1. Family: Fabaceae Lindl.
    1. Genus: Colophospermum J.Léonard
      1. Colophospermum mopane (J.Kirk ex Benth.) J.Léonard

        Colophospermum mopane (or mopane as it is commonly known) is an economically and ecologically important tree that dominates the savanna woodlands of south-central Africa.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    The mopane tree is reputed to provide the best fuelwood in Africa. Colophospermum mopane (or mopane as it is commonly known) is an economically and ecologically important tree that dominates the savanna woodlands of south-central Africa.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    This species occurs in an area exceeding 500,000 km² in south-central Africa, which includes southern Angola, northern Namibia, northern Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Zambia, southern Malawi, northern South Africa and Mozambique.


    Overview:  Colophospermum mopane occurs in a variety of forms depending on local environmental conditions. These range from a small stunted form, usually not more than 2 m tall, which does not produce fruit, to a fruit-bearing tree of 20 m in height.

    Leaves: The leaves comprise a single pair of leaflets, each measuring about 5 to 10 cm long by 2.5 to 5 cm wide.

    Flowers: The flowers are greenish, inconspicuous and about half a centimetre long.

    Pods: The pods are pale brown, flattened and up to 6 cm long and 3 cm wide.

    The species grows gregariously, meaning that many individuals grow together to the near or complete exclusion of other plant species. The pollen is thought to be carried on the wind. This method of pollination is often associated with inconspicuous flowers because plants that do not require an insect or animal to pollinate their flowers, do not need to develop conspicuous flowers to attract the pollinator.

    Threats and conservation

    This widely distributed species is not currently a conservation concern.


    The principal uses of Colophospermum mopane include timber, fuel wood, animal browse in the dry season (but it is also used for fodder), medicine, tannins, resins and soil stabilisation.

    Colophospermum mopane is of great value in southern and south central Africa. It is an important species in savanna and woodland ecosystems, providing important resources for people, animals, insects and the soil.

    The greatest biocultural value placed on mopane is for fuel and timber. A recent study showed that families in the rural north-east of South Africa harvest up to 8 kg of mopane a day for fuelwood. The timber is used for fencing and construction; it is known to be durable and resistant to insect damage.

    Colophospermum mopane is a vital constituent of mopane woodland, providing browse for elephants and other herbivorous animals. It is the host plant of the mopane worm, the larva of the moth Acanthocampa belina . The large caterpillars measure up to 8 cm in length. They are an important food source in Botswana and are a highly sought after and protein-rich delicacy.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Four

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox - the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB

    Germination testing: Successful

    Composition values: Oil content 10%


    Colophospermum mopane is grown at Kew in a mix that is high in organic matter. The mix also contains perlite, granular fertiliser and Seramis. The zone in which the pot is kept is heated to 24 ˚C during the day and 18 ˚C at night. In the winter however the zone is simply kept frost-free to simulate temperate conditions. Soil moisture is checked daily but usually the species will only require water twice a week in these conditions. Feeding is carried out twice a week. This consists of a foliar feed and a liquid applied to the root zone. This species is grown under bright light, with very little shading used. Colophospermum mopane has not yet flowered at Kew.

    This species at Kew

    There is one specimen of this woody plant at Kew, growing in the Jodrell Glasshouses, one of Kew's behind-the-scenes areas.

    A host to noisy, yet delicious, caterpillars!

    Trees of Colophospermum mopane often play host to the mopane worm which is the larval form of the moth Acanthocampa belina . Caterpillars eating the protein-rich leaves of Colophospermum mopane sometimes occur in such large numbers that the sound of their feasting can be heard from several metres away. The large caterpillars measure up to eight centimetres long! They are a highly sought after local delicacy and are rich in protein.

    Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa
    In river valleys, woodland or wooded grassland, commonly below 1,000 m altitude.
    This widely distributed species is not currently a conservation concern.



