Vepris lanceolata (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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flowering branch

Vepris lanceolata (Lam.) G.Don

Protologue: Gen. hist. 1: 806 (1831).
Family: Rutaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 72


  • Vepris undulata (Thunb.) I.Verd. & C.A.Sm. (1951), nom. illegit.

Vernacular names

  • White ironwood (En).
  • Bois patte poule, patte poule sans piquant (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Vepris lanceolata occurs from Kenya along the coast south to South Africa, and additionally in Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues.


The wood is used for beams, tool handles and implements. It is suitable for heavy construction, flooring, shipbuilding, vehicle bodies, furniture, cabinet work, mine props, sporting goods, toys, novelties, precision equipment, carving, vats and turnery.

In Tanzania leaf and root decoctions are used to treat malaria; however, high doses may result in peptic ulcers. In South Africa roots are used to treat infertility in women and menorrhagia. The roots are also used in traditional medicine to treat cardiac pain, colic and influenza. Pulverized leaves are applied externally against headache. In Réunion and Mauritius leaf decoctions and infusions are used to wash wounds and sores, against pulmonary infections, rheumatic pains, fever, influenza, stomach-ache and amenorrhoea, and as astringent. Root and stem decoctions serve as an anodyne for women during child delivery. In Réunion the tree is planted as an ornamental and to restore degraded environments.


The heartwood is white to pale greenish brown, and indistinctly demarcated from the up to 12.5 cm wide sapwood. The grain is usually straight, texture fine and even. Growth rings are distinct.

The wood is fairly heavy to very heavy, with a density of (740–)820–900(–1060) kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. It is hard, tough and elastic. It should be air dried slowly to avoid serious surface checking. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are 5.5% radial and 9.3% tangential. Once dry, the wood is moderately stable in service.

At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 134–139 N/mm², modulus of elasticity 16,300–17,000 N/mm², compression parallel to grain 64–67 N/mm², shear 18–19 N/mm², Janka side hardness 11,030–11,200 N and Janka end hardness 12,320–12,450 N.

The wood is rather difficult to saw because of its hardness; it is recommended that it is sawn before drying. It works and planes readily, and can be finished to a smooth surface. The gluing and turning properties are satisfactory. The wood is not durable.

Leaves and branches contain alkaloids and limonoids. Leaf and root bark extracts showed moderate in-vitro antiplasmodial activity. Aqueous leaf and stem extracts showed moderate antibacterial and antifungal activities.


  • Evergreen shrub or small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–24) m tall, but often much smaller; bole of larger trees straight and cylindrical, up to 150 cm in diameter; bark surface grey to purplish grey, usually smooth; crown rounded; twigs glabrous.
  • Leaves alternate, 3-foliolate; stipules absent; petiole 1–5(–7) cm long, slender; leaflets sessile, narrowly elliptical, (3–)5–12 cm × (1–)1.5–3.5 cm, cuneate at base, acute or obtuse at apex, margin often wavy, glabrous, with numerous glandular dots, pinnately veined with numerous lateral veins.
  • Inflorescence a terminal panicle up to 12 cm long.
  • Flowers unisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel 1–3(–7) mm long; sepals united at base, c. 0.5 mm long; petals free, obovate or elliptical, c. 2 mm × 1 mm, greenish yellow; male flowers with (7–)8 stamens shorter than petals and rudimentary ovary; female flowers with superior, globose ovary, 4-celled, with sessile, disk-shaped stigma, stamens rudimentary.
  • Fruit a slightly depressed globose drupe 4–8 mm in diameter, slightly 4-lobed, black when ripe, glandular dotted, usually 4-seeded.
  • Seeds slightly trigonal, 2–3 mm long, black.

Other botanical information

Vepris lanceolata grows moderately fast. In southern Africa trees flower in December–March and fruits ripen a few months after flowering. In South Africa it has been reported that porcupines eat the bark, which may kill trees. The fruits are eaten by birds, which disperse the seeds.

Vepris comprises about 80 species, most of them in mainland Africa, about 30 endemic to Madagascar, and 1 in India.


Vepris lanceolata occurs in coastal evergreen thickets, also on sand along the beach and on dunes. In South Africa it is also found more inland in dry evergreen forest, where it reaches its largest dimensions. In forests in the southern parts of South Africa, Vepris lanceolata is locally a dominant canopy tree. In the Mascarene islands it occurs in lowland forest.


Vepris lanceolata can be propagated by seed. Seedlings transplant well. Trees can be managed by pruning. Logs should be removed from the forest soon after felling because they tend to split severely.

Genetic resources

Vepris lanceolata does not seem to be immediately threatened by genetic erosion because of its wide habitat adaptability. However, in regions where the trees reach larger sizes, which is the case in certain areas of South Africa, there has been overexploitation in the past. This may mean that particularly superior timber genotypes are threatened.


Vepris lanceolata provides a good-quality timber, but more research is needed on tree development in relation to growing conditions. It has prospects as an ornamental tree.

Major references

  • Behr., K., 2004. Vepris lanceolata. [Internet] South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town, South Africa. planttuv/ veprislan.htm September 2007.
  • Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 pp.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1997. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 3. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 471 pp.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N., 1972–1974. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. 3 volumes. Balkema, Cape Town, South Africa. 2235 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.

Other references

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Gessler, M.C., Msuya, D.E., Nkunya, M.H.H., Mwasumbi, L.B., Schär, A., Heinrich, M. & Tanner, M., 1995. Traditional healers in Tanzania: the treatment of malaria with plant remedies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48: 131–144.
  • Gessler, M.C., Nkunya, M.H.H., Mwasumbi, L.B., Heinrich, M. & Tanner, M., 1994. Screening Tanzanian medicinal plants for antimalarial activity. Acta Tropica 56: 65–77.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A., Subratty, H., Narod, F., Govinden-Soulange, J. & Mahomoodally, F., 2005. Biological activity from indigenous medicinal plants of Mauritius. Pure and Applied Chemistry 77(1): 41–51.
  • Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • Sarrailh, J.-M., Baret, S., Rivière, E. & le Bourgeois, T., 2007. Arbres et arbustes indigènes de la Réunion. (CD-ROM). CIRAD, Saint-Denis, Réunion.
  • Steenkamp, V., 2003. Traditional herbal remedies used by South African women for gynaecological complaints. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 86: 97–108.
  • van Vuuren, N.J.J., Banks, C.H. & Stohr, H.P., 1978. Shrinkage and density of timbers used in the Republic of South Africa. Bulletin No 57. