Millettia grandis

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Botanical Name
Millettia grandis
Fabaceae - The legume and pod-bearing family. (Pea & Bean Family)
mil-LET-ee-uh GRAN-dees
Common Name(s)
English: Umzimbeet
Umsambeet; Omsambeet
IsiXhosa: umKunye; Umsimbithi
IsiZulu: Umsimbithi; Umsimbithwa
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
  • 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 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.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Roots Non-invasive Safe to plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Loving Plants need a regular supply of water and must not be allowed to dry out for any length of time.
Specific Information

Millettia grandis makes a decorative shade tree with glossy dark green leaves, grey bark, copper coloured young leaves and buds, purple flowers and velvety golden pods. In a moisture rich habitat it is a most handsome specimen.

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large pea-flower, on spikes up to 25 cm in length

  • Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • purple
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.
  • Windbreak Trees planted in a row to form protection from prevailing winds by breaking the force of the wind, thereby reducing wind damage.
Distribution and Habitat

from north of East London in the northern Eastern Cape Province into KwaZulu-Natal, along the coast, especially in the Pondoland area

Planting Suggestions

Mulch well and water regularly, especially during the first year or two for optimum growth of up to 1 meter per year. Millettia grandis comes from a sub-tropical habitat and if grown in drier areas it will need ample water  for it to display at its best.

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 ground seeds are soaked in milk as a remedy for roundworm, but care must be taken as seeds are poisonous in larger quantities.. Powdered root is prepared in various ways as a tranquiliser to dispel worries and to induce sleep.

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Hi there - could you please tell me if there is any reason why plants under a Milletia grandis never thrive. I know the roots are utilised as fish poison and wonder if they actually contaminate the soil. I am re-doing my garden and need to make an informed decision as to what to plant in this area. I am in Durban - Thanks Penny

Hi Penny

I have noticed that my specimen has roots quite close to the surface and this leads me to believe that they gobble the water and nutrients, leaving very little for the plants that try to establish themselves beneath it. I did try plants like plectranthus and variegated hen-and-chickens but they did not thrive, also being greedy feeders and needing a lot of water.

Here is a list of plants that have established themselves and are growing well under and around my Umzimbeet: Chlorophytum comosum (non-hybrid green variety), Barleria obtusa, Othonna capensis, Senecio barbetonicus, Dietes grandiflora, Hibiscus calyphyllus, Felicia and Bauhinia galpinii. This is a dry, water wise garden that relies on rainfall and gets no extra feeding.

My advice is to avoid 'soft' ground covers and shrubs and rather choose non-hybrid plants that do not need much water or rich soil. A thick layer of mulch will go a long way to harbour moisture while it also feeds the soil.

Hope this helps.
Kind regards

You say that bees like the Umzimbeet flowers. My trees have just flowered and the bees descended on the 3 trees from the time the buds started showing. Of course the local birds had a good feast. I was wondering what sort of honey do the bees make from these flowers ie runny or dark or thick. Also is the honey edible if the roots of the tree are poisonous?

Hi Janice

I am afraid I have no idea what sort of honey would result from the Umzibeet and I can only assume that it is highly unlikely that the poisonous roots would have any effect on the honey whatsoever.

Kind regards

Would you give permission to reprint an image of the inflorescence of Millettia grandis in our magazine? It is circulated in less than 1000 copies as a benefit to paid members of the International Wood Collectors Society, a nonprofit organization.
Best regards, Mihaly Czako

I'm looking for a medium sized tree to plant for shade, but it will be about 1 - 2m away from the tar driveway. Would a millettia Grandis be suitable or does it have an invasive root system. My soil is not very deep & is over shale. Can you suggest any other suitable indigenous trees.
Many thanks

Hi Norma

Root system: see above under heading 'General Information'.

Suitability: The Uzimbeet is primarily native to KwaZulu-Natal (see above text) where soils are deep and fertile and rain is plentiful. I have serious doubts that it will thrive in shallow, shale conditions where drainage is fast and the soil usually impoverished.

Suggestions: I am unable to answer this without knowing where you are - please let me know.

Kind regards

Please let me know what is the Ph requirements for this plant?
Thank you.

Hi Adriaan

Apologies for not replying to your query sooner.

I have no idea what the optimum Ph for this tree would be. Mine grows in slightly alkaline soil but I am sure that, like most plants, it will thrive in neutral or slightly off to either side.

Perhaps another reader can be more specific.

Kind regards

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