Bushveld Saffron

Scientific Name
Elaeodendron transvaalense (Burtt Davy) R.H.Archer
Higher Classification
Cassine transvaalensis (Burtt Davy) Codd, Crocoxylon transvaalense (Burtt Davy) N.Robson, Elaeodendron croceum (Thunb.) DC. var. heterophyllum Loes., Elaeodendron croceum (Thunb.) DC. var. triandrum Dinter, Hippocratea seineri Seiner, Pseudocassine transvaalensis (Burtt Davy) Bredell, Salacia transvaalensis Burtt Davy
Common Names
Bosveld-saffraan (a), Bushveld Saffron (e), Ingwavuma (z), Inqotha (z), Lepelhout (a), Lepelhoutboom (a), Monomane (tw), Mulumanamana (v), Oupitjie (a), Transvaal Saffronwood (e), Transvaalsaffraan (a), Umgugudo (z)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Near Threatened A4ad
Assessment Date
V.L. Williams, D. Raimondo, N.R. Crouch, A.B. Cunningham, C.R. Scott-Shaw, M. Lötter & A.M. Ngwenya
A very popular species in the muthi markets and heavy exploitation and subpopulation declines have been observed. Over-exploitation is likely to continue, and the species is further threatened by poor wound recovery following bark-stripping. It is likely to experience a 20% decline over a moving window of 180 years (110 years in the past and 70 years into the future) (generation length suspected to be a minimum of 60 years.
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Widespread in Southern Africa, including Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique. In South Africa it is restricted to eastern, summer rainfall areas from the KwaZulu-Natal coast northwards through eastern Mpumalanga into Limpopo and North West provinces.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Savanna or bushveld, from open woodland to thickets, often on termite mounds.
Elaeodendron transvaalense is threatened by harvesting of bark for medicinal use. Gerstner (1939, 1946) first noted that the species was being exploited and the bark sold by nearly every herbalist as an emetic. Cunningham (1988) doesn't estimate the quantity of bark sold annually by the traders in the KwaZulu-Natal region, but does record that urban and rural herbalists considered it to be in the top 10 of species becoming increasingly rare in KwaZulu-Natal. It was classed as 'declining' in KwaZulu-Natal i.e. a species that was recently widespread but was likely to become vulnerable and continue to decline if destruction of wild populations continued (Cunningham 1988). It was ranked twelfth among the most frequently demanded species in KwaZulu-Natal by Mander (1998). Large amounts of this species are traded on the Witwatersrand muthi markets and it is one of the most commonly traded bark products in those markets (Williams et al. 2000, Williams et al. 2007, Williams 2007). In 1994, 70% of the muthi shops sold E. transvaalense and it was one of the top ten most traded species. Approximately 557 bags (50kg-size) were estimated to be sold annually by the muthi shop traders in the region, but only a few traders believed it was scarce. In the Faraday market in 2001, 44% of all traders sold the species and it ranked second in terms of prevalence in the market. Very large quantities were present in Faraday (16 bags between 44 traders), and more than 200 bags were estimated to be sold annually (Williams et al. 2007). A study by V.L. Williams assessed harvesting impacts on selected species, including E. transvaalense. Various scenarios were modelled to estimate the number of trees debarked annually to meet the annual demand for bark in the Witwatersrand. The relationships were derived based on bark thickness/tree size regressions and the most prevalent bark thickness sold in the markets. Assuming that 25% of the bark was removed from a stem in the 40-49cm dbh size class, then >4000 trees would had to have been damaged to meet the demand for bark in 1994. In terms of the Faraday market, assuming 50% of the bark was removed from trees 10-19cm diameter, then >3200 trees would have been damaged to meet the demand in 2001. The research also predicted that the average size-class of trees damaged in 1994 was 40-49cm, whereas it declined to 10-19cm in 2001. The decline over the last decade is very serious and this species is being aggressively exploited. Twine (2004) also noted that E. transvaalense was the most sought after bark species in southern Maputaland. In his study, 91% of all trees had harvest wounds - 17% of which had been ring-barked to a height of 5m. Twine (2004) also estimated that the average amount of bark harvested per stem was 1.66sq m. Further research by V.L. Williams has indicated that the species is not resilient to bark harvesting and trees usually die. In 1998, a subpopulation of more than 30 trees in the communal areas near Ndumo was observed - all of which had been ring-barked beyond 2m. Some of the trees had been felled, and all of them were dying (V.L. Williams, pers. obs.). Wound recovery for the species is also bad. In 2004, 15 trees that had been experimentally debarked in 1998 were re-examined. Each tree had four circular wounds 5cm in diameter (Williams and Geldenhuys 2004). Of the 59 wounds re-measured six years later, 14% showed no recovery, 25% showed 1-9% recovery and only 5% showed 100% recovery. Mean wound recovery was 22%. The following points were raised at the Medicinal Plant Red List Workshop (14-15/01/2008, SANBI, Durban): a) the Mkuze and KwaJobe areas are heavily targeted (M. Lotter, pers. comm.); b) exploitation was observed to be bad around Weenen and Ndumo (C.R. Scott-Shaw pers. obs.); c) while the tree is supposed to be protected in the Kruger National Park, it was observed that staff had debarked trees nearby the campsites; d) Mpumalanga will not be able to absorb the harvesting pressures if exploitation shifts to the province since the species isn't very abundant in the province; also, 2-5% of the trees in Mpumalanga are observed to have been debarked (M. Lotter, pers. comm., 2008).

Based on current trends in exploitation of this species, a 20% decline is inferred over a moving window period of 180 years. The species is currently heavily harvested, and the decline is expected to continue into the future given its popularity in the muthi markets, its slow growth rate and its inability to recover from severe and repeated debarking. Generation length is estimated to be 60 years, and heavy exploitation is assumed to have commenced in the 1960s (although Gerstner observed exploitation in the 1930s).

Population trend
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Elaeodendron transvaalense (Burtt Davy) R.H.ArcherNT A4adRaimondo et al. (2009)

Archer, R.H. and van Wyk, A.E. 1998. A taxonomic revision of Elaeodendron Jacq. (Cassinoideae: Celastraceae) in Africa. South African Journal of Botany 64(2):93-109.

Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.

Cunningham, A.B. 1993. African medicinal plants: setting priorities at the interface between conservation and primary health care. People and Plants working paper 1. UNESCO, Paris.

Grace, O.M., Prendergast, H.D.V., van Staden, J. and Jager, A.K. 2002. The status of bark in South African traditional health care. South African Journal of Botany 68(1):21-30.

Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Williams, V.L., Balkwill, K. and Witkowski, E.T.F. 2000. Unravelling the commercial market for medicinal plants and plant parts on the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Economic Botany 54(3):310-327.

Williams, V.L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N.R., Cunningham, A.B., Scott-Shaw, C.R., Lötter, M. & Ngwenya, A.M. 2008. Elaeodendron transvaalense (Burtt Davy) R.H.Archer. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/03/21

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Distribution map

© G. Nichols

© G. Nichols

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