A graceful, small to medium sized, evergreen tree, Searsia leptodictya, Mountain Karee, deserves to be more widely cultivated.

One of Gauteng’s attractive evergreen trees, Searsia leptodictya, the Mountain Karee, is very graceful and feminine in appearance. It has an almost weeping feel created by its soft foliage that does droop from the branches. Not as well known as its more masculine cousin, Searsia lancea (Karee) it certainly deserves to be more widely cultivated.

Family:                       ANACARDIACEAE        (Mango family)

Name Derivation:

  •  Searsia  – after a renowned ecologist and palaeontologist, Paul B Sears (1891 – 1990), who was also the head of the Yale School of Botany.
  • leptodicyta – ‘Lepto’ (Greek) means thin or fine and ‘dictya’ (Greek), a net. This is referring to the fine network of veins in the leaflets.

Common Names:           Mountain karee, (Eng), bergkaree(Afr), motshakakhutshakhu (Nso), motshotlwane (Tsw) and mushakaladza  (Ven).

SAF Number:                  387                         Zim Number:                  498

Form:               A small to medium tree.

Size:                                   4- 5 m (– 9 m) by 4 – 5 m  (- 8 m).


  • Dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate plants).
  • The unisexual flowers are small.
  • Flowers are in longish sprays at the end of branches.
  • Male plants produce more flowers than female plants.

Colour:               Pale yellow to creamy yellow

Searsia leptodictya flowers are small, pale yellow to creamy-yellow and borne in sprays towards the end of branches.

The two side leaflets of the Searsia leptodictya leaf are almost 90 degrees to the terminal leaflet.


  • Flowers not fragrant.
  • Crushed leaves have a distinctive ‘Anacardiaceae’ smell.


  • Evergreen, light green.
  • Trifoliolate, leaflets are lanceolate 2.5 – 11 cm by .5 – 2.5 cm.
  • Side leaflets almost 90° to the terminal leaflet.
  • Margins are almost always serrated.
  • Crushed leaves have a distinctive ‘Anacardiaceae’ smell.

Thorns:                          No thorns.


  • The fruit is a small flattened diamond shape, yellowy-green with red edges, ripening to a golden brown.
  • The fruit are borne in profuse bunches at the end of branches.
  • Each fruit contains 1 seed.
  • Edible, pleasant but sourish taste.

Bark:         The bark is rough, dark brown, branchlets are reddish.

In the Garden:

  • Its soft, graceful and feminine appearance makes this a good feature tree for the smaller garden.
  • Very versatile, it can be used as a shade tree, for screening and wind breaks.
  • A must-have tree for bird friendly gardens.
  • A good tree for pavements and parking lots.
  •  Water-wise.

Soil Needs:     Grows in most soil types.


  • A low maintenance garden tree.
  • Fast growing while young, around 1 m per year.
  • Prune to create a good shape.

The flattened fruit of Searsia leptodictya contains one seed and turns golden-brown when ripe.


Searsia leptodictya, Mountain Karee, trees planted on a pavement in North Riding.


Many birds, like this Karoo Thrush, like to nest in Searsia leptodictya trees.

Cold Hardiness:        Cold hardy, may lose its leaves after bad frost.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy, but thrives with regular watering.
  • Water-wise

Light Requirements:     Full sun or light shade.

Roots:             The roots are not aggressive.


  • The fruit are eaten by many different bird species.
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Provides nesting sites for many garden birds.

Bees, Butterflies and other Insects:

  • Possible host to larva of Burnished Opal in Gauteng and other species elsewhere.

Medicinal:                       Leaves, roots and bark are said to be used in traditional medicine

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Fruit is eaten by humans and is used to brew a potent beer.
  • Leaves are browsed by stock and various game species.
  • The wood is used to make small furniture pieces.

 Natural Distribution:

  • Occur in northern NC, north-western FS, eastern Bot, NW, G, M, L, Swa and in Zim.
  • There is also an isolated population in north-western Namibia.
  • The distribution extends to Angola and Malawi.

 Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, savanna-bushveld, savanna-lowveld, and savanna-woodlands.
  • Grows in woodlands, in forest margins, but most often on hillsides and on rocky outcrops.

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) 2012 & 2018