A small to medium, deciduous tree, Combretum molle has a rounded crown. This tree has a real ‘bushveld’ jiz or appearance.  It has a single stem with attractive dark, rough bark. It often has beautiful yellow and bronze autumn colours. The four-winged seeds are a deep red-brown colour and remain on the plant for up to 6 months. May be planted in groups in large spaces and gardens to create a bushveld feel or used as a feature tree in smaller gardens. It is also cold hardy and fairly fast growing.
A Combretum molle growing naturally on the ridge in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort.
Family:               COMBRETACEAE        (Bushwillow family) Name Derivation:
  • Combretum – a name originally given by Pliny to a climbing plant of another genus.
  • molle  – soft or with soft hairs, referring to the velvety leaves.
Common Names:          Velvet bushwillow, (Eng), fluweelboswilg (Afr), mokgwethe(Nso), imbondvo lemnyama (Swa), xikukutsi (Tso), modubatshipi (Tsw), mugwiti (Ven), and umbondwe omhlope (Zul). SAF Number:                  537                         Zim Number:                  709
Form:                                Small to medium, deciduous, rounded tree. Size:                                   4 – 6 m (–10 m) by 4 – 6 m. Flowers:
  • Creamy flowers on dense spikes, before or with new leaves.
  • Flowers are sweetly scented and attract many insects.
Colour                              Creamy. Flowering Months:          Aug – Nov. Fragrance:                        Sweetly scented.
These are flowers of Combretum hereroense, not Combretum molle, but they are fairly similar. (We will replace this picture as soon as we get a picture of the real flower!)
The leaves of Combretum molle are simple and opposite. The leaves are usually very hairy, giving the leaf a velvety feel when touched.
The fruit of Combretum molle are typical four-winged fruit of the Combretum genus, quite small but colourful and appealing.
  • Partly evergreen to deciduous.
  • Simple, opposite leaves are elliptic to obovate, 6-10 by 4-6 cm
  • Densely hairy, giving the leaves a velvet feel.
  • Veins deeply sunken on topside giving a quilted appearance.
  • Leaves turn copper, gold, purple and red in autumn and winter.
Thorns:                          No thorns. Fruit:
  • The attractive, four-winged fruit are quite small (1.5 – 2 by 1.5 cm).
  • As they ripen a red-brown tinge forms along the base of the wings and spreads across the wings.
  • Each fruit contains one wrinkled seed that looks rather like a small walnut
  • The mature bark grey brown to black, rough and fissured into small blocks that flake off.           
In the Garden:
  • May be used as a small to medium shade or grown in a lawn as a neat and graceful feature tree.
  • It can be used along boundary walls or amongst other plants in a shrubbery.
  • Group planting in large spaces such as in school grounds, parks, office and housing estates will create a ‘bushveld’ feel to the spaces.
  • A wildlife friendly tree, attracting insects and birds.
  • Water-wise.
  • A fairly quick growing tree, up to half a metre per year.
 Soil Needs:              Most soil types, even rocky soil.
Combretum molle produces some very showy autumnal colours in autumn and winter.

Looking at the furriness of this leaf you can see why this tree was called Combretum molle, the Velvet Bushwillow.

  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against the cold in winter.
Cold Hardiness:                Cold hardy, but protect young plants. Water Requirements:
  • Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
  • Water-wise.
Light Requirements:        Full sun but will grow partial shade. Roots:                                  The roots are not aggressive.
  • Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these trees.
  • Amethyst and Black-bellied Sunbirds visit the flowers.
  • Canaries pull strips of bark from young twigs to use in building their nests.
  • A popular choice for nesting sites with many garden birds.
Insects and Butterflies:
  • Combretum molle is the larval host to both the Guineafowl and Morant’s Skipper.
  • Flowers are visited by adult butterflies and bees.
  • Looped and Vernal Prominent moth larva feed on these trees.
  • Leaves are used as wound dressings.
  • Roots and leaves are used together as a snake-bite antidote.
  • Roots are used to treat constipation, infertility and post abortion bleeding.
  • Combretum molle is also used in the treatment of stomach complaints, fever and intestinal parasites.

Canaries use strips of bark pulled from young Combretum molle twigs in constructing their nests.

Combretum molle is a larval host for the Guineafowl butterfly.

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous. Notes of interest:
  • The hard, yellow wood is used to make stamping mortars and grinding bowls.
  • Poles from Combretum molle are used in hut construction.
  • Some antelope do browse the leaves.
  • Red dye extracted from the leaves and yellow from the roots is used in weaving.
Natural Distribution:
  • Found in KZN, Swa, Moz, M, L, G, NWP, south eastern and north-western Bot and central and northern Zim.
  • North of our area its range extends through tropical and east Africa and into the Yemen.
Natural Habitat:
  • Savanna-bushveld, savanna-woodland savanna-Kalahari and savanna-lowveld.
  • Found in woodland and bushveld, often on rocky ridges and hillsides.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.