Searsia lancea (= Rhus lancea) is a very drought and cold hardy evergreen tree, the Karee is a symbol of South Africa’s dry interior. Reasonably fast growing, it is happy in most soils, even poor draining types. May be used for screening or as a shade tree. In the cold and dry interior of South Africa it is often used as a pavement tree.
- Searsia – after Paul B Sears (1891 – 1990), head of the Yale School of Botany, a renowned palaeontologist and ecologist.
- lancea – Latin for a lance or light spear, referring to the long narrow leaflets.
- Karee (Eng & Afr), motshakhutshakhu (Nso), mosilabele (Sso) mosabele (Tsw) mushakaladza (Ven) and umhlakotshane (Xho)
SAF Number: 386 Zim Number: 497
Size: 3 – 7 (-12) m by 3 – 9 m.
- Small flowers are clustered in masses at the end of branches.
- Dioecious – male and female flowers are on separate trees.
Colour: Greenish to creamy white.
Flowering Months: Apr – Aug.
Fragrance: Not fragrant.
- Leaves are trifoliate, leaflets are long (up to 12cm) and narrow (.3 – 1.2cm).
- Dark green.
Thorns: No thorns.
- A light fawn to white, flattened drupe, up to .4cm.
- Borne in grape like bunches up to 9cm long.
- Very dark brown, almost black, deeply fissured and rough.
- The dark bark makes the tree easily recognizable at a distance.
In the Garden:
- Its attractive shape and dark green leaves make this Searsia a good garden subject.
- Because it is very drought and cold resistant, it is a good choice in gardens in the cold, drier parts of southern Africa.
- A good choice for wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds.
- May be used to good effect for screening or as a small shade tree.
- Will grow in most soil types, including poorly drained soils.
- A low maintenance garden tree.
- Moderately fast growing, 800 cm in a year.
- Prune up to create a well shaped sade tree.
Cold Hardiness: Very cold hardy.
- Very drought hardy, but will grow quicker with regular watering.
Light Requirements: Full sun.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
- The fruit are eaten by many birds.
- Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
- The branches of older trees are used as nesting sites by thrushes.
- Possibly the larval host to the Burnished Opal in Gauteng.
- Outside Gauteng it is also possibly the larval host Macken’s dart, Mooi River opal, Namaqua arrowhead and Pringle’s arrowhead.
Medicinal: No medicinal uses recorded. Poisonous: Not poisonous.
- A valuable fodder plant for stock and some game species, particularly in dry, cold regions.
- If eaten in large quantities, it may taint the flavour of a cow’s milk.
- Fence posts made from S. lancea branches are termite proof and long lasting.
- The bark can be used to tan leather.
- Fruit is edible and may be used to make a porridge in times of famine.
- Tea made from dried fruit is said to have a nice taste.
- Found in eastern WC, western EC, eastern NC, western FS, eastern NW, G, western M, L, with a strip up central Nam and Zim.
- It also occurs in Zambia.
Natural Habitat: Grasslands, Nana-Karoo, savanna-bush veld, and savanna-woodland.
Links to blogs about other Searsia species (Karee or Current-rhus genus)
To go to the “plant blog” click on the plant name below the picture.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2018