Ziziphus mucronata

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Botanical Name
Ziziphus mucronata
Rhamnaceae - The buckthorn and jubjube familly.
ZIZZ-ih-fuss muh-kron-AH-tuh
Common Name(s)
English: Buffalo Thorn; Wait-a-bit
Afrikaans: Blinkblaar-wag-'n-bietjie; Haakdoring
IsiXhosa: umPhafa
IsiZulu: umPhafa
Sesotho: Mokhalo
Sesotho sa Leboa: mokgalô
Setswana: mokgalo
Xitsonga: mphasamhala
Tshivenda: mutshetshete
IsiNdebele: Umpafa
siSwati: umLahlabantu
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
  • Small
    Tree4m to 8m
    Shrub50cm to 75cm
    Perennial/ground cover10cm to 20cm
    Bulb20cm to 30cm
    Succulent10cm to 20cm
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Deciduous Plants which completely lose their foliage for part of the year.
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Frost: Hardy The plant can withstand freezing temperatures or frost without artificial protection.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Ziziphus mucronata is said to be one of the most adaptable trees, growing in all types of soil and having the ability to withstand intense heat, cold, frost and drought. The thorns are paired along the stems, one facing forward and the other facing backward. 

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dense clusters: inconspicuous

  • Spring to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • greenish white
Growth Rate
  • Slow 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
  • 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.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
  • 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.
  • Suitable for bonsai A shrub or tree that lends itself to being dwarfed.
  • Suitable for smaller gardens Such plants do not have invasive root systems, remain small or controllable and can often be grown in containers.
  • 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

absent from the Western Cape but throughout the summer rainfall areas of sub-Saharan Africa, extending from South Africa to Ethiopia and Arabia, in woodlands, scrubland, on rocky koppies, open grasslands, beside streams, in valley bottoms and along forest margins

Planting Suggestions

The buffalo thorn will grow in almost any soil type and can withstand heat and cold equally well. Mulch well and water regularly until established. Continue watering and feeding if you wish to speed up the growth process.

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:

Treehelp.com: 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

There are a few of these trees in my wild garden, but they grow extremely slowly and only one has done reasonably well. This is most likely due to the high lime content of my soil and the frequent droughts we experience in our part of the Eastern Cape. I have seen these trees grow handsomely in other areas.

Medicinal Uses

A well respected medicinal tree to which many beliefs and superstitions are attached. Roots, leaves and bark in various guises are used for painkillers, dysentery, respiratory ailments and to treat boils, swollen glands, wounds and sores. The berries are edible and were used by settlers in making porridge and as a coffee substitute. The buffalo thorn is used in connection with burial rites and in other parts of Africa a branch is dragged round the village to protect it from evil spirits.

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Good for respiratory ailments- barks is cut in lengths (always down and not across as this damages the tree and this is boiled for a hour. Lovely earthy smell and taste and will relieve chest pain rapidly. Best use for it is definitely to eat about 5 leaves to stop stomach cramps and for rapid relieve of a runny stomach. We ALL use this in Groot Marico and it works very well!

Hi Jacques
Thanks for your comment. This information will definitely save on doctor's bills!

Has any work been done to isolate the actives in zizipus mucronata leaves and roots

Hi Munakadafa

There have been a number of scientific studies carried out in this area.
'isolate actives Ziziphus mucronata' and
'isolate actives in Zizipus mucronata'
There are many sites listed that refer to this topic.

Kind regards

Good Day,

I am designing landscaping for my property and contemplating of specifying this species as a hedge, along the perimeter of the boundary fence, what is the root behaviour/system, can it be planted in close proximity to the buildings?
Mzi Gcanga

Hi Mzi

The Buffalo thorn has a non-invasive root system and can be planted quite close to permanent structures.

Kind regards

Hi Lorraine,

Can this tree be planted as a hedge?

Hi Mzi

It depends on how tall you want the hedge to grow. If you live in an area where there is plenty of water, the tree may grow up to 8 meters tall. Even as a small tree of 4 meters, this may be a bit too high for a hedge.

Kind regards

This tree is believed to protect homes from lightning.

why to horses eat the bark. only observed it this year. really dry here and they have eaten all the bark off as high as they can reach. regards

Hi Cherry

I have no idea. Perhaps they are hungry or the bark is juicy.

Perhaps someone who knows more about horses will be able to tell us more.

Kind regards

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