Combretum molle

Botanical name

Combretum molle (SA No 537)

Other names

Velvet bushwillow; basterrooibos (Afrikaans); mlama (Swahili); umbondwe (Zulu); Combretum atelanthum, C. gueinzii and C. holosericeum




Small or medium sized tree of up to 13 m in height with usually a rounded crown; ever-green to deciduous

Description of stem

Rough grey, light brown to black bark, sometimes fissured; often a contorted trunk, leaning or bent, branching unevenly; there are reddish hairs on branchlets

Description of leaves

Elliptic or round, leathery, opposite; soft and dense hairs on both surfaces; the net-veining more noticeable below; apex tapering to a sharp tip, base lobed, margin entire, stubby short petiole; the young leaves are attractively light pink to orange; the autumn leaves also have attractive colour changes to red, brown and coppery

Description of flowers

Yellow or light green, sweet-scented axillary spikes of around 7 cm on stalks with bracts present; appear in spring to early summer with or before the new leaves; attracts bees and other insects

Desciption of seed/fruit

Characteristic combretum-type four-winged seed of about 2 cm in diameter; light green with some reddish hue, turns noticeably red-brown when dry; persisting for several months or into the next flowering season

Description of roots

Puts down a taproot


Highly variable over the large distribution area, especially as far as leaf shape and the amount of hair on the leaves are concerned

Propagation and cultivation

Grown from seed, root suckers or truncheons, well-drained soil


As a large distribution area plant with much variability, it is successfully adapting to different environmental challenges, a likely basis for more future differentiation


Leaves are used in traditional medicine for dressing wounds; used as an antidote for some snakebites; root decoctions are used in treating abortion and constipation; bark boiled in water is used for treating acne and the common cold; also used to treat some animal diseases; the wood is fairly termite-proof, used as fence-posts and to make small implements;  red and yellow dyes are obtained from the leaves and roots respectively; leaves are browsed by livestock and game; several bird and insect species frequent the flowers for food

Ecological rarity

Common, spread over most of Africa

Pests and diseases



Mollis = soft


Open woodland or bushveld over a large range of altitudes from coastal areas to over 2300 m; rocky slopes and quartzite outcrops, often close to termite mounds

Distribution (SA provinces)

Northern Cape; Free State; Kwazulu-Natal; North West; Gauteng; Mpumalanga; Limpopo


South Africa; Swaziland; Mozambique; Namibia; Botswana; Angola; Zimbabwe; Zambia; Malawi; DRC; Tanzania; Kenya; west into Senegal; Sudan; Ethiopia; Somalia; Yemen

Info, Palgrave and other sources

Category: Trees