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 lancea may be used for screening or as a shade tree or can even be used as on street pavements.
Family:                       ANACARDIACEAE        (Mango family) Name Derivation:
  •  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.
Common Names:
  • Karee (Eng & Afr), motshakhutshakhu (Nso), mosilabele (Sso) mosabele (Tsw) mushakaladza  (Ven) and umhlakotshane (Xho)
SAF Number:                  386                         Zim Number:            497
Searsia lancea, Karee, like all other members of the Searsia genus, are dioecious, that is the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
The leaflets of the trifoliate leaves are joined at acute angles.
Form:   A large shrub or medium sized, rounded tree. Size:                                   3 – 7 (-12) m by 3 – 9 m. Flower:
  • 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. Foliage:
  • Evergreen.
  • Leaves are trifoliate, leaflets are long (up to 12cm) and narrow (.3 – 1.2cm).
  • Dark green.
Thorns:                          No thorns. Fruit:
  • A light fawn to white, flattened drupe, up to .4cm.
  • Borne in grape like bunches up to 9cm long.
  • Edible.
  • 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.
 Soil Needs:
  • 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.
A very large and old specimen of a Searsia lancea tree in the Free State Botanical Gardens in Bloemfontein.
The fruit of Searsia lancea are a small (<4mm), somewhat flattened, light fawn to white drupe and are borne in bunches like miniature grapes.
The dark foliage and bark make Searsia lancea trees easily recognizable at a distance.
Water Requirements:
  • Very drought  hardy, but will grow quicker with regular watering.
Light Requirements:     Full sun. Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive. Birds:
  • 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.
  Insects and Butterflies:
  • 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.
Karoo Thrushes will often nest in the forks of Searsia lancea branches.
Searsia lancea is often one of the dominant trees in grassland, particularly in colder and drier areas of South Africa.
Notes of interest:
  • 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.
Natural Distribution:
  •  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)


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© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2018