A small to medium sized deciduous tree with a soft and feminine appearance. It is a good choice to plant in lawns, as its open canopy allows enough light through to allow the grass to grow up to the stem. Drought and cold hardy, Senegalia caffra, the Common Hook Thorn, is a suitable tree for most gardens.

Senegalia caffra, Common Hook Thorn, growing in a lawn in a park near Klerksdorp.
Family:                       LEGUMINOSAE           (Pea-Family) Sub-Family:              MIMOSOIDEAE           (Thorn Tree Sub-family) Name Derivation:
  •  Senegalia  – after Senegal, the West African country.
  • caffra – from Kaffraria, a former name for South Africa.
Common Names:
  • Common hook thorn (Eng), wag-‘n-bietjiedoring (Afr), motholo (Nso), umtfolo (Swa),   mbvhinya-xihloka (Tso) morutlhare (Tsw), muvunḓa-mbaḓo (Ven), umnyamanzi (Xho) and umtholo (Zul).
SAF Number:                  162                         Z Number:            174
The caterpilar-like flower spikes of Senegalia caffra, the Common Hook Thorn.
The creamy flowers of Senegalia caffra are on caterpillar-like spikes.
    Form:            Small to medium tree, soft and feminine in appearance. Size:              5 – 8m (-14) by 4 – 8m Flower:
  • Creamy-yellow caterpillar- like spikes or catkins, up to 14 cm long, that darken with age.
  • Loose terminal clusters.
Flowering Months:         Sep – Nov, but may flower at any time of the year, seems partly rain dependent.
The leaves of Senegalia caffra, the Common Hook Thorn are bipinnate (twice compound).
  • Deciduous.
  • Leaves are bipinnate, fern-like and drooping (giving the tree a soft, feminine look).
  • Leaves are light green with pairs of pinnae each with many leaflets.
  • Vicious hooked thorns in pairs or single, just below nodes.
  • Mature trees may have very few thorns.
  • Long (17 cm), slender, pointed and slightly recurved pods.
  • Pale brown and in clusters that remain on tree even after opening.
  • Sep to Jan.
Senegalia caffra, the Common Hook Thorn has sharp, hooked thorns.
The pods of Senegalia caffra are up to 17 cm long, slender and slightly recurved.
  Bark:      Older stems have rough, dark brown and fissured bark. In the Garden:
  • A good tree for small or large gardens, hardy and attractive.
  • Its open crown allows enough light through to allow lawn to grow under it.
  • Senegalia caffra adds value to wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds (and browsing game).
  • A water-wise tree.
  • A good security tree for pavements, its thorns make it very difficult to climb.
  • Very suitable and often used for bonsai.
Soil Needs:
  • Will grow in most soils, when planted with lots of compost and some bonemeal, but thrives in deep loam or clay.
  • Plant in sun or partial shade
  • A low maintenance garden tree.
  • Feed and water regularly for first 2 or 3 years to get up to a metre growth per year.
  • Respond well to pruning.
Cold Hardiness:  
  • Cold hardy, but protect young plants for first 2 or 3 years.
A Senegalia caffra growing on a pavement in North Riding.
Water Requirements:
  • Can survive long periods of drought.
  • A very water-wise tree.
Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade, more sun than shade. Roots:                                  Quite aggressive. Birds:
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Flowers and seeds are eaten by many birds.
  • Thorny branches are favorite nesting sites for some birds.
The bark of an old Senegalia caffra tree.

Bees & Butterflies:

  • Bees visit the flowers to collect pollen.
  • In Gauteng a possible larval host to Thorn-tree blue, Velvet-spotted blue, Topaz-spotted blue, Black heart, Mashuna hairtail, Talbot’s hairtail, Black-striped hairtail and Black-tipped scarlet
  • Elsewhere possibly larval host to Mirza blue, Natal spotted blue, Little hairtail, Otacilia hairtail, Dark-banded scarlet, Purple gem and Brilliant Gem.
  • The larvae of Amakosa rocksitter and Von Son’s playboy are said to use the seedpods (to pupate in?).


  • Bark, leaves and roots have medicinal and magical uses.

Poisonous:                       May cause prussic acid poisoning (geilsiecte) in stock. Notes of interest:

  •  Hard and insect resistant, straight stems are used as fence poles.
  • Wood works well to make attractive furniture, but pieces are mostly small.
  • Flowers, pods and leaves eaten by giraffes, kudus, impalas, reedbucks, duikers and especially black rhinos.
  • Bark used for tanning.

 Natural Distribution: WC, EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, G, NW, extreme northern FS, extreme eastern Bot and isolated populations In NC and Zim. Endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:              Woodland and wooded grasslands, often along water courses.



Links to other members of the MIMOSOIDEAE   (Thorn tree sub-family)

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