Pink Ivory

Common name : Red Ivorywood

Scientific Name : “Berchemia zeyheri”


Previous Names: Phyllogeiton zeyheri, Rhamnus zeyheri.

Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family).  This family mainly contains trees and shrubs.  It has about 58 genera and 900 species.  In the RSA, there are 9 genera and 203 species.

Name derivation: Berchemia named after M Berchem, a French botanist in the 17th century.  Zeyhrai named after Carl L. P. Zeyher: noted German botanist for his fundamental work on Flora Capensis (a systematic description of the Plants of the Cape colony and neighboring territories).  There are 3 species of the genus Berchemia in southern Africa.

Tree, Fruit and Flowers


             This unarmed Tree is up to 12+m high.  The Trunk is straight with a diameter up to 36cm ending in a rounded, leafy crown.  Young branches are green and galls may occur on these branches).  Young twigs (1-year-old current branch segments) may be a reddish purple.  The Bark is initially smooth and grey.  Older trees have bark that is darker and cracked into longitudinally running segments, which may appear rectangular.


              The yellowish green, 5-merous Flowers are small (up to 16mm long and 4mm wide).  They occur in small axillary clusters and are supported by thin pedicles (flower stalks) that are usually up to 18mm long.  Flowers are actinomorphic (Regular, symmetrical.  Flowers are vertically divisible into similar halves by more than 1 plane passing through the axis).  Flowers have 5 ovate Sepals with a keel on the inner face.  Speculate (shaped like a spatula with a broad rounded end) Petals are shorter than the sepals.  The Disc (more or less fleshy or elevated development of the receptacle) is swollen.  The 5 Stamens are situated opposite the petals and inserted outside the disc.  The Anthers open through longitudinal slits.  

This usually deciduous tree has delicate attractive Leaves that are opposite or nearly so. They are thin and simple (has a single blade, which may have incisions that are not deep enough to divide the blade into leaflets).  In winter, the leaves may turn yellow or a clear golden color before falling.  They are elliptic to ovate and up to 6 x 3,5cm but usually smaller.  Blade.  The shiny, usually hairless leaves are thin, dark green, blue-green or grey-green above and slightly lighter below.  Young leaves are initially bright green and change when mature.  Lateral veins end at the leaf margin and form a herringbone pattern.  The veins protrude and are thus more visible below.  The Apex is round or bluntly pointed and may be notched.  The Base is round or narrowed or notched and may be reddish.  The Margin is often entire (with a continuous margin, not in any way indented) but may be scalloped between lateral veins.  The Petiole (leaf stalk) is short – up to 5mm long.  It is channeled and slightly twisted on top and may be a reddish-purple.


              The small (up to 14 x 5mm), smooth and ellipsoidal Fruit is a drupe (a fleshy, 1-seeded indehiscent fruit with the seed enclosed in a stony endocarp; stone fruit e.g. peach).  A persistent Style may be present at the apex.  It is fleshy, like a very small peach fruit.  The fruit is situated on long thin pedicles (flower stalks).  The initially green fruit turns yellow or red when mature.  (Dec-May).

Distribution & Ecology

                                       The Tree is endemic in southern Africa, It is located in the bushveld (is a sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of southern Africa), rocky hillsides, stony ridges, bushy stream banks, dry forests and termite mounds from low to medium altitudes.  It is drought resistant but sensitive to frost.  Trees are common in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga e.g. near Middelburg, Gauteng e.g. Hartbeespoort Dam – close to Pretoria, Limpopo, North West, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique. 

The Flowers attract bees and other insects.  This is a heavily browsed plant.  Baboons, monkeys and bushbabies eat the Fruit.  Birds including Loeries (turacos), Doves bulbuls and Green Pigeons also eat the fruit.  Impala and Nyala eat both the fruit and leaves.  Porcupines eat the Bark.


                                      The sweet, sticky Fruit is edible and good tasting.  It is much sought after and can be dried and stored for future use.  Local people sell the fruit.  The lovely bright red or pink, very hard, dense Wood has a fine texture and polishes well.  It is used for the manufacture of quality furniture, ornaments, fence poles, knife handles, knobkerries and bows.  Sapwood is pale cream and heartwood is an attractive pinkish red.  The wood is resistant to insect attack but difficult to plane.  A purplish dye is extractable from the Bark.  The wood takes a long time to air-dry.  Propagation is easily carried out using cleaned seed but the plant is slightly frost sensitive.  This is a good bird, bee and butterfly tree.


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