Friday, October 2, 2009

Acacia xanthophloea – Fever tree

The Acacia xanthophloea is well known as an exceptionally striking indigenous tree. With its remarkable sulphur – yellow bark, sparse, spreading crown of feathery foliage and tall upright growth, the Fever tree is one of our most sought after ornamental species. In its natural habitat Acacia xanthophloea is often found growing in large groups in swampy, low lying areas. This versatile tree is moderately drought resistant, but performs much better when given adequate water. The bright yellow sweetly scented globose flowers, appear from September to November attracting bees, butterflies, insects and insectivorous birds to the garden. The seed pods and young leaf shoots are eaten by baboons.


Botanical Name: Acacia xanthophloea
Common Name: Fever tree
Genus: Fabaceae
RSA National Tree No’: 189


The Fever tree is a stunning subject within any urban landscape. As a specimen on a large lawn it makes a magnificent statement and in winter, when the tree is bare, the lovely silhouette with its exceptional colour is a real show stopper. When planted in groups the Acacia xanthophloea lends a truly ethnic ambiance to the garden and can easily be under planted with a wide variety of greenery as the trees cast only light shade. As an avenue along a driveway or as a street planting, the Fever tree creates an absolutely unforgettable sight.


Height: 10 – 15m
Spread: 10 – 12m
Deciduous/Evergreen: Deciduous
Growth Habit: Acacia xanthophloea occurs naturally in bushveld and is generally restricted to river banks and low lying areas where it is often found in large groups.
Bark: The unusual bark is smooth with a powdery coating that is greenish yellow in colour but is green underneath if the powder is rubbed off. As the tree matures the bark flakes off in paper thin layers. The slender, white spines appear in pairs.
Foliage: The leaves of the Fever tree have 3 – 6 pairs of generally hairless pinnae. There are 8 – 20 pairs of leaflets per pinna. Petiolar glands are usually present at the base of the upper pinnae pairs.
Flowers: The sweetly scented, bright yellow, globose flowers appear in spring and are carried on slender stalks in the axil of the spines.
Fruit: The flat, papery, light brown pods are borne in clusters that ripen in late summer.
Seed: The flattish, dark brown seeds are released when the pods burst open at the end of summer.


Growing regions: Acacia xanthophloea is commonly found growing naturally in the Northern Province, Kwa – Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga.
Growing conditions: The Fever Tree enjoys a sunny aspect and grows really well when planted in a large hole with plenty of compost and regular deep watering.
Best season: Spring
Hardiness: This rewarding tree is moderately drought and frost hardy.
Propagation: Propagation is by seed which germinates easily after being soaked overnight.
Growth rate: Provided the Fever tree is watered regularly the growth rate is very fast, up to 1,5m annually.


The early settlers were the first people to refer to the Acacia xanthophloea as the Fever tree. The habitat of the malaria mosquito is the same as the tree, so on contracting malaria fever they attributed the disease to their proximity to the tree, being unaware that it was in fact the mosquito that carried the disease. The Fever tree is one of our most popular medicinal plants with the bark being used to alleviate fevers. The wood from this tree is heavy and hard and is used as a general purpose timber.


  1. When you refer to "water regularly" - how often are we talking about? Three times a week or more? Will regular watering not soften the roots?

    1. Hi Bruce Smith - well that all depends on the climate you are in, level of the water table, age of the tree and so on. If you stick your finger into the soil it should be fairly moist - not bone dry. You need to water at least 3 times per week in dry weather for the first year. After the tree is then established, you are looking at watering a young tree only when conditions are harsh. Hope this helps.