Thursday, September 9, 2010

Acacia xanthophloea (Fever Tree)

The 2010 tree of the year is the well known Acacia xanthophloea. This spectacular tree with it’s straight, luminous yellow trunk and its feathery, spreading canopy is rightfully one of our most popular indigenous trees. The common name, Fever tree, comes from the early settlers who thought the trees were responsible for the fever they contracted when they were in the vicinity of these trees. In fact, it was malaria that they contracted from the mosquitoes that lived in the swampy areas where the trees are commonly found. As the leaves are very small, this is one of the few trees where photosynthesis takes place in the bark. Another interesting feature is the development of a “sacrificial limb” which appears to be a dead branch, but which the tree uses to deposit unwanted nutrients from the soil. Many bird species and especially weavers, use the Acacia xanthophloea for building their nests as the thorns offer protection from snakes while the seed pods and seeds are eaten by a variety of larger wildlife.


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


The Fever tree is a stunning addition to any indigenous garden. The striking, sulphur-yellow bark literally glows in the sun while the beautiful feathery foliage and architectural shape make this a real eye catcher. The dappled shade underneath the canopy is perfect for smaller plants that require some protection from harsh sunlight. This superb tree grows very fast when it is kept well watered, making it a popular choice for any area where quick results are needed. The nitrogen fixing bacteria in the root nodules of Acacia xanthphloea help to enrich the soil around the tree with nitrogen which benefits any plants that grow in close proximity to the tree. Whether this magnificent tree is used as a focal point in the landscape or planted in a group or as an avenue, the effect is always absolutely breathtaking. 


Height 8m – 12m
Spread 6m – 12m
Deciduous/Evergreen Deciduous
Growth Habit Acacia xanthophloea grows along rivers pans and low lying swamps in bushveld areas.
Bark The distinctive sulphur-yellow hue of the bark is due to a covering of fine powder which, when rubbed away, reveals the bright green colour underneath. As the tree matures the bark on the trunk peels away in paper thin layers. The branches are covered in slender white spines.
Foliage The leaves are twice compound with a single leaflet at the tip. There are 12 to 40 pairs of leaflets per pinna. The leaves are opposite elliptic with smooth margins. Each leaf is approximately 100mm long while each leaflet is 11/2mm x 7mm.
Flowers The fragrant , bright yellow pom-pom flowers appear from September to November attracting bees and butterflies to the tree.
Fruit  The fruit consists of flat, bean-like pods that are brown or yellowish-brown in colour and are borne in clusters between January and April.
Seed The small, hard brown seeds attract a variety of wildlife and birds to the tree.


Growing regions Acacia xanthophloea is found naturally from Kenya in the North to Kwazulu-Natal on the East coast of South Africa and is widespread in the Lowveld.
Growing conditions The Fever tree prefers moist and warm growing conditions but does well in drier areas if given adequate amounts of water.
Best season  Summer
Hardiness This lovely tree is suitable for areas with only a little frost and no long periods of drought.
Propagation The easiest method of propagation is seed, which should be soaked in hot water overnight before planting into seed trays. Transplant into small bags as soon as the proper leaves appear, taking care not to damage the tap root.
Growth rate  Fast, 1m – 1,5m per year.


 The bark of Acacia xanthophloea is traditionally used by the Zulus who believe that it causes visionary and prophetic dreams and enables them to receive messages from their ancestors. The powdered bark and roots are used as an emetic for malaria as well as being used for eye complaints. The wood is hard and heavy and makes an excellent general purpose timber.

Flowers and Foliage


  1. Hi I have two fever trees that I need to move. They are about two year old but they aren't very big as they were hit by frost. They are growing well now however I would like to move them and I would like to know if there is anything that I need to know before transplanting them and what time of year is the best to do so. Your advice would be appreciated.

  2. Hi Natalie, thank you for your query.

    The fever tree does not transplant well, in fact very often the trees will die if transplanted. If yours are still small however they may tolerate it better. To give them the best possible chance, we would recommend that you only transplant them in winter - when the trees are dormant. Before digging the tree out, dig a hole that is at least twice the size of the canopy of the tree. Fill this hole with water and include some good quality compost, as well as a fertiliser such as 'Rapid Raiser'. Ensure that you dig the tree up with a very big root ball / layer of soil around the roots - this should extend well beyond the drip line which is the edge of the canopy of your tree. When planting the tree in the hole, ensure that you create a well around the base of the tree and mulch - don't let the mulch get too close to the stem though. You will need to water the tree regularly for the next year after you have moved it - specifically in summer. We hope this helps you - for any further info please contact Rudi on 082 829 5543. Good luck!

  3. Hi there! I want to plant some fever tree saplings; how close can I plant them near a building? I want them to be as close to a wall as I can safely put them. Thank you!

  4. Hi Greta,

    Thankfully this tree does not have an invasive root system and so you can plant the tree roughly 1.5 - 2m from the wall. Remember however that trees typically don't like to be transplanted, and this really does go for the Acacia, so consider the canopy of the tree. The Acacia has a fairly spreading canopy, so you want to allow enough room for that so that you don't have to hack away at the tree later on. In a protected spot, these trees grow very quickly and you can expect to see substantial growth in as little as 5 years. We would recommend planting the tree in excess of 2m from the wall - as far as you can to allow for canopy growth. We hope this helps you and good luck!

  5. Hi! I want to plant some fever trees along my drive way it is about 80m long, how far should i plant the trees apart?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Harry, thank you for your query. Ideally you want to plant the trees 4m apart if you are eventually wanting a nice dense canopy. Under optimal conditions, these trees grow nice and quickly, so expect a beautiful result within as little as 5 years. Good luck and do post pictures - we would love to see your avenue!