A symbol of the river banks, pan edges and marhy places in the lowveld savhana, Vachellia xanthophloea, the Fever Tree, has now become a popular garden subject in southern Africa.

Vachellia xanthophloea, the Fever Tree, is an iconic tree associated with the watercourses of southern and eastern ‘tropical’ Africa. Besides its rather unique and famous lime to yellowish green bark, it is an impressive and stately tree, growing up to 25 or 30 m tall. It can be used alone as a feature tree, or grown to great effect in a grove. Very fast growing, and fairly frost hardy, it is a popular choice for large gardens and estate parks.

Family:                       FABACEAE             (Pea family)

Sub-family:               MIMOSOIDEAE   (Thorn tree sub-family)

Name Derivation:

  • Vachellia  – named in honor of Rev George Harvey Vachell (1799-1839), who collected plants in China while the chaplain to the British East India Company in Macao.
  • xanthophloea – Yellow bark.

Common Names:          

Fever Tree (SA)  Fever Tree Thorn (SA & Z) (Eng), koorsboom (Afr), mosehla (Nso), umhlafutfwa (Swa) nekelenga (Tso), more o mosethla (Tsw), muunga-gwena (Ven) and umholsinga (Zul).

SAF Number:                  189                         Z Number:            211


  • A tall, deciduous tree with an open, rounded to spreading crown.

Size:                                  8 – 12 m by 10 – 16 m, but may grow as high as 30 m.


  • Golden-yellow, round, ball- like flowers, 1 – 1.4 cm diameter.
  • Flowers are clustered at the nodes.
  • Prolific flowerer.

Vachellia xanthophloea, Fever Tree flowers are scented, golden-yellow and round, ball-like.

Colour                                 Bright golden-yellow.

Flowering Months:          Aug – Nov.

Fragrance:                         Flowers are sweetly scented.


  • Deciduous or semi-evergreen.
  • Leaves are bipinnate and feathery.
  • Young leaves are light-green but age to darker green.


Vachellia xanthophloea trees bear flowers in profusion and are showy.

Vachellia xanthophloea leaves are twice compounded and feathery, the thorns are straight and sharp.


  • Paired thorns are straight, strong and white.
  • Up to 4 cm but smaller on mature trees.


  • The pods are papery and straight or slightly curved.
  • Light  brown.
  • Flat with slight constrictions between the seeds.
  • Pods split open as soon as the seeds ripen.
  • Oct – May.


  • Tall trunk with stout, spreading branches.
  • The bark is lime to yellow-green.
  • The bark is smooth with slight, patterned depressions.
  • The surface is powdery.

In the Garden:

  • Vachellia xanthophloea is really only suitable for large gardens, parks, golf courses and more open spaces in office and housing estates.
  • If space permits, a grove of 5 or more planted with enough space between them is stunning.
  • Sometimes used as a shade tree for parking lots as the tree spread is large and high.
  • Often used in lawns to create a tropical African feel, as most grasses will happily grow right up to their stems.
  • It certainly adds value to wildlife friendly gardens, attracting insects, butterflies and birds.
  • Often used as bonsai subjects.
  • Young plants should be protected against frost.

Soil Needs:

  • Will grow in most soils when planted with lots of compost and some bonemeal, but do best in deep soil.


  • A low maintenance garden tree.
  • Proper planting can produce growth of 2 or more metres in a season .
  • Can be pruned to produce the required shape.
  • Although associated with rivers, marshes and pans, allow them a rest period in winter with no watering.

Cold Hardiness:      Quite cold hardy, but shelter from cold winds and protect young plants from cold in Gauteng.

The bark of Fever Trees are lime-yellow in colour and are smooth and powdery.

Vachellia xanthophloea trees planted as pavement trees. These trees had been planted as saplings 4 years before this picture was taken.

An adult Vachellia xanthoploea tree has an imposing trunk and bole.

Water Requirements:      Likes water in the summer months.

Light Requirements:     Full sun.

Roots:       The tap root is not aggressive, but the lateral roots may well lift paving..


  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Flowers and seeds are eaten by birds and monkeys.
  • Thorny branches are favoured nesting sites for many garden birds.

Bees:   The flowers are very popular with bees.

Insects and Butterflies:

  • Adult butterflies readily feed on the flowers.
  • May well be larval host to some butterflies but this still needs to be confirmed.


  • An emetic made from bark and crushed roots is used to treat malaria.

Honey Bees are attracted to Fever Tree flowers.

Vachellia xanthophloea trees in habitat near Pafuri, northern Kruger National Park.

A stunning Fever Tree in habitat next to the Nsumo Pan picnic spot in uMkhuze Game Reserve.

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Flowers, pods and leaves eaten by stock and game.
  • The gum is edible and is eaten by baboons.
  • The bark is used traditionally as a good luck charm.
  • The common name, fevertree, originates from the early explorers and travellers thinking that the trees caused malaria.

Natural Distribution:

  • KZN, Swa, M, L, south-eastern Zim and western and central Moz..
  • To the north their distribution extends to Kenya

Natural Habitat:

  • Savanna-lowveld.
  • In groves, most often near water.

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


To go to the “plant blog” click on the plant name below the picture.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2013 & 2019.