Dodyalis caffra is a large shrub or small tree with a dense crown.


A deciduous to evergreen, large shrub or small to medium tree with a dense crown. Dovyalis caffra is a thorny plant that is often planted as a security hedge. The apricot sized fruit borne on female plants are edible and often used to make tasty jelly or jam. The fruit is eaten by humans, mammals, birds and butterflies. It is cold and drought hardy.


Family:                       SALICACEAE       (Willow family).

                                       Previously considered part of the Falcourtiaceae (Wild Peach family)

Name Derivation:

  • Dovyalis – from Greek ‘dory’ a spear, referring to sharp spines on the branches. It is thought the person who named the genus meant it to be “Doryalis”.
  • caffra – from Kaffraria, an obsolete name for part of the Eastern Cape.

Common Names:          Kei-apple (Eng), keiappel (Afr), mohlono (Nso), ntapane (Swa), n’wambula (Tso), mtunu (Ven), umqokolo (Xho and Zul).

FSA Number:                   507                  Zim Number:                  666                   

Dovyalis caffra Features.


  • A large shrub or small tree with a dense crown.

Size:         2 – 4 (–8 m) 2 – 4 m.

Stem and Bark:

  • Often multi-stemmed.
  • The bark is rough and fissured.
  • Light grey on young stems, dark grey on older stems.
A photograph of the bark of Dovyalis caffra

A photographof the bark of Dovyalis caffra.

Dovyalis caffra has stout, sharp spines

The spines are stout and sharp.

  • Dorvyalis caffra has simple leaves, mostly obovate to broadly diamond shaped.


  • Many strong, sharp spines up to 6 cm long on young plants.
  • Older trees have fewer spines.


  • Evergreen or deciduous (climate related?).
  • Simple leaves, mostly obovate to broadly diamond-shaped.
  • Leaves clustered tightly on small short, puffy side shoots or alternate on young shoots. .
  • Leaves are shiny, dark green above, paler below.
  • Three or five veined from the base.


  • Small, creamy-green flowers.
  • Plants are dioecious, i.e. plants are unisexual, male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
  • Female flowers are single or small groups on thin stalks.
  • Male flowers are in massed clumps.

Colour                               Creamy-green.

Flowering Months:          Nov – Jan

Fragrance:                         Flowers are not fragrant


  • Edible fruit are typically about 4cm in diameter.
  • The fruit is protected by a thin, velvety skin and contain many seeds.
  • Fruit is green ripening to apricot yellow.

The male flowers are all stamens, and are popular with bees.

The fruit of Dovyalis caffra is edible and yellow when ripe.

Dovyalis caffra can be used as a small feature tree, used in mixed flowerbeds or grown as an impenetrable security hedge.

Cultivating Dovyalis caffra

In the Garden:

  • This is an attractive, cold and drought resistant garden plant.
  • Often planted as an impenetrable security hedge.
  • Grown for its tasty fruit.
  • A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden, attracting birds to the fruit.
  • Makes a very good container plant in a sunny position on a patio or courtyard.
  • Can be safely pruned to desired shape.
  • Dovyalis caffra is a good bonsai subject.
  • Medium fast grower, up to 60cm per year.

Soil Needs:            A well composted, well drained soil.


  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against cold for first 2 or 3 winters.

Cold Hardiness:                   Cold hardy, but a little frost sensitive when young.

Water Requirements:        Drought hardy but thrives on regular summer water.         

Light Requirements:           Full sun or partial shade.

Space Requirements:          Plant between 1 and 2 metres apart.

Roots:                                         The roots are not aggressive.

A Dovyalis caffra, Kei-apple planted at the enterance to the North Riding branch of the Halfway House Toyota dealership.

A White-barred Charaxes feeding on the juices of a fallen Dovyalis caffra fruit at Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery’s old home in Broadacres.

Ecology of Asystasia gangetica


  • Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers, fruit and leaves.
  • The fruit is eaten by many fruit eating birds.
  • Many garden birds will choose these spikey plants to build their nests in.


  • Bees feed from the flowers.

Butterflies and other Insects:

  • Adult butterflies and moths feed from the flowers and from dropped ripe fruit.
  • This tree is a larval host to African Leopards and Forest Leopards.

Medicinal:       Not noted for medicinal uses.

Poisonous:      Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • The tasty, slightly acidic fruit is rich in vitamin C.
  • The fruit is used to make tasty jams and jellies.
  • Dovyalis caffra is cultivated in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, in the United States, Australia and Israel.
  • Trees are browsed by game and stock.
  • The white wood is dense and heavy, but as pieces are small it has little value.

Fruit of ripening on a Dovyalis caffra tree.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, and southern Zim.
  • Also occurs in Malawi.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, forest, thickets, savanna-woodland and savanna-bushveld.
  • Often found on termitariums, or near old stone walls and old abandoned dwellings.



Boon, Richard  “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide”  2nd ed. 2010  Flora & Fauna Publications  Durban.

Botha, Charles & Julia  “Bring Butterflies back to your Garden”  2006  KwaZulu-Natal Coastal Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa..Durban

Joffe, Pitta & Oberholzer, Tinus  “Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, ASouth African Guide” 2nd ed. 2012  Briza Publications  Pretoria

Ndou, Phillemon,  “Dovyalis caffra”  2003  PlantZA     Link Dovyalis-caffra

Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C  “Trees of Southern Africa”  2002  Struik Publishers  Cape Town

Palmer, E & Pitman, N  “Trees of Southern Africa Volume 3”  1973  A A Balkema  Cape Town

Schmidt, E, Lotter M  Cleland W  “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park  2002  Jacana  Johannesburg

Van Wyk, A, van den Berg, E, Coates Palgrave, M & Jordaan, M  Dictionary of names for southern African trees”  2011..Briza Publications  Pretoria

Venter, F & J-A  “Making the Most of Indigenous Trees”  1996  Briza Publications  Pretoria

Woodhall, Steve  “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa”  2nd ed 2020  Struik Natture  Cape Town


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