The sturdy, main stem of the shepherd’s tree or Boscia albitrunca is often twisted with variable fluting. It is smooth-surfaced and pale grey to whitish grey, often appearing whitewashed and the branches usually crooked.
Being palatable, the lowest leaves are usually trimmed back in the veld by stock or game to a “browse line”, depending on the reach of the browser occupants of the area. The space under the tree is therefore usually open, providing good shade and shelter to all and sundry.
The small leaves usually grow in clusters of two to four on short, woody spur-branchlets, or alternate and spaced, particularly on young stems. The leaf-shape is oblanceolate to elliptic on usually hairy petioles from 1 mm to 10 mm long. The margins are entire with tapering leaf base and rounded or pointed tip, sometimes with added bristle. Leaf dimensions are variable, from 15 mm to 50 mm long and 4 mm to 15 mm wide.
The rigid, leathery blade is grey-green, the midrib prominent on the lower surface, the surfaces velvety to hairless. The secondary veins are obscure on both sides.
The small flowers are strongly, sweetly fragrant. They grow in dense, axillary clusters on the spur-branchlets. The flower is yellow-green, lacking petals but has numerous stamens. Flowering happens from late winter to spring, mostly after the first rain.
The fruit is a spherical berry about 1 cm in diameter. It is yellowish when ripe and hairless, seen on the trees from midspring to early autumn, depending on the location (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Schmidt, et al, 2002; Pooley, 1993).