Ptaeroxylon obliquum

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Botanical Name
Ptaeroxylon obliquum
Rutaceae - The rue, buchu & citrus family.
tuh-ROX-ee-lon oh-BLIK-wum
Common Name(s)
IsiZulu: Ubhaqa; Umthathe
Setswana: Thate
Tshivenda: Mulari; Munari; Munukha-vhaloi
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
  • Very Small
    Tree3m to 4m
    Shrub25cm to 50cm
    Perennial/ground coverUp to 10cm
    Bulb10cm to 20cm
    SucculentUp to 5cm
  • 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: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen to semi-deciduous The plant is evergreen in warmer, wetter parts of the country, but may lose some of its leaves during winter in colder, drier situations.
  • 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 Non-invasive Safe to plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
Specific Information

Ptaeroxylon is a direct Greek translation meaning sneeze and wood; obliquum refers to the oblique leaflets. Sneezewood gets its name from the peppery oils in the wood that cause violent sneezing when it is sawn or sanded. The tree has a small neat crown and attractive, soft foliage. The leaves are easily identified by their distinctly asymmetrical in shape. Foliage sometimes colours in autumn and winter, but the tree is not always deciduous

Sneezewood is an extremely hard and durable timber tree. It often lasts longer than brass or iron when used for machine bearings.

The wood is reported to "burn like paraffin"- giving a bright, hot fire. Vast quantities of huge old trees were felled for fuel and other uses in the past, and the population has never recovered. Sneezewood was used to fuel five lime kilns at Bathurst for the steam tugs at Port Alfred in the 19th century, and was also highly prized for  fence posts, buildings and railway sleepers. Sneezewood beams and fence posts from the 1800's can still be seen in the homes and areas around Bathurst. 

Though Sneezewood is not poisonous, it has been known to cause respiratory complications linked to asthma, rhinitis, and mucosal inflammation to those who work with the wood.

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small, sweetly scented, with four petals with an orange center

  • 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.
  • white
  • cream
  • yellowish
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
  • 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.
  • 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

from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo in South Africa to Tanzania in tropical Africa, in woodland, scrub forest and evergreen montane forest

Planting Suggestions

Although very drought-tolerant, this tree will perform better where rainfall is higher or its natural water supply is supplemented. It reportedly prefers shale or limey soils, but will grow successfully in most well-drained sandy or rocky soil.

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

Traditionally the Sneezewood is used medicinally as well as for ritual purposes. Bark is used as a snuff to relieve headaches and an infusion is reported to be useful in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis. Pieces of wood are said to repel moths when placed in cupboards . The resin from the heated wood was used to treat warts and powdered bark used as a wash to kill ticks. The Chopi people of Mozambique favour the wood above all others for the manufacture of xylophone keys, which, when baked at high heat, produce an almost metallic timbre.

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Is this photo a Niesboom or Sneeze Tree
Thanks a lot

Hi G. Kotzee

The plant in your pictures is Eckebergia capensis or Cape Ash (

I took a picture of the leaves of both trees together for closer comparison. Leaves of Eckebergia capensis occasionally have some leaves that are slightly off centre (but this is not the norm), have pointed tips and end in a single leaflet, whereas the Sneezewood leaves are always appreciably off centre, have rounded tips and always end in a pair of leaves.

Kind regards

Hi,i live in Oudtshoorn and want to do a group planting of three sneeze woods,problem is it's near a garden wall.What i can derive from the internet articles is that the size will be affected by enviroment which is great because i don't want a giant tree so close to the garden wall as well as the house wall is not far from it neither.The local nursery gives it's length as 4-5m.Have i understood correctly?

Hi John

It is true that the environment affects the size of a tree and many giant trees remain quite small in a garden situation.

I would agree with your nursery that they will in all likelihood grow no taller than 4 - 5 meters, but do bear in mind that there are no guarantees!

Kind regards

Hi, we are close to Bloemhof (northwest) and want to know if the sneeze tree will grow in our area. We are getting on average 450mm pa and the winters are very cold (-8 deg C).


Hi Antonette

The Sneezewood Tree is only half-hardy. This means that it can cope with a little light frost but it will not survive the icy cold conditions you describe. You will notice under the heading 'Distribution and Habitat' above, that it only grows naturally in areas that are quite warm for most of the year and very seldom, if ever, have frost or even temperatures below 3 or 4 degrees Celcius.

Kind regards

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