Vachellia xanthophloea

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Botanical Name
Vachellia xanthophloea
Fabaceae - The legume and pod-bearing family. (Pea & Bean Family)
vak-ELL-ee-uh zan-tho-PLEE-ah
Common Name(s)
English: Fever tree; Sulphur Bark
Afrikaans: Koorsboom; Geeldoring
IsiZulu: umHlosinga
Sesotho sa Leboa: mooka-kwena
Setswana: More O Mosetlha
Xitsonga: nkelenga
Tshivenda: munzhelenga
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Large
    Tree18m to 25m
    Shrub3m to 4m
    Perennial/ground cover75cm to 1m
    Bulb80cm to 1.2m
    Succulent1m to 1.5m
  • Medium to Large
    Tree15m to 20m
    Shrub2m to 3m
    Perennial/ground cover60cm to 75cm
    Bulb60cm to 1m
    Succulent60cm to 1m
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Deciduous to Semi-deciduous In warmer areas a deciduous plant may not lose its leaves during winter at all, or may lose its leaves for a very brief period, or may only lose part of its foliage.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Fragrant / Aromatic These plants posses a strong, usually pleasant odour.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Roots Invasive Do not plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Thorns / Spines / Prickles Thorn: A hard, woody, pointed branchlet. Spine: A modified leaf forming a hard, sharp-pointed outgrowth. Prickle: A small, sharp-pointed outgrowth growing from the bark of the plant.
  • Water Loving Plants need a regular supply of water and must not be allowed to dry out for any length of time.
Specific Information

Vachellia xanthophloea is invariably found near a source of water: either where underground water is found or in swampy areas. It has clean-cut branches, sparse leaves and an open, rounded to flattish crown, with a spread of 10 to 12 meters. Vachellia xanthophloea  is immediately eye-catching with its smooth, slightly flaking, greenish-yellow bark which is coated in a yellow, powdery substance. The long, white thorns are noticeable on young trees, but become inconspicuous on mature trees. Given the right conditions the Fever Tree has the potential to grow both tall and wide so should be planted well away from permanent structures. A popular tree for nesting birds for the protection it provides, it is also host to many butterfly species within its natural habitat. This may mean that some or all of the foliage will be stripped when the caterpillars hatch, but the tree soon recovers - it's the price you pay for the pleasure of the butterflies. I was intrigued by the fact that the tree's leaves fold up at night and during extreme heat. The sparse foliage creates a lightly dappled shade - very useful for plants needing just a little shade.

Scroll down the comments section for pictures of adult Fever trees, kindly submitted by William, to whom I am most grateful.

Image of root system kindly loaned by, and property of, Witkoppen Wild Flower Nursery in Johannesburg.

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Small clusters of sweetly scented, round, fluffy flowers.

  • Spring Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • yellow
Growth Rate
  • Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
  • Very Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Accent or Focal Point A plant used to attract the attention because of its colour or form.
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Provides light / dappled shade A tree with an open to sparse canopy, through which varying degrees of sunlight can penetrate.
  • Rock Garden An area constructed of larger rocks, arranged naturally, to emphasise the use of stones as a main element. Generally plants used do not need a lot of care.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

in Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, as well as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and north to Kenya, in depressions and shallow pans where underground water is present or surface water collects after summer rains, in low-lying swampy areas, along the margins of lakes and on river banks

Planting Suggestions

Vachellia xanthophloea needs plenty of water for rapid initial growth, and the plentiful use of compost and mulch is highly recommended. Under ideal conditions the Fever tree will grow up to 1,5m annually. Take care not to damage the tap root.
The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees: Planting a tree
International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting
Tree People: Plant the right way
For those of you who have a clay problem try:
Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Lorraine's Garden Notes

2013: Sadly, the specimen I used for my photos has been defaced by graffiti scratched into the bark, completely ruining the main trunk of this striking tree.

Medicinal Uses

The bark is used for treating fevers and eye complaints.

