Rothmannia capensis is one of our most beautiful evergreen indigenous trees. It has a dense, roundish crown of glossy, dark green leaves. The flowers are large, white to cream bells with maroon speckles in their throats. A tree in full flower is a sight to behold. The flowers fill the air with a wonderful ‘gardenia’ fragrance.
Rothmannia capenis is normally a small to medium sized, evergreen tree with a more or less rounded crown. In forest conditions it may become a large tree.
Family:                       RUBIACEAE         (Coffee or gardenia family) Name Derivation:
  • Rothmannia  –  Named after Dr. Georgius Rothmann (1739 – 1778), a friend of Carl Thunberg and fellow student of Carl Linnaeus.
  • Capensis – from the Cape of Good Hope.
Common Names:           Stately rothmannia, Scented-bells, common rothmannia (Eng), witklokke (Afr), monkgobo (Nso), sikhokho (Swa), morutla (Tsw), muratha-mafene (Ven), umzukuza (Xho), and isiqathankobe (Zul). FSA Number:      693
Form:                                 Typically a small to medium single stemmed tree with a rounded, dense crown. Size:                                   5 – 8 m (–15 m) by 4 – 6 m (- 8m) Flower:
  • Large (8 * 7 cm), bell shaped flowers borne singly in leaf axils.
  • Calyx has 5 spreading lobes.
Colour                     White to cream with maroon speckles in throat. Flowering Months:      Dec – Mar. Fragrance:                      Lovely Gardenia-like fragrance.
Not only are Rothmannia capensis‘ flowers beautiful, but they are also beautifully scented.
The leaves are simple, dark green above and are arranged opposite each other on the stems.
The fruit of Rothmannia capensis is large (7 cm), round with a hard casing, green and ridged, softens when ripe.
  • Evergreen.
  • Simple, leathery leaves are more or less elliptic.
  • Margin entire, dark shiny green above, paler underneath
  • Opposite, or occasionally with a third leaf, venation above obscure.
  • Occasional domatia (hair-filled pits) occur at vein junctions on the underside and can be seen as swellings above.
Thorns:                          No thorns. Fruit:
  • Fruit is large (7 cm), round,  green and ridged, softens when ripe.
  • Fruit contains many seeds embedded in a fleshy pulp.
  • The flesh is edible but does not taste nice.
Bark:    The bark is brown or grey-brown with ‘crocodile skin’ texture. In the Garden:
  • A most desirable garden tree, for its shape, colour and beautiful flowers and fragrance.
  • May be safely used as a shade tree in small gardens, or grouped in larger gardens.
  • May safely be planted close to walls and paving.
  • Young plants grow moderately quickly with regular feeding and in good soil, between 500 and 800 cm per year.
  • Water-wise plant.
Soil Needs:
  • Grows in most soils except clay.
  • A low maintenance tree in the garden.
  • Feed and water in growing season for good results.
  • Responds very well to kelp based fertilizers and Nitrosol.
  • Protect from cold when young.
Cold Hardiness:              Cold hardy once established. Water Requirements:  
  • Quite drought hardy.
  • Water-wise.
Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade. Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive.
Rothmannia capensis flowers are probably pollinated by moths but are also visited by Carpenter Bees.
The texture of the bark on older stems and branches of Rothmannia capensis is often compared to crocodile skin.
  • The pulp of the fruit are eaten by some birds.
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
Insects and Butterflies:
  • Carpenter bees visit the flowers.
  • Not known to host any butterfly larva.
Medicinal:                       Used in traditional medicine to treat rheumatism, leprosy, wounds and burns. Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
  • The fruits are eaten by vervet and samango monkeys and baboons, bushpigs, duikers and bushbuck eat dropped fruit.
  • The hard, pliable wood makes durable cooking spoons as well as good tool handles, and is used in building huts.
  • Dried flowers retain their fragrance so should be a good ingredient in potpourri.
  Natural Distribution:
  • Found in south eastern WC, EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, G, NWP, and extreme south eastern Bot.
  • This lovely tree is endemic to southern Africa.
 Natural Habitat:
  • Grasslands, forests, and savanna-bushveld.
  • Found from sea level to 1 600m, in evergreen forest, on rocky outcrops and rocky hillsides in mountain grasslands.
Two lovely Rothmannia capensis trees growing on a ridge near the Nursery in North Riding.

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