Cussonia spicata

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Botanical Name
Cussonia spicata
Araliaceae - The ivy and cabbage tree family.
koo-SOH-nee-ah spee-KAH-tah
Common Name(s)
English: Common cabbage tree; Lowveld cabbage tree
Afrikaans: Gewone Kiepersol; Sambreelboom; Waaiboom
IsiXhosa: umSenge
IsiZulu: umSenge
Sesotho: umSenge
Sesotho sa Leboa: Motshetshe
Tshivenda: Musenzhe
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
    Tree10m to 16m
    Shrub1m to 2m
    Perennial/ground cover40cm to 60cm
    Bulb40cm to 60cm
    Succulent40cm to 60cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • 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
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate The plant is moderately adapted to arid conditions and can survive short periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Frost: Hardy The plant can withstand freezing temperatures or frost without artificial protection.
  • 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.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

Cussonia spicata​ produces its deeply divided leaves at the ends of thick branches in large round heads and is an ornamental subject for the garden. The grey, corky bark and unusual flower heads add to its interest. The small fruits are 4-6 mm in diameter, purple-brown and highly attractive to birds. Hardiness depends on the area from which the tree is obtained. Those from frost free areas will not be able to stand up to any frost at all, while specimens from areas where some frost occurs will be able to recover from mild frost.

All the members of this genus form a swollen stem base beneath the ground and care must be taken not to damage this when planting out. Do not plant very close to houses, paving or other structures.

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a large head of tiny flowers on thick-set spikes resembling a strange candelabra

  • Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • greenish yellow
Growth Rate
  • Moderate 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.
  • Container Trees, shrubs and ornamental species that can adapt to growing in a restricted environment.
  • 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.
  • 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 the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng,  Limpopo, North West, extending through to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and reaching into tropical Africa, in open terrain, on hillsides and rocky outcrops, in montane grassland, bracken scrub and forest margins, in wetter areas

Planting Suggestions

Cabbage trees respond favourably to a well-prepared hole with compost and bone meal mixed with the soil. Mulch well to retain water and water regularly, especially when young.

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 leaves of Cussonia spicata are traditionally used as a treatment for indigestion. The mashed roots, which are succulent and edible, have been used for the treatment of Malaria and as a food source in times of need.A root decoction is used to treat fever, venereal disease, as a diuretic and laxative and to treat mental illness.

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I have a Cussonia (not sure which variety) which has been planted out for 8=10 years. Its leaves have withered and are browned, hanging down very sadly. I have no idea what ails this tree, which has not been disturbed in any way. The trunk feels firm, not soggy or mushy. Any suggestions?

Hi Arlene

When I lived in Johannesburg our Cussonia lost its leaves every year in autumn, but this seems much too early for that. We also once had a caterpillar attack and that caused a die-off. Check the crown - one of my cussonias was invaded by a snout beetle (I think) and the leaves went yellow and fell off and after that the entire crown rotted. I cut all the rot away and the tree recovered.

Consider the weather as well. Have you had any unusually high temperatures, exceptionally hot winds or perhaps far more rain than usual? It is possible that although the trunk is yet firm, the caudex below the ground is either in the process of rotting or may have been damaged in some way.

Do let me know in what area you live as well as where the tree is planted and what the weather has been like this last season, as it would be easier to make any suggestions as to what you could do.


Hi I read this article and I am having the same issue here.

I have a cussonia bonsai for a few months now and lately it's leaves are also hanging down and the trunk feels a bit soft. Is this suppose to happen or is there anything I can do to save it.


Hi Chris

Apologies for the slow reply. This does not sound good. If the trunk is soft it is probably too late to save the plant. It seems to me that it is in the process of rotting, possibly from too much water or poor drainage. I would remove the plant from the pot to check if the caudex is also soft. If not I would cut all soft parts away, allow to dry a bit and replant. If the caudex is soft I doubt that anything can be done.