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hello Lorraine
I have a high failure rate of propagating the fever seeds. out of a thousand I have 187 sapplings.I first heat the seeds in hot water until it has cooled then place them in a plate with tissue paper kept moist,but only a few grow the radical.when the radical is about 10mm long I put them into seedling trays until there are 3 to 4 compound leaves,then I put them into 20ltr bags,50% compost and 50% sand and doing very well. I fertilize every two weeks.

Hi Paul

You seem to have a really good system going but I can imagine your frustration with the poor germination of your seeds.

The fact that the radical fails to emerge suggests to me that those seeds may not be viable. The main reason for this would be that the seed has been infested by an insect of some sort. Have you opened the non-germinating seeds? If so, what have you found inside?

Often the first sign of infested seed is that they float rather than sink. It may be an idea to open up some of the seeds that float to investigate whether they are healthy. Also study the seeds, preferably with a magnifying glass, to see if there are any tiny holes in the seed - a sure sign of infestation.

I found this article with an alternative method of planting Vachellia xanthophloea seed: (It may take a while to load.)

Kind regards

Hi Paul, that sounds about right. The seeds are notoriously difficult to harvest before being destroyed by a tiny beetle in the Bruchidae family. Seed collected from the ground is almost 100% non-viable as a result.

It all depends on where and how your seed was harvested and how it was stored. In nature the seed that germinates best is from pods eaten by elephants or other game as this kills the tiny larvae of the beetle, not as previously thought acting like a scarifying agent in Acacia (Vachellia) xantholophaea and most Acacia (Vachellia) species.

Good seed soaked in warm water until slightly soft germinates rapidly however, a matter of days if kept warm and moist.

Hi Anton

Thanks for your informative and very useful comment!

Kind regards

Hi, my sister in law lives in Pretoria East. She has a few fever trees in her garden and all of a sudden the sides of the trunk and the tops of the branches are going black. She has lost all her leaves as well. Please Help.



Hi John

This does not sound good at all. Unfortunately I do not have sufficient knowledge about tree diseases to make a diagnosis. A couple of pictures would help a great deal.

I do know that the eastern area of Pretoria is quite a bit cooler than the central and western areas, due to the effect of cold winds from the eMalahleni (Witbank) region. Was there perhaps a period during winter when the cold was more severe than usual - perhaps with icy winds - or when there was a lot of frost?

The black bark could also be a result of the dreaded canker which affects Vachellia Xantholophoea.

In this case I would contact an expert Tree Doctor. I have noticed that the costs of this can be quite prohibitive, especially in larger centres. I use an expert in the Western Cape who does on-line consultations at a reasonable price - pictures will be necessary for this. Go to (I can't access his website at present but this is probably just temporary.) For other tree specialists Google 'tree doctor Pretoria'. Note that tree felling businesses will most likely be unable to help.

I would really appreciate it if you could send a few pictures. Other readers may be able to help.

Kind regards

I agree with Lorraine on this.

It's worth remembering in Acacia (Vachellia) xantholophoea that any die back of the bark will be black whatever the cause and the same with exposed wood, it turns pitch black. This doesn't happen over night so any winter damage for example could be showing now.

In my opinion though unless your micro climate is not quite right and you have heavy frost and icy winds it's worth investigating whether its not wood borer damage. This will only be apparent if you cut into a branch and it has holes running down the middle of smaller branches and cavities (and rot to a certain extent) up the sides of the wood in bigger ones. Their activity disrupt the flow of water (sap) causing die off of the bark on that side and higher up in the branches where die back starts in the foliage and living twigs. Some adult beetles also feed on the foliage causing die back.

Pretoria has a number of interesting wood borers that attack Acacia (Vachellia) and can and do cause considerable damage to both native and non native species. You can sometimes notice gum oozing out of holes on the bark initially or nest sites in any cavities.

