, nearly as tall as the older tree but still quite slender. Three more trees were planted, also 25 years ago, in a well-watered but more exposed position at the bottom of the Main Lawn, but these specimens are smaller than the Dell tree with more tatty, sparse crowns and they have branched lower down their trunks, some nearly at ground level, and not all of the Main Lawn trees have flowered yet. There are a number of 14 year olds in the Arboretum, a few of which are growing beside the nearly completed raised walkway, which will soon give visitors a close-up view of this tree's magnificent leaves and lovely flowers.

Propagate Anthocleista grandiflora by seed, cuttings or root suckers. Fruits are ripe when they become soft and yellowish brown. Where they are not being carried off and eaten by wildlife, they can be picked up from the ground beneath the parent tree. Cut open and clean off the pulp to release the small seeds. They germinate readily, and are best sown in spring or summer. Take hardwood or semi-hardwood cuttings, treat with rooting hormone and place in coarse river sand under mist. Root suckers can be removed from trees that have produced them and the shoot potted or replanted to form a new tree.


  • Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of Eastern South Africa, A Complete Guide . Flora & Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Coates Palgrave, K. 1983. Trees of Southern Africa , second revised edition . Struik, Cape Town.
  • Flora of southern Africa via POSA online
  • Flora of Zimbabwe online: Accessed 3 February 2014.
  • Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Anthocleista grandiflora Gilg. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2013.1. Accessed on 2014/02/05
  • Grant, R. & Thomas, V. 2000. Sappi Tree Spotting Bushveld . Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. 1983. Loganiaceae. Flora Zambesiaca 7:1 Accessed 5 February 2014.
  • Leeuwenberg, A.J.M. 1993. Anthocleista grandiflora . Flowering Plants of Africa 52: 2. Plate 2080.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.


Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch NBG
March 2014

Acknowledgements : the author thanks Willem Froneman, Lowveld National Botanical Garden, for sharing his experience in growing and propagating Anthocleista grandiflora .

Plant Attributes:

SA Distribution: Limpopo, Mpumalanga

Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn

Flower colour: Green, White, Cream

Aspect: Full Sun, Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)


The Kei Apple (Dovyalis caffra): This tree has glossy green leaves and long, sharp thorns, making it an excellent choice for boundary walls where you require extra security. If you plant both a male and female plant in your garden, you’ll be rewarded with bright yellow fruit in February. The fruit is both delicious and attractive.

The Tree Wisteria (Bolusanthus speciosus): A wisteria is one of the prettiest of spring-flowering trees and likes a sunny spot with well-draining soil. It is a deciduous tree that can reach a height of up to 7m and produces attractive pea-shaped mauve flowers in spring and summer.

The Fever Tree (Vachellia xanthophloea): This tree grows 12–15m tall, with an 8–10m wide spread, so it’s perfect for gardens with lots of room. The smooth bark is a bright yellow-green, birds love nesting in its branches and butterflies are attracted to the yellow fluffy blossoms that appear in spring and early summer.

Bladdernut or Swartbas (Diospyros whyteana): This tree has a neat growth habit, glossy dark green leaves and small, white, bell-shaped flowers in spring, followed by fruit enclosed in papery cases that attract birds. It grows in semi-shade or full sun and is an excellent tree for a small garden. It can also be grown as a shrub and makes an attractive bonsai.

Fuchsia (Halleria lucida): This tree makes an attractive feature tree in the garden, with a height and spread of 5m. Orange-red flowers grow on the older wood of the main trunk and larger branches and they attract sunbirds and bees.

Types of Trees: Acacia xanthophloea (Fever Tree)

Treeification > Types of Trees > Types of Trees: Acacia xanthophloea (Fever Tree)

The Acacia xanthophloea or Fever Tree is a popular landscaping tree, with many features that make it both a useful and beautiful addition to various urban environments. This semi-deciduous to deciduous tree can reach up to 25m in the wild and it is often known for its unique lime green bark, making it popular as a feature tree.

The stark and sculptural branches add to its distinctive look and the feathery leaves create a dappled effect of sunlight, a useful feature if you’re looking to plant smaller shrubs, flowers and plants that require indirect sunlight. This fast-grower is a useful tree for anyone looking for quick results. If well maintained and watered regularly, it can average a growth rate of 1.5 metres per year.

The Fever Tree gets its common name from early colonists who thought the tree was the cause of malaria. This tree however naturally grows in swampy areas, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying malaria, as opposed to the trees themselves. In fact, medicinally the roots and powdered bark of the stem have been used as a prevention method to combat malaria.

Below, on the left, we have a picture of a natural forest of Fever Trees in the wild. The dappled light and bright green bark makes a beautiful effect that is not unlike the Fever Trees that have been planted in Heerengracht Street in Cape Town CBD on the right. Because Fever Trees handle slightly saline water very well, they are suitable for planting in low lying parts of Cape Town and its surrounding areas.

On younger specimens, the thorns of the Fever Tree are very pronounced but generally become less noticeable as the tree ages. This trees attracts birds as the thorns provide protection from predators and the bright yellow ball-like flowers also attract bees but be warned – the dust from the bark and pollen of this tree has been known to cause allergies!

Like many other members of the Mimosaceae family, the Acacia xanthophloea has a nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its root nodules, enriching the soil and making a positive impact on the plants surrounding a Fever Tree. It can be used to control soil erosion near riverbanks or dams and can even be effective as a ‘live fence’ or barrier. Another useful feature of this tree is its potential to form a striking avenue, like the image below of the Fever Tree Avenue along Umhlanga Rocks Drive in Durban.

Image courtesy of Google Maps

All in all, this tree is a winner for landscape architectures! Head to our website to see if we currently stock it…

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