Rauvolfia caffra, the quinine tree occasionally grows to great height (about 20 m) in conditions where ample water allows this at forest edges. More often it only becomes a small to medium sized tree. The leaves grow in whorls crowded at the end of the branchlets. They are simple, narrow, obovate to elliptic and have entire edges. Leaves tend to be slightly leathery, shiny above and pale below, with conspicuous net-veining evident on both surfaces.
The fruits are fleshy green drupes covered in the white spots that can be seen in the picture. These fruits become dark purplish and wrinkled as they ripen. The bark is light coloured, the trunk straight, becoming buttressed in mature specimens.
The tree resembles Breonadia salicina, the mingerhout (Afrikaans) or matumi (Swazi?), which lacks the milky latex found in the quinine tree. This latex played a role as a malaria cure in the past, without positive results. The bark does, however, contain a substance used effectively as a tranquilliser and in reducing blood pressure. Various parts of the tree are used in a multitude of traditional remedies. The wood is soft and pale, suitable for making curios and woodcut objects.
The species distribution includes many central African countries and the north-eastern region of South Africa, as well as coastal in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the southern Cape. The habitat is forest, riverine forest, swamp forest and woodlands at lower altitudes. The species is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century.
The tree belongs in the Apocynaceae or dogbane family. The Rauvolfia genus comprises about 85 species, many of them evergreen trees that grow naturally in tropical areas (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Pooley, 1993; Wikipedia; www.redlist.sanbi.org).