Spiny-Leafed Monkey Orange (Strychnos pungens Soler.)12

A small brittle tree, usually less than 7 m tall, this monkey orange is found from northern South Africa to Angola, Congo, and Tanzania. It often occurs where light frosts are far from unknown in winter. The fruit is round, 10-12.5 cm in diameter, and weighs as much as almost half a kilo. Like other monkey oranges, it has a woody shell, which turns from bluish-green to yellow as it ripens. The pulp is juicy, butter yellow, and has a somewhat rank odor. Although opinions about this fruit differ, some trees produce what are generally considered pleasingly fragrant and pleasant tasting fruits. The presence of citric acid makes them thirst quenching.

Alkaloids are supposedly absent in the seeds of this monkey orange. This should be confirmed. The seeds are very bitter, and if consumed in quantity may cause diarrhea.

Perhaps a more serious concern is the competition people face in trying to get these fruits. Not for nothing are they named monkey oranges. Indeed, the fruits are eagerly sought by monkeys, as well as by forest antelopes, or even by both together. In Natal, for instance, the miniature antelopes known as duikers commonly search under a tree for flesh enclosed seeds being dropped by careless monkeys.

The whitish colored wood is hard and straight. It is much prized, especially by Zulus, who use the wood of coppice shoots for walking and fighting sticks.

The species is very similar to Strychnos spinosa, and (in the absence of flowers) is distinguished by the blue-green color of the immature fruits as well as by small variations in leaf color, shape, and venation.

Like other Strychnos species, this is one tough plant. It thrives from sea level to high altitude. It is to be seen in woodland, wooded grassland, and urban settings. It occurs commonly in stony places or at the base of rocky outcrops (kopjies), not to mention deep sandy soils and open woodland, riverine fringes, and coastal forests. In the harshest sites it is commonly reduced to a small shrubby shadow of itself, with many stems sprouting from the base.

The seed germinates readily and reportedly the plants grow fairly fast.


Also known as wild orange, black monkey orange, swart klapper, botter klapper, shiny-leaved mukwakwa, and other names. According to some botanical authorities, Strychnos madagascariensis is a synonym for Strychnos innocua (or at least of Strychnos innocua subspecies dysophylla and subspecies gerrardi).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement