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Pepper-bark Tree

Scientific Name
Warburgia salutaris (G.Bertol.) Chiov.
Higher Classification
Chibaca salutaris Bertol.f., Warburgia breyeri Pott
Common Names
Amazwecehlabayo (z), Fever Tree (e), Isibaha (z), Isibhaha (z), Koorsboom (a), Manakha (v), Molaka (ss), Mulanga (v), Peperbasboom (a), Peperblaarboom (a), Pepper-bark (e), Pepper-bark Tree (e), Pepper-leaf (e), Pepper-root (e), Shibaha (ts), Sterkbos (a)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Endangered A2acd
Assessment Date
V.L. Williams, C.J. Geldenhuys, C.R. Scott-Shaw & J.E. Victor
There was been at least a 50% decline in the South African population due to excessive harvesting of bark for traditional medicine, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. While some healthy subpopulations exist in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the majority of the subpopulations in the country have been targeted by bark harvesters. Extinctions and very low subpopulation numbers of less than 20 trees have been documented.
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
North-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province. Also occurs in Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Ohrigstad Mountain Bushveld, Lowveld Riverine Forest, Northern Mistbelt Forest, Scarp Forest, Northern Coastal Forest, Sand Forest, Ironwood Dry Forest, Poung Dolomite Mountain Bushveld, Legogote Sour Bushveld, Lydenburg Thornveld, Kaalrug Mountain Bushveld, Maputaland Coastal Belt, Tembe Sandy Bushveld, Western Maputaland Clay Bushveld, Northern Zululand Sourveld, Zululand Lowveld, Granite Lowveld, Tzaneen Sour Bushveld
Variable, including coastal, riverine, dune and montane forest as well as open woodland and thickets.
The bark of Warburgia salutaris is used and heavily exploited throughout southern Africa for traditional medicine. Unsustainable use and heavy exploitation of the species was first reported by Gerstner in 1938: "... there are all over the country only poor coppices, every year cut right down to the bottom, used all over and sold by Native herbalists as one of the most famous expectorants". In 1946, 40-50 bags of bark were sometimes railed in a single day from Hluhluwe to Durban (Gerstner 1946) Cunningham (1988) recorded the conservation status of the species in KwaZulu-Natal as 'endangered' and reported that at least 315 bags of bark were traded annually between 54 herb-traders in the region. The species was ranked 13th in terms of prevalence in the markets, and was usually ranked first or second by the herb-traders and herbalists as becoming scarce (Cunningham 1988). 85-90% of herbalists and traders interviewed considered the species scarce. The species is also popular in the Mpumalanga markets (Botha et al. 2001), as well on the Witwatersrand (Williams 2007). 66% of muthi shops in the Johannesburg region sold the bark in 1994, and the number of bags estimated to be purchased between 189 traders was 830 (Williams et al. 2007). Warburgia was also sold by 22% of the street traders in the Faraday market in 2001, and the number of bags estimated to be purchased was 76 (Williams et al. 2007). Shop traders and street traders in the region all consider the bark to be popular and very scarce. The mean thickness of the bark sold in the markets decreased significantly between 1994 and 2001 - indicating that increasingly smaller trees were being debarked by harvesters as the larger, more mature trees, became unavailable (Williams et al. in press) Cunningham (1988) also reported that in forests where scarce trees like Warburgia salutaris occur, large branches are felled to strip the bark to the tips of the branches (e.g. in the Coastal Forest Reserve in the Ingwavuma district). Also, that gatherers will continue to debark trees when bark is only partially regrown because of the scarcity of alternative sources of supply and ultimately the roots are debarked which kills the tree. The demand for the species is such that the bark is imported into South Africa from Swaziland and Mozambique. Vigorous coppice production and rapid bark regrowth after debarking plays an important role in tree survival. However, the trees in vulnerable subpopulations are harvested to frequently to be protected by this characteristic, and the trees tend to coppice less the more frequently they are harvested.
Population trend
Itala Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, False Bay Park, Tembe Elephant Park, Kakaza Nature Reserve and Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve.
In the Soutpansberg area, the tree was planted as a hedge around homesteads by a cultural group that lived there before the Vendas, along with the coral and marula trees. It is used to treat colds and flu, sores and malaria.
Williams, V.L., Geldenhuys, C.J., Scott-Shaw, C.R. & Victor, J.E. 2008. Warburgia salutaris (G.Bertol.) Chiov. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/12/06

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Distribution map

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