Kei apple (Dovyalis caffra) is indigenous to the southern regions of Africa, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. Its fruits look something like small golden apples. Produced in abundance, inside their thin, tough skins is a yellow, melting, juicy pulp with a fruity aroma. Although a cultivated crop, horticulturally speaking this plant is poorly developed, and the fruits are basically underexploited. Partly this is because the plants are very thorny. Partly it is because many people don’t like the fruit’s smell. And partly it is because the pulp can be very sour.

Kei apples are sour for the simple reason they have more vitamin C than oranges. Because of their tartness, they are most commonly converted into jams or other preserves soaked with sugar. However, sweeter types that are pleasant to eat raw are becoming available, and this alone seems likely to open new horizons for the crop.1

A tall and vigorous shrub with rich green foliage, kei apple2 is sometimes cultivated in orchards, but mostly grown in hedgerows and as solitary dooryard plants. It is commonly seen in hedges, forming countless rural corrals in southern and eastern Africa. In some climates the untrained plant takes on a rather scraggly appearance, but still makes an excellent hedge. Being evergreen, it provides a year-round screen, while its long sharp thorns deter both people and animals. For this reason, in the 1800s it was introduced, and is still planted, in northwestern Australia, St. Helena, littoral France, Algeria, and Italy, as well as Costa Rica, California, and elsewhere.

This tough shrub does well in almost any soil, including limestone, but cannot tolerate damp sites or high watertables. It is extremely drought resistant and also tolerates salinity, even ocean spray. For this reason, it is especially valued near the sea. It is used as a windbreak and ornamental in coastal California, for example.


Even these selected types do not appeal to everyone. One of our contributors wrote: “I have had sweet forms of this fruit; they tasted like cold oatmeal.”


The word is pronounced “kye,” and refers to the river in eastern South Africa that forms one border (and the name) of Transkei. There, this fruit is known as “umkokolo.”

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