Diospyros lyciodes subsp. guerkei is a deciduous, large shrub or small tree growing to about 5m. Often a pioneer tree on the Highveld grasslands, being first to colonize open areas and then provide shelter to other less hardy tree and shrub species.

Suitable to be used to form an informal screening hedge or pruned up to form a small shade tree. The attractive, edible fruit is tasty and extremely popular with fruit-eating birds.

A very draught and cold-hardy tree.

Dyspyros lyciodes guerkei shrub.

Family:                       EBENACEAE       (Ebony family)

Name Derivation:

  •  Diospyros – (Greek) Dios – divine or godly, and pyrium, pear, so ‘divine pear’ referring to the tasty fruits of some species.
  • lycioides – like Lycium, a genus of the Salonaceae (Potato family), possibly referring to its  form and shape of the leaves.
  • guerkei – honoring RLAM Gurke (1854-1911) a German botanist who was particularly interested in African Ebenaceae (Ebony family)

Common Names:           Bushveld bluebush, star apple (Eng), bosveldbloubos (Afr), motloumana (Nso), umchafutane (Swa), letlhajwa (Tsw), muthala  (Ven), and umnqandane (Zul)

SAF Number:                  605.2   


Features of Diospyros lycioides subsp. guerkei

Diospyro lyciodes guerkei has rather smooth grey bark.

Diospyros lyciodes guerkei has a rather smooth grey bark.


A large shrub 0r small, single or multi-stemmed tree.

Size:                 2 -4 m ( –7m) by 2 – 4 m

Stem and Bark:

  • Single or muti-stemmed.
  • Bark is quite smooth and grey.

Thorns:          No thorns.


  • Deciduous
  • Simple leaves are ovate to oblanceolate, 2 – 5 by 1 – 2 cm, and alternate.
  • The net-veins are sunken on the upper surface, giving the leaf a quilted appearance.
  • On the lower surface, the veins are raised and prominent.
  • Bright green when new but age to a dull grey-green.


  • Small pendulous flowers are clustered in the leaf axils.
  • Dioecious – male and female flowers are on separate trees.

Colour:              Creamy white.

Flowering Months:         Sep – Dec.

Fragrance:       Sweetly scented.

The veins of Diospyros lycioides guerkei are sunken on the upper surface.

The veins are sunken on the upper surface, giving the leaves a quilted appearence.

The veins of Diospyros lycioides guerkei are sunken on the upper surface.

The small, creamy white flowers are pendulus and borne in clusters.

The ripe fruit of Diospyros lyciodes guerkei are edible.

The ripe fruit of Diospyros lyciodes guerkei are edible.


  • Round to ovoid fruits (- 2cm) are hairy and green when young
  • Become smooth, orange-brown, red or dark brown when ripe.
  • The calyx remains attached to the fruit, curling back, away from the fruit.
  • The flesh contains 1 to 6 seeds.
  • Edible and sweet.

Growing Diospyros lycioides subsp. guerkei

In the Garden:

  • Can be pruned up into shapely small trees.
  • Particularly attractive plants when in fruit.
  • Because it is water-wise and in the garden cold resistant, it is a good choice for gardens on the Highveld.
  • Good wildlife friendly plants, attracting insects, butterflies, and birds.
  • May be used to good effect for screening and informal hedging.
  • Good as container plants.
  • Ideal bonsai subjects.
Diospyros lyciodes guerkei pruned up to form a beat small tree.

A Diospyros lyciodes guerkei plant in our nursery pruned up to form a neat small tree.

A diospyros lyciodes guerkei in fruit is an attractive plant.

A Diospyros lyciodes guerkei in fruit will attract birds to your garden.

Diospyros lyciodes guerkei with red fruit is very showy.

Diospyros lyciodes guerkei with red fruit is very showy.

Soil Needs:                  Will grow in most soil types.


  • A low maintenance garden shrub or small tree.
  • Fast growing while young, feed and nourish for best results.
  • Prune to create your required shape.

Cold Hardiness:              Very cold hardy.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy but will grow quicker with regular watering.
  • Water-wise.        

Light Requirements:     Full sun or light shade.

Space Requirements:          

  • Plant 2 – 3m apart for informal hedging
  • Otherwise plant 3 – 4m apart

Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive.


Ecology of Diospyros lycioides subsp. guerkei


  • The fruit are eaten by many different bird species.
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Provide good nesting sites for smaller birds like Prinias and Cisticolus.


  • Flowers attract bees.


  • The larval host to the Mooi River Opal which does not occur in Gauteng.
  • Many insects and adult butterflies visit the flowers for nectar.
  • 26 moth species are linked to Diospyros lycioides.
Crested Barbets and other fruit-eating birds relish Diospyros lyciodes guerkei fruit.

Crested Barbets and other fruit-eating birds relish Diospyros lyciodes guerkei fruit.

Diospyros lyciodes guerkei in habitat on the Witwatersrand ridge.

Diospyros lyciodes guerkei in habitat on a rock outcrop on the Witwatersrand ridge.

A Diospyros lycioides guerkei in habitat in fruit.

A plant in fruit in natural habitat on a grassy slope.


  • Used as a purgative.

Poisonous:         Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Roots and twigs are used to make toothbrushes.
  • A yellowish-brown dye is extracted from the roots.
  • Leaves are browsed by various game species.
  • The tasty fruit is eaten by humans, monkeys, jackals, dassies and many different birds.
  • The fruit does have a laxative effect, so do not eat too many at a time.
  • There are 4 recognized subspecies of Diospyros lycioides, the most common in Gauteng is guerkei.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the extreme south eastern Bot, NW, G, M, L, Esw and KZN.
  • Endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands and savanna-bushveld.
  • Favours rocky, particularly quartzite, outcrops.


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© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2021.