"Collections from several stressed and dying native Acacia species in bushveld of Northern Pretoria indicate the cause being the existence of a complex community of insects within the wood of these trees, including members of the metallic wood-boring beetles (Buprestidae), longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae), weevils (Curculionidae), and wood-boring moths (Cossidae), Phryneta spinator (fig borer) among others." Drs. Brett Hurley&Jeff Garnas

Depending on how big or mature the trees are it might be worth your while to cut the trees back to healthy wood and bark. Start with the upper branches, cut a damaged one and look at the wood, if its turning a yellow brown colour its sap has been disrupted or it's diseased. Keep cutting if it turns hollow you know its borers then keep cutting until you see clean solid wood again then stop disinfect your saw and then cut cleanly an inch bellow that again. Disinfect again and start somewhere else. When finished stand back and decide on how to restructure the tree if its worth saving.Burn the branches or if present kill the larvae you find and any nests/cocoons.

Alternatively leave well alone and enjoy our native community of beetles, birds wildlife that will feed on them and maybe nest in the dying trees, sometimes they can live for many many years with damage though wind will not be welcome (:

If it is borers remember that the aggregative pheromones the various species produce will attract more and more borers of any species to lay eggs. This means healthy Acacia (Vachellia) in the vicinity could be targeted especially if they are ever wounded, that does initially attract borers too. So removing and pruning branches can itself attract these things so you might have to spray after any physical control, usually once or twice until the cuts heal and produce callous, stopping the production of the attracting sap/gum.

If the trees are not terribly big and it is borer its worth removing them entirely burning and starting again as they are very fast rewarding growers and with Pretorias high rain fall and hot summers shouldn't be long before you have something very nice to look at.

Hi - this is weird.. my friend, an indigenous plant grower, reckons it's the work of a very upset...

Hi All. I am designing a reinforced concrete planter for an office entrance parking, and would like to design it for V. xanthophloea. Can anyone with experience recommend a depth and width that would accommodate the root system sufficiently. I have made the planter very long to accommodate other plants as well as for the lateral root to have room to spread. Thanks, Andreas.

Hmmm Andreas they dont flourish very well in containers after a certain height tending to stall and drop their leaves as the tap root bunches up on itself and forms a hard knot, ultimately the tree starts declining (these also make the worst trees to plant out in the garden as they generaly never take off) so I would think you would need to leave the bottom of the planter open so the roots can go right down into the earth. I've seen a V xanthophloea planted this way reach monster proportions and look very nice in the middle of a circular drive way.

Hi I have recently cut down a branch of our tree and am wondering if it is suitable for using in the fire place or braai.

Hi Brianne

I am sure it would be no problem. Most of this family of trees provide excellent firewood for people all across Africa.

Kind regards

Hi there, I have 6 fever trees on my verge/bank and would very much like to keep them as is - is it possible that if I trim the main stem I could stunt their growth - perhaps this will cause 'sprouting' from the cut point?? Any ideas would be welcome. thanks, Robyn White

Hi Robyn

My sincere apologies for the time it has taken me to reply to your query.

Cutting the trees back will not stunt their growth. The trees will sprout loads of new growth and the shape of the trees will be ruined forever. You will also have to keep cutting them in order to keep them short.This kind of lopping off of the center trunk is often carried out by Eskom, Telcom or town municipalities and the results are ugly, malformed trees.

You don't say where you live so I am unable to estimate how tall the trees will eventually get. These trees can grow anywhere between 6 and 25 meters tall, depending on various factors.

Kind regards

many thanks, your reply was what I expected to hear, The Fever trees are in a residential area, in la Lucia, Durban - and yes, they are going to get enormous. There are 5 on my banked area roadside. Perhaps cut my losses and have them taken down.
regards, Robyn

Hi Robyn

Sadly, I do agree that removal is probably best. You may find it better to plant a variety of large shrubs, which grow only to three of four meters, rather than trees. If you choose carefully, you will provide a safe island with berries, nectar and insects which will draw a variety of birds.

Kind regards

Could anyone please explain to me why the bark of this tree is green?

