Sterculia murex

Botanical name

Sterculia murex (SA No 475)

Other names

Lowveld chestnut; laeveldkastaiing (Afrikaans); mohlatsane (sePedi)




Medium to large deciduous tree, may reach 12 m in height; a spreading tree with dense foliage

Description of stem

Branching into a few heavy stems; grey bark or nearly black, that cracks up into rectangular patches, becomes darker with age

Description of leaves

Five oblong leaflets are arranged digitately on every compound leaf; the leaves have long, hairy leaf stalks, whilst the leaflets are without stalks, tapering at both ends; margins entire; velvety surface, with conspicuous netveining on both sides; young leaves have a shiny bronze colour

Description of flowers

Five-pointed light yellow or greenish yellow, recurving sepals present a shapely flower in the absence of petals; flowers occur in conspicuous sprays on leafless branches during spring; some pink dots may occur

Desciption of seed/fruit

Large, five-lobed fruit, 30 cm in diameter, are found in summer and autumn; they are light green and covered in hard, hairy spines; the seeds are large, embedded among hairs that cause irritation to humans; the dry pod lobes are attractively boat-shaped and sometimes used as ashtrays

Description of roots

A caudex occurs at the base of young plants ( )



Propagation and cultivation

Grown from seed


Tender to frost; thrives in high rainfall areas


People sometimes roast the seeds for eating; also eaten by baboons and other animals, including rats and mice; a garden tree

Ecological rarity

Restricted to a small area in south-east Mpumalanga and adjacent areas of Swaziland

Pests and diseases



This tree is only in name related to chestnuts; there are about 150 species in the genus Sterculia; the genus gets its name from the Roman god of manure, Sterculius, probably because of the unpleasant aroma of some of the flowers (Wikipedia); the genus is sometimes called tropical chestnuts


Rocky, wooded hills

Distribution (SA provinces)



South Africa; Swaziland



Category: Trees