Hope you can save your - plant let me know what happens.


Hi All

If someone could be so kind to assist me.

Is it at all possible to cut the stem/trunk shorter? Will new leaves eventually shoot out?

My one is a meter high and relatively thin. It is healthy but would love to cut it shorter in order to "bonsai" it

Eastern Cape

Hi Jonty

It's a bit dicey but it can be done. I googled Cussonia bonsai images, and some of the specimens have clearly been cut. I was given two potted specimens C. thyrsiflora that had broken off a few cm from the base and they are leafing well, but those in the garden which broke off in high winds did not recover.

I am not a bonsai expert though, so hopefully someone else will respond. You could also contact the Eastern Province Bonsai Society ( for information.

Kind regards

Hey Jonty, the one I had was cut off at an 45 degree angle when I got it and it did sprout again, just don't over water the plant like I did :(


From my experience, you should be able to cut the stem back to whatever height you want. We have one growing in Southern California and when it had a trunk about 3 meters + high, one of our strong winds snapped it off at less than 2 meters. It quickly regrew--branching into 4 stems. It is now well over 7 meters high.

So. Calif.

I have a smallish cussonia that's suffering from a disgustingly smelly sap-like substance running down the bark. the leaves are yellow and droopy. I know that once before the tree had that caterpillar infestation but was saved. do you think it's a spreading 'infection' and should I cut it down? It's planted out - not in a pot.


Hi Alexander

Your description reminds me of a similar problem I had with one of my Cussonias. I was unable to identify the cause but the symptoms were very similar to the gooey mess made by snout beetles on aloes. The whole head actually fell off, leaving a mushy mess at the top of the trunk. In desperation I cut the trunk about 15 centimeters below the damage. The tree soon sent out a new head and has been healthy ever since.

All I can suggest is that you do the same and hope for the best. A few of my Cussonias have been snapped off by wind and most of them recovered. I think that the large caudex type root holds a sufficient store of food, allowing the tree to re-grow successfully.

I hope this helps and that your tree recovers.

Kind regards

Hi there

I've recently moved into a new house and it has a huge kiepersol in the front.. Today I noticed a substantial amount of the new leaves all covered in bubbles. On closer inspection they were sticky and on the underside I could see I number of aphid like bugs...

Any ideas on how I can treat this and kill off those nasty things?


Hi Irvin

That's quite an intense infestation. It is caused by an insect called Psylla and is unsightly and damaging to the plant. The adults are as you describe them: small insects that look like aphids with wings. The young are flat, disc-like insects that feed on the undersides of the leaf, causing the pits you see on the leaves. If heavily infested, the leaves will turn yellow and drop off.

I have never seen this on Cussonias before, although White Milkwoods, Cape Ash and White Ironwood are often infested.

The insecticides Metasystox or Chlorpyrifos are indicated for the control of this pest. The leaves must be sprayed with quite a fine spray (windless day!) paying special attention to the undersides of the leaves - easier said than done. I don't usually like to use chemicals but in a case like this but I know of no alternative solution.

Hope this solves your problem.

Hi Lorraine!
Thanks so much for your advice. The tree is absolutely huge! So I'm wondering how the spraying is going to work out! I'm actually considering cutting as much off of the infected leaves as possible as pretty much all the new leaf clusters are infected. Then spray as the new growth comes up. Good idea or not? I'll try get a pic or two of the tree to load up so you can see the dilemma I'm in...

Thanks again!

Hi Irvin

Yes that is what I would probably do in your position. It would also be a good idea to burn the leaves and stems that you cut off. I'll be grateful for a pic of the tree.


HI Lorraine...

Okay, a year later and the problem persists.. I actually lost the link to this website and today I was adamant of finding it!
Beginning of the year I was treating the tree with Alphicide Plus (efekto) systemically.... Well, no go... About 2 months back I thought I would try it neat, threw an entire bottle round the roots, watered like crazy.... yeah, I think these bugs thrived off it!