Hi all,

I moved into my new house last October and one of my favourite trees, the Acacia xanthophloea appears to be dead/dying. I think its quite old. Its a very large specimen (one of the largest Fever trees I have seen in JHB - about 6-8m tall). I didn't notice in winter because I just thought it had lost its leaves but it has no new growth yet and the bark seems very dry and a darker colour than it used to be. I love trees but must admit to not being very good with gardening so I am not even sure how to tell if it is alive and if there is anything that I should be doing to help it if it is still alive. Any advice would be welcome. I have uploaded two files . The first is the tree last year April. The second is the tree a month ago.

Hi Vanessa

Apologies for the tardy reply.
I am not an expert but I am pretty sure this tree was suffering from a canker that seems to be becoming steadily more evident in trees grown in home gardens.

In the first picture, there is a small brownish patch on the tree trunk about level with the top of the fence. There also seem to be some a bit higher up. This would have been the earlier stage of the canker. Once it gets hold the damage spreads quickly. There is not much that can be done about it once it had begun. To read more about this canker, go to the first page of comments and scroll down a long way until you get to the heading 'Fever Tree - Canker?'

Kind regards

Thanks for your help!

Hi Lorraine,

I know its a while since the last post on this species - but I'm hoping you are still interested in the Yellow barked acacia. I have just returned from Tanzania and found many examples of mature yellow barked acacia in the Serengeti with really damaged and gall-like growths on their trunks. Local guides don't know what has caused the damage. Could it be tree's response to elephant bark-stripping? or could it be something to do with damage to the cambium or ant activity?

I'd be grateful for any information or suggestions.

Kind regards,

Sheila Ross

Hi Sheila

I am sorry but I can shed no light on this at all. I suggest contacting a tree doctor - you'll find them by googling 'tree doctor South Africa'

Perhaps another reader will be able to explain this phenomenon.

Kind regards

Please indicate where I can get seeds of fever treees. At what time are they ripe to plant?



Hi Chris

The seeds ripen towards the end of summer into autumn. They are listed in the catalogue of Silverhill Seeds at

Kind regards

My favourite tree is the fever tree!

I've got one in a pot (as we're renting accommodation and I want to take it with us when we move). My plan is to repot it into a bigger one when it grows. I've noticed in the last week or so that the leaves aren't opening anymore, some are starting to fall off, and it seems to be drying out. I've read most of the comments and replies on this page and I've a feeling I've not been giving it enough water. I've rectified that problem. My question is: can it be saved from here?! :(

If not, can you give me some tips on how to keep the next one alive (potted for the short to medium term) if it doesn't make it?


Hi Glenn

As to whether the tree will survive depends entirely on how dry it got in the first place and the amount of damage the roots suffered.

Vachellia do not seem to thrive in containers so you need to keep a careful watch on it. The temperature in containers can get hot enough to cook the roots, so keep it in shade or partial shade during hot weather. Water sparingly in autumn and winter and copiously during spring and summer. Depending on the length of time the plant is containerised, feed it with a suitable organic fertiliser. If you are in the Western Cape, make sure the pot is in an area where it gets very little rain during the winter months.

Kind regards


I love the fever tree and am delighted to see that many have succeeded in planting them in Table View CT. I'm wondering if the thorns ever provide a problem in terms of dropping to the ground, kids stepping on them etc?

Many thanks

Hi Roger

Apologies for not replying to your comment long ago.

Yes this will be a problem, especially as the tree ages and the older twigs become brittle. They are very sharp and go straight through the shoes and into the flesh. Nasty.

Kind regards

Hi Lorraine,

I live in Harare and one of my fever trees is weeping sap excessively. None of the others are at all, but this one has a lot. Do you know why this could be?

Thanks for you time,


Hi Lucy

My sincere apologies for not having replied to your post.

The tree is infested with either aphid or white fly. These little sucking insects suck sap from the tree stems and secrete 'honeydew', a sugar-rich sticky liquid.

Kind regards


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