    Leguminosae, R.K. Brummitt, A.C. Chikuni, J.M. Lock and R.M. Polhill. Flora Zambesiaca 3:2. 2007

    Small to medium tree 4–15 m tall, or sometimes larger up to 22 m, with 1–several main trunks from the base and rather few main branches diverging at a narrow angle or sometimes remaining stunted as a shrub; bark deeply vertically fissured, often in an elongate-reticulate pattern; deciduous.
    Young branches glabrous, smooth, grey.
    Leaves consisting of a petiole, one pair of leaflets, and a small flat appendage 2–4(5) × 1–1.5 mm at the petiole apex on the ventral side; petiole (1)1.5–4(4.8) cm long, glabrous; leaflets (2)4–10(13) × (1.5)2.5–5(6.5) cm, obliquely ovate or lanceolate to falcate-triangular, somewhat asymmetric at the base and with a basal pulvinus broader than long and (7)8–12(14) prominent nerves radiating from it (a distinct midrib lacking), acute to obtuse at the apex, glabrous, coriaceous, with a raised reticulum of secondary veins, with numerous pellucid gland dots; stipules up to 5 × 3.5 mm, ovate, falling very early.
    Inflorescences of usually 7–13-flowered axillary racemes up to 7 cm long (including peduncle), simple or sometimes with one or two branches at the base, or occasionally almost forming a panicle towards the ends of branches; bracts broadly ovate to suborbicular, caducous leaving a raised scar below the pedicel; pedicels 4–8 mm long.
    Flower buds spherical, up to 4(6) mm diameter.
    Sepals 4, 2 outer enclosing two inner in bud, suborbicular, green or yellowish, scarious towards margins, glabrous, all reflexed in flower.
    Stamens 20–25; filaments c.6 mm long, whitish; anthers 1.3–2(2.5) mm long, yellowish.
    Ovary c.3 × 1.5 mm, flat, obovate, rounded at distal end, with style attached on upper margin, glabrous; style c.2 mm long, glabrous; stigma broad, asymmetrically peltate.
    Fruits (2.7)3–4.5(6) × 1.8–2.5(3.2) cm, asymmetrically obovate to laterally reniform (i.e. reniform with the pedicel attached at one side, not in the middle of the curve), rounded distally and with the attachment of the style half to two-thirds of the way along the upper side, compressed, glabrous, straw-coloured with minute sunken glandular flecks of darker brown, usually with raised reticulate venation, indehiscent.
    Seed filling most of the fruit, compressed, subreniform, with a flattened margin c.1 mm wide, the surface deeply contorted into a pattern of ridges and valleys and pitted with numerous reddish glands, sticky.
    Timber, fuelwood, fodder, medicine, tannins, resins and soil stabilisation.



    Found In:

    Angola, Botswana, Caprivi Strip, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Northern Provinces, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe

    Common Names


    Colophospermum mopane (J.Kirk ex Benth.) J.Léonard appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Sep 23, 2008 Crawford, F. [163], Namibia K000450447
    Feb 1, 1979 Kirk, J. [s.n.], Mozambique K000417934 Unknown type material
    Feb 1, 1979 Kirk, J. [s.n.], Mozambique K000417935
    Kirk, J. [s.n.], Mozambique K000417933 Unknown type material

    First published in Bull. Jard. Bot. État Bruxelles 19: 390 (1949)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2011) Bothalia, A Journal of Botanical Research 41: 41-82
    • [3] Mannheimer, C.A. & Curtis, B.A. (eds.) (2009) Le Roux and Müller's field guide to the trees and shrubs of Namibia , rev. ed.: 1-525. Macmillan Education Namibia, Windhoek
    • [4] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [5] (2007) Flora Zambesiaca 3(2): 1-218. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [8] (2003) Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [9] Govaerts, R. (1999) World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne
    • [12] Lock, J.M. (1989) Legumes of Africa a check-list . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


    • [2] Makhado, R.A., Potgieter, M.J. & Wessels, W.C.J. (2009). Colophospermum mopane wood utilisation in the northeast of the Limpopo Province, South Africa. Ethnobotanical Leaflets. Vol. 13. pp 921-945
    • [6] Anthony, B.P. & Bellinger, E.G. (2007). Importance value of landscapes, flora and fauna to Tsonga communities in the rural areas of Limpopo province, South Africa. South African Journal of Scienc e 103: 148-154.
    • [7] Lewis, G., Schrire, B. Mackinder, B. & Lock, J. M. (eds) (2005). Legumes of the World. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [10] Timberlake, J.R. (1999). Colophospermum mopane: an overview of current knowledge. In Timberlake, J. & Kativu, S. (eds). African Plants: Biodiversity, Taxonomy and Uses. Pp 565-571. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

    • [11] Madams, R. (1990). The biogeography of Colophospermum mopane (Kirk ex Benth.) Kirk ex J.Leonard at its distribution limit in eastern Botswana. University of London. PhD Thesis.


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