Calodendrum capense

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Botanical Name
Calodendrum capense
Rutaceae - The rue, buchu & citrus family.
kal-oh-DEN-drum ka-PEN-see
Common Name(s)
English: Cape Chestnut; Wild Chestnut
Afrikaans: Kaapse Kastaiing; Wildekastaiing
IsiXhosa: umBhaba; Umemezi; Umsitshana
IsiZulu: Umbaba; uMemezi omhlophe
Sesotho sa Leboa: Molalakgwedi; Mookêlêla
Tshivenda: Muvhaha
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
  • Medium to Large
    Tree15m to 20m
    Shrub2m to 3m
    Perennial/ground cover60cm to 75cm
    Bulb60cm to 1m
    Succulent60cm to 1m
  • Small to Medium
    Tree8m to 15m
    Shrub75cm to 1m
    Perennial/ground cover20cm to 40cm
    Bulb30cm to 40cm
    Succulent20cm to 40cm
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Attractive fruits, berries or seeds Brightly coloured fruits or berries increase and extend the visual impact of the plant and are especially attractive to birds and other small wildlife.
  • Deciduous Plants which completely lose their foliage for part of the year.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Water Moderate These plants will need some extra watering compared to water-wise plants. Plant them together, in at least some shade and in a convenient proximity to the house so that grey water can be utilised during times of drought.
Specific Information

Caledendron capense has a dense, spreading, rounded canopy when grown in open areas and remains much smaller than when growing in a forest. It is often evergreen close to the coast, but inland it is deciduous, the leaves becoming a lovely yellow in autumn. (In Bathurst, ten kilometers from the coast, it is deciduous, while specimens in Port Alfred are usually evergreen.) The Cape chestnut seldom flowers before it is 7 or 8 years old and does not always flower successfully when grown in a garden situation. The seeds pods are large, rounded and have a knobbly texture.

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each flower has five long, pale pink petals with five sterile stamens, also pink but marked with purple to maroon

  • 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.
  • pink
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to 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.
  • 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.
  • Provides light / dappled shade A tree with an open to sparse canopy, through which varying degrees of sunlight can penetrate.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • 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

from Swellendam in the Western Cape, through the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Gauteng, North West and Northern Province to Ethiopia, in forests, ravines, and less frequently in scrub and riverine bush

Planting Suggestions

Calodendrum capense needs a warm sunny position in fertile, well-composted soil with plenty of water during spring and summer. Protect the tree from strong, persistent winds so as to retain its rounded shape. Young plants need protection from frost, but once established should be able to survive to -7°C. Flowering is adversely affected by very cold weather. Under ideal conditions the Cape chestnut can grow up to a meter a year.

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

Medicinal Uses

The bark is sold at traditional medicine markets for use in skin ointments. Oil, suitable for making soap, is extracted from the crushed and boiled seeds. The seeds are said to have magic properties, and Xhosa hunters tied them around their wrists to bring them good hunting.

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Is this plant toxic to livestock - Sheep and cattle.

Hi Jenny

I have been able to find no references to this plant being toxic to livestock, nor have I ever heard any such reports. If a plant is toxic, one can usually find studies and warnings on the web. I would suggest it is safe but cannot guarantee this as I am not an expert.

Hope this helps.

Thank you. I have searched the net and found nothing also. It looks like I can safely plant this in Western Australia.

Many thanks
Jenny Staker

Hi Jenny

I agree - I don't think there is any danger from them. They are so beautiful in full flower although it does take some years before they bloom.


do cape chestnuts seek out sewage and water mains

Hi Jo

I think this would be most unlikely. According to the following two very reliable sources, the Cape Chestnut has a totally non-aggressive root system.


Kind regards

I am desperately looking to buy a Cape Chestnut tree in the Somerset west, Stellenbosch, Cape Town or Paarl area. I have tried various nurseries without luck.
Please help :)

Hi Kelly

As I avoid naming specific business/supplier information on the website, I have emailed my suggestions to you.

Kind regards

Hi Kelly

Did you find one, I have a very young one that got top heavy and got hurt. I am looking for a more mature one if mine does not recover.

I will let you know where I found mine if you are still searching.

I have a Cape Chestnut tree and it is just not growing and only has a few leaves.
What am I doing wrong or incorrectly. I have had the tree for 5 years.
Thanks Colleen

Hi Colleen

Without information about where you are situated, your soil quality, water supply and so on, I am unable make any suggestions.

Even though Cape chestnuts grow wild in the veld all around me, I have also had a problem growing this tree on my property. My two trees were over thirty years old but had never grown more than two to three metres tall, had few leaves and never flowered. I trimmed, fertilised, mulched and watered to no avail. My soil is a bit alkaline and this is the only reason I can think of as to why my plants did not thrive. After giving them a few more years to show some recovery I gave up and removed them.

Kind regards


I am trying to find a reliable nursery that stock these in the Mosselbay Area.
Looking forward to your response.

Hi Adriaan

Unfortunately I am unable to access nursery stock lists from the entire country. Phone your local nurseries. If they do not have the tree in stock, ask them to check if their wholesale stockists carry the plant and request the nursery to order that plant for you.

Kind regards

I have searched for years to find a Cape Chestnut tree. At last my son surprised me and found one hidden somewhere in the backyard of a nursery. I would like to purchase more of these trees, please help me find a nursery somewhere in the Western Cape. I would also like to buy a true, or sweet chestnut tree as I remember a huge tree growing in the Franschoek district when I was a child in the early 1950's. There was a tea garden and my mother loved the place. While she sipped her tea, I gathered chestnuts under the amazing tree. The tree is still there, but the tea garden is long gone. I am going to ask my son to take me there to walk in my childhood footsteps. I am sure the new owner would not mind.

Hi Renee

I apologize most sincerely for not having replied to you sooner.

I so enjoyed reading your comment. I grew up with a true chestnut in our garden in Johannesburg in the late fifties. It was such a beautiful tree but the spines were forever getting into my feet.

For all the talk of 'going indigenous', it is amazingly difficult to purchase many of our lovely indigenous plants.

Here is one route you can use:

Contact New Plant Wholesale Indigenous Nursery at Ask them for a list of all the nurseries they supply in the Western Cape, check that they have Calodendrum capense in stock, and perhaps what sizes are available. As they are wholesalers they will not sell to you privately and they are not likely to quote prices either.

Next visit. phone or email the nurseries on your list and see if any one of them has the tree in stock, and if not, ask one of them to order it from Newplant for you.

I hope you are able to visit your chestnut tree - such pleasurable memories.

Kind regards

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