Glad though I found this post so I can go searching for the insecticides.
FInally, here's a pic of the tree...


Hi Irvin

Good grief! I have never seen an infection as bad as this.

Not all poisonous chemicals kill all insects. Psylla is particularly difficult to kill and only certain chemicals have any effect.

I checked the target insects on the package insert for Aphicide Plus ( and Psylla are not mentioned. The product targets aphid, mealy-bug and scale insects. The active ingredient is 'Imidacloprid' and this chemical will do nothing to Psylla - as you have discovered.

The package insert does, however mention that the product is toxic to bees, fish and wild life. Bluntly put, the tree is now a poison bomb. Any plants below the tree with roots near the tree, as well as the tree itself, are now set to kill bees, useful insects such a praying mantids and ladybirds, fruit and insect eating birds, lizards and geckos,...the list goes on. I have not been able to discover how long the effects of this poison last, but I would assume that, as the poison is in the sap, it will be quite a long time before the effects of the poison wear off.

The chemicals needed to kill Psylla are: Chlorpyrifos, dimethoate or oxydemeton-methyl.

As I mentioned previously, you need to use Metasystox or Chlorpyrifos, and it has to be sprayed directly onto both sides of the leaves. These products are also harmful to other insects in the immediate area of the affected leaves, but will wash off and will not continue to flow through to the leaves, flowers, pollen and fruit, so will not affect birds and other wildlife.

Kind regards

I would really appreciate your advice and info regarding the above tree.
I live on a very small plot, and decided 12 years ago when i bought the property to invest in a Kiepersol tree.
I planted it in a alleyway next to my house. This space being about 3 met wide. It has flourished, grown to a height of about 8 met and just gets bigger, and more beautiful!
I noticed it seems to have a vigorous root system.
I would like to know if the root system would eventually cause damage to my boundary wall, and the foundation of my house?

If so what do i do and how do i go about doing it?

Thanking you

Regards Liz Karaiskos

ps I live in Johannesburg

Hi Liz

The Kiepersol does have an invasive root system and should not be planted close to walls, pools or paving as the roots will eventually cause damage to these structures.

You have the following options:

Leave it where it is and hope for the best.

Dig trenches about half a meter from the walls on either side of the tree and cut off any roots that appear to be heading towards the walls. This should be done every two or three years to keep the roots from invading these areas. This should not damage the tree but there are no guarantees.

Remove the tree and plant is somewhere else. Due to the size of the tree, this would be a large undertaking and it would be best to get a specialist tree company to carry out this task. I googled 'tree transplant company Gauteng' and found a number of specialists that provide this service.

Kind regards

Hi ... How do I grow a cabbage tree from cuttings ?
I have one & wish I could grow several from it ...

Thanx !

Our cussonias are infested with ghastly emperor caterpillars. The leaves are being massacred and the worms fall out of the trees and are crawling around all over the place. It is really a creepy situation and we have to keep our Jack Russel inside all the time. How can I get rid of these awful caterpillars? Is there an environmentally safe spray that we can use? I have considered pouring ant poison around the trunk of the trees?

Hi Louise

If you are not a caterpillar lover, this must be a nightmare! I also find these huge caterpillars rather repugnant.

Pouring ant poison round the trunk is unlikely to help much. Margaret Robert's Biological Caterpillar Insecticide is environmentally safe and is available at nurseries and some hardware stores. From what I understand (and I might well be misinformed), it works a bit slower than other poisons, because it prevents the caterpillar from being able to digest its meal, effectively starving it, but it does work and leaves no harmful residues. For more information go to and scroll down to 'Margaret Roberts (Dipel DF).

Alternatively (and only if you feel you have to), you can use Chlorpyrifos - also available from nurseries and hardware stores.

For interest, the latin name of the moth from which this larva comes is Bunaea alcino, and, wait for this: like the Mopane worm, it's edible!

Please, please upload a picture.

