Sutherlandia frutescens

Botanical name

Sutherlandia frutescens

Other names

Cancer bush; kankerbos (Afrikaans); Lessertia frutescens; umnwele (Xhosa and Zulu); phetola (Tswana)




Spreading shrub up to 1 m; some of the long branches tend to become prostrate

Description of stem


Description of leaves

Pinnately compound, feathery leaves; the hairy aspect makes the plant look silvery

Description of flowers

Pink to reddish pea-type flowers on short racemes in leaf axils of more than 3 cm appearing in winter or early spring

Desciption of seed/fruit

Conspicuous and decorative, inflated papery, pink and greenish-yellow puffed (legume type)seed pods of up to 5 cm

Description of roots

As other plants from this family it fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil via a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that receive sugars from the plant and deposits the nitrogen in the roots; the plant converts the nitrogen into ammonia that it uses


Several similar species exist which makes identification difficult



Propagation and cultivation

Grows easily from seed, to be watered in winter


Copes in a variety of soil types, prefers good drainage; withstands mild frost


Widely used as a medicine, among other things in the treatment of cancer and in pharmaceutical products; grazed; popular garden plant

Ecological rarity


Pests and diseases



A study by the Universities of the Western Cape and Missouri reported no adverse effects of ingesting leaf powder capsules of the plant in healthy adults; some studies to ascertain the plant's possible use in treating HIV-AIDS infection as an immune system booster has not yet yielded results,whilst reports of CD4 counts increasing after use have been reported


In Karoo and various other veld types, also where the vegetation has been disturbed

Distribution (SA provinces)

Western, Eastern and Northern Cape


South Africa