Cadaba aphylla is a very hardy perennial shrub or small tree of 2 m to 3 m (SA Tree List No. 129). It is likely to lose little moisture and survive well in its arid habitat. It has no leaves apart from on very young seedlings or on the occasional young branch. A multitude of branched, green stems perform the photosynthetic duties. Old stems tend to develop brown bark, whilst the broom-like density of younger stems is blue-green, sometimes with a purplish bloom.
Clusters of flowers appear in spring and summer, usually with red petals and stamens, but the flowers may also be yellow. Round, brown fruit with sticky hairs split open and release small black seeds embedded in a sticky pulp that dries off gradually.
The distribution of C. aphylla is widespread, including the Kalahari, the Karoo, southern and Eastern Cape and North West. The plant will survive and often thrive on mountain slopes and hills, dry ravines, flat land and by streams.
Medicinal uses include powdered use of dry parts in poultices, turned into a tonic drink or a purgative in small quantities, although care should be taken as plant toxicity is unresolved (Coates Palgrave, 2002; www.plantzafrica.com).