Kind regards

Our cabbage tree is literally crawling with these Emperor Moth Caterpillars !
How does one get rid of them ? There is almost nothing left of the cabbage tree... And also not a sight for the feint-hearted...

Hi Louise

Thanks for the picture. Hope you are rid of them soon. Your Cabbage tree will most likely bounce back with a crop of new shoots as soon as the caterpillars gone.

In the mean time, you have my sympathies. I don't mind caterpillars if they stay reasonably unnoticeable but these things get so big!

Kind regards

Thank you so much for your interest and concern Lorraine. It was indeed a hair-raising experience. We have been living for 9 years at this address and this is the first time that these bizarre creatures have paid us such a scary visit! I could not bear them creeping all over on our patio and garden and we tossed at least a good hundred over the wall into the undeveloped stand on the other side of our property - just to get rid of them. Today there were a lot less of them and this afternoon the hornbills and coucals had a feast of juicy caterpillars. It was quite comical to see the long caterpillars hanging out of their beaks! What an unbelievable cycle of events! Our friend and tree-fundi, Prof Braam van Wyk, tried to convince us to relax and enjoy this new and rare phenomenon! I have serious doubts about the enjoyment, and am relieved that the worst of the massacre is over! There is literally nothing left of the leaves of one of our Cussonia spicata's and I trust that it will recover before the winter sets in. Thank you very much that I could share this nerve-racking experience with you, for which we were not prepared in any way! Kind regards! Louise

Hi Louise

I'm glad to hear that your harrowing experience is over. Caterpillar invasions don't last long thank goodness as the larva grow very fast and soon disappear underground or in odd nooks and crannies to pupate.

Professor van Wyk (whose books are invaluable) is quite right in that this is just a natural phase of nature - and gives the birds a boost of healthy food before winter.

I have added a couple of pictures of an Emperor moth I found in my garden recently, although I don't know if this was the specific culprit in your case.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Kind regards

Hi. I have just had a builder dig up my concrete lounge floor because it was lifting. Found huge root system underneath. I have a cabbage tree about 4 meters from the house. Could it be its roots ?

Hi Jeni

My sincere apologies for not having replied to your query.

I do know that Cabbage trees are known to have an invasive root system but had no idea that they could be this invasive. My first query would be whether you have any other trees in the vicinity. A Coral tree for instance, even if further away from the house, would be a likely culprit.

By this time I am sure you have traced the root system to its source. I guess I have no right to ask, but please, please let me know if this was from the Cabbage tree. If not, where did the roots originate? If you have a photo I would love to see it. First hand experience is so much more useful than book facts.

Kind regards

Hi - we have a very old cabbage tree in our garden - it must be over 15m high but has grown at an angle and is now hanging over the neighbours house. The leaves are looking a bit droopy and yellow, but are too high for me to see what the issue is. I'm concerned obviously it might fall in a high wind but equally sad to see it go. Have scheduled a tree felling but wondered if you had any last minute info to save it!

Hi Kate

Sadly I think it would be wise to remove the tree as the trunk is too old and bent to make any attempt at straightening it. It could well snap off in a high wind and the resultant damage would be costly.

However, I have had a few Cabbage trees, admittedly younger that this, that have regrown after being broken off. You could cut the stem about a one to one and a half meters from the ground and in time it may surprise you by sending out new shoots.

As to the yellowing leaves, your guess is as good as mine. I have had a couple of these trees that have shed most of their leaves for no apparent reason and then produced new foliage.

Hope this is of some use.
Kind regards

Thank you so much for your prompt reply. Great idea re the 1m - 1.5m. I just feel so guilty cutting it down as sure the first owners of this house planted it but am very worried if it falls it may hurt someone and will definitely break the wall. I will ask them to leave 1.5m and hope for the best! If it does not recover, I can put a bird bath on there! Kind regards

Do let me know if the tree does recover as it is quite mature. It may take a few months.

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