SA Bonsai Tree Info

Celtis africana Burm.f.
Family: Cannabaceae
Common names: white stinkwood; witstinkhout (Afr.); umVumvu (Xhosa); uSinga lwesalukazi (Zulu); Modutu (Sotho & Tswane); Mpopano (Venda)
SA Tree No: 39

There is no doubt that this is an excellent tree to use in a landscape, and it is a rewarding garden tree. It gives shade in summer, and is fast and easy to grow under a wide range of conditions.


This beautiful deciduous tree grows up to 25 m tall in a forest habitat, but in a garden it can be treated as a medium-sized tree, expected to reach a height of up to 12 m. In the wild, where it is growing in an exposed, rocky position it may be nothing more than a shrub,but well-grown specimens will have a single, straight bole branching to form a dense, semi-circular canopy.

The trunk of Celtis africana is easy to distinguish by its smooth, pale grey to white bark. It may be loosely peeling in old trees and sometimes has horizontal ridges.



In spring Celtis africana is very lovely, with its light green, tender new leaves that contrast beautifully with the pale bark. The leaves are simple, alternate, triangular in shape with three distinct veins from the base, and the margin is toothed for the upper two-thirds. The new leaves are bright, fresh green and hairy, turning darker green and becoming smoother as they mature.


The flowers appear in spring (August to October). They are small, greenish, star-like and inconspicuous. Separate male and female flowers are produced on the same tree. A cluster of male flowers is borne at the base of the new leaf, and the female or bisexual flowers are in the axils of the leaves. The flowers are pollinated by bees. Masses of small, rounded, berry-like fruits on 13 mm long stalks follow the flowers, from October to February. When they turn yellow-brown to black they are ripe.

Distribution and habitat

Celtis africana is common and widespread in South Africa. It occurs in a wide range of habitats from the coast up to 2 100 m, from the Cape Peninsula northwards through South Africa to Ethiopia, where it grows in dense forest, on rocky outcrops, in bushveld, in open grassland, on mountain slopes, on coastal dunes, and along river banks and in kloofs.


 Many birds like rameron pigeons, willow warblers, black-eyed bulbuls, mousebirds and crested barbets feed on the fruits and disperse the seeds.

Celtis africana leaves are browsed by cattle and goats, and are food for the larvae of the long-nosed butterfly.


The wood of Celtis africana is white to yellowish in colour and of medium hardness. It is tough and strong, and polishes well, but is difficult to work. It is a good general timber suitable for making planks, shelving, yokes, tent-bows and furniture. The African people have always used it to make a variety of household articles. It is also thought to have magical properties. The wood is mixed with crocodile fat as a charm against lightning, and many people believe that it has the power over evil and that pegs of wood driven into the ground will keep witches away.

The timber of C. africana has no commercial value.

Growing Celtis africana

Celtis africana is easy to grow and is fast-growing. It is fairly drought resistant and can withstand frost. It does best in good, rich, deep soil with plenty of water in summer. This is an excellent tree for large gardens and parks, and has also proved to be a successful street and avenue tree.