Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia, the Puzzlebush or Deurmekaarbos, is a large shrub or sometimes a small tree. Although it is deciduous, it is very dense and is a good screening plant.
Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia is a large, very dense, deciduous shrub with a weeping habit. It has attractive clusters of fragrant lilac, blue to white flowers and many small orange to black berries in summer. This very hardy plant should be planted in every wildlife friendly garden.
Family:                       BORAGINACEAE        (Borage family). Name Derivation:
  • Ehretia – named after a German botanical artist, Georg D Ehret (1708 – 1770).
  • rigida – ‘rigid’ referring to the stiff branches and branchlets.
  • nervifolia – (Latin) ‘nervi’ nerve, muscle or sinew, ‘folia’ leaf.
Common Names:          Puzzlebush (Eng), deurmekaarbos (Afr), morôbê (Nso & Tsw), morobo (Sso), umcele (Swa), mpon’wani (Tso), mutepe (Ven) and umkele (Zul). FSA Number:                   657                    Zim Number:            880                                  


  • A deciduous, thickly branched, multi-stemmed shrub, or small tree.
  • Plants have a bit of a weeping appearance.

Size:                                   2 – 5 m (–7 m) by 3 – 5 m.


  • Borne in tight clusters of small (7mm) flowers.
  • The flowers are tubular with spreading, star-like petals.
  • Shrubs in full flower are showy.

Colour:                                Pale blue to lilac, ageing to white.

Flowering Months:          Aug – Mar, peak Sep – Oct.

Fragrance:                         Sweetly scented.

The small, sweetly fragrant flowers of Ehretia rigida are pale blue to lilac and fade to white as they age.
When in full flower, Ehritia rigida, is very attractive.
The simple leaves are obovate (1–5 x 1-3.5 cm), leathery and rough but hairless.
  • Deciduous.
  • Leaves are simple, obovate (1–5 x 1-3.5 cm), spiraled or whorled on stubby shoots.
  • Leaves are leathery, rough but hairless, dull green above, paler below.
  • Margin is entire, rolled under, pockets of hair found in vein axils.
  • Lateral veins often raised on both surfaces, reaching almost to the margin.
Thorns:                          No thorns.
  • The fruit is a small, fleshy, round drupe (4 – 6 mm) orange to black when ripe.
  • Fruits in profusion (Sep-Mar).
  • Style is persistent.
  • Fruit is edible, but not tasty.
Bark:                            Smooth, light grey to grey-brown bark.
The fruit of Ehrrtia rigida is a small rounded drupe that turns orange then black when ripe.
Ehretia rigida has a dense crown with the branches arching towards the ground.
In the Garden:
  • Despite being deciduous Ehretia rigida is a very good screening shrub.
  • Plant close together (1.5 – 2m) apart to form an informal but impenetrable hedge.
  • In larger gardens, because of its interesting shape, it can be used as a specimen plant.
  • A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden, many birds enjoy the fruit.
  • A water-wise plant.
  • May be pruned to shape.
  • Makes a very good container plant.
  • Fairly quick growing, up to 70 cm a year.
 Soil Needs:                         A well drained, humus rich soils.  Care:
  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Prune it to shape.
 Cold Hardiness:                   Very cold hardy. Water Requirements:
  • Very drought hardy.
  • Water-wise.
Light Requirements:           Full sun to partial shade. Roots:         The roots are not aggressive.
The flowers are among the first of Gauteng’s indigenous shrubs to show in early spring.
Fruit eating birds like the Acacia Pied Barbet love the ripe fruit of the Puzzlebush.
  • The ripe fruit is eaten by birds.
  • Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers.
  • The dense branching make this shrub a popular plant for nesting in.
Insects and Butterflies:
  • Flowers attract bees, beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies.
  • Not known to host any butterfly larva.
  • Adult butterflies feed from the flowers.
  • The root is sometimes used to treat gall sickness in cattle
  • Used in traditional medicine to treat chest and stomach pains.
  • Plant considered having magical properties.
Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.
Note the persistent styles still attached to the ripe fruit of Ehretia rigida. The fruit is edible,
Notes of interest:
  • The shrubs are browsed by both stock and game.
  • Fruit is eaten by humans, monkeys and many birds.
  • The pliable branches have been used to make bows, spear shafts and fishing baskets.
  • Was the wood of choice as the ‘turning’ stick for making fires by friction.
Natural Distribution:
  • Found in north-eastern EC, KZN, Swa, FS, G, NWP, M, L, western Moz and Zim.
  • E. rigida subsp. nervifolia is endemic to southern Africa..
 Natural Habitat:
  • Grasslands, savanna-Kalahari, savanna-lowveld, savanna-woodland and savanna-bushveld.
  • Found on rocky ridges, outcrops, on termitaria and in forest margins.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.