An attractive, medium sized, deciduous tree with a rounded crown. Ziziphus mucronata is an iconic tree in Africa and regarded with much reverence and esteem by many African peoples. It makes an ideal shade tree, particularly in colder areas, as it will provide coolness in summer but allow the sun and warmth through in winter. Water-wise and good tree for wildlife friendly gardens.

Family:               RHAMNACEAE        (Dogwood family)

Name Derivation:

  • Ziziphus – a corruption of the Arabic name, ‘zizouf’, of the jujube tree, a member of the genus.
  • mucronata  – (Latin) ‘with a sharp, hard point, apparently referring to the leaf tip.

Common Names:

  • Buffalo-thorn, (Eng), blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Afr), mokgalwa (Nso), umlahlabantfu (Swa), mphasamhala (Tso), mokgalo (Tsw), mutshetshete (Ven), and umphafa (Xho and Zul).

SAF Number:      447                         Z Number:                  567


  • A medium sized, deciduous tree with a spreading crown.

Size:                                   6 – 9 m (–17 m) by 5 – 9 m.


  • The small yellow-green flowers are tightly clustered in the leaf axils.
  • Flowers are rich in nectar and attract many insects.

Colour:                               Yellow-green.

Flowering Months:          Oct – Apr.

Fragrance:                        Not fragrant.

The small yellow-green flowers of Ziziphus mucronata are tightly clustered in the leaf axils

The young twigs of Ziziphus mucronata are distinctly zigzagged from leaf to leaf.



The fruit of Ziziphus mucronata, Buffalo-thorn, is a round drupe that turns brown and remains on the tree for a long time.


  •  Deciduous.
  • The shiny, dark green leaves are simple, ovate, 3- 9 by 1 – 5 cm
  • Asymmetrical and distinctly alternate.
  • The young twigs are distinctly zigzagged from leaf to leaf.
  • The margin is finely serrated, especially the upper portion.
  • Foliage turns yellow to orange in autumn before dropping.


  •  Paired thorns.
  • Each pair has one straight thorn and one hooked.
  • Young plants and branches have many thorns.
  • Older trees have few or even no thorns.


  • The fruit is a round drupe that ripens to yellow, then dark red or brown.
  • There are 2 forms, small fruited (about 1 cm) and large fruited (1.5 – 2.5cm).
  • Fruit skin is shiny and leathery.
  • The pulp is edible, dry and mealy, normally quite thin.
  • The seed is contained within a hard nut.
  • Fruit remain on the tree for a long time, even after the leaves have dropped.


  • Young branches are reddish.
  • Older bark is dark grey and fissured.           

In the Garden:

  • May be used as a medium sized shade tree.
  • It can be used as an impenetrable boundary ‘hedge’.
  • A very good choice for wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and birds.
  • May be pruned (if you are brave enough) to shape.
  • A quick growing tree, up to one and half a metres per year.

Ziziphus muctonata will make a very nice medium sized shade tree.

The each pair of Ziziphus mucronata thorns have one straight thorn and one hooked thorn.

Soil Needs:       Most soil types, best in a rich, well drained soil.


  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against the cold in winter.

Cold Hardiness:                Very cold hardy, but protect young plants.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
  • Water-wise.

Light Requirements:     Full sun, to partial shade.

Roots:     The roots are not aggressive.


  • Insect-eating birds are attracted to the insects that visit these trees.
  • The fruit are relished by many birds, including, apparently, Burchell’s coucal.
  • A popular choice for nesting sites for some garden birds.

Bees and Butterflies:

  • Bees visit trees in flower.
  • Host to Dotted Blue, White Pie, Black Pie, Western Pie and Hintza Blue larva.
  • Known to also be the host plant to the larva of 23 moth species.



Burchell’s Coucal have been reported to eat Ziziphus mucronata fruit.


  • Ziziphus mucronata, Buffalo-thorn, is used to treat lung complaints, and dysentery.
  • Root and leaf decoctions are on boils, wounds and glandular swellings for pain relief as well as to assist the healing process.

Poisonous:      Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Ziziphus mucronata is a protected tree in South Africa.
  • The fruit flesh is dried and ground into a meal that can be cooked into a porridge in times of need.
  • The hard wood is used as fuel for fires.
  • A valuable fodder tree for stock and many browsing game species.
  • Roasted and ground seeds were used by the Boers during the South African War as a substitute to coffee.
  • The leaves can be cooked and used in salads or cooked as a nutritious but not very palatable spinach.

Ziziphus mucronata grows in many habitat types, including open grasslands.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the EC, KZN, Swa, Moz, M, L, G, FS, NC, Nam, Bot, and Zim.
  • North of our area its range extends through Africa and into Arabia.

Natural Habitat:

  • Succulent-Karoo, Nama-Karoo, thicket, savanna-lowveld, savanna-bushveld, savanna-woodland, savanna-Kalahari and grasslands.
  • Found in many habitats, dune forests, woodland and bushveld, open grasslands, rocky ridges and hillsides, and along water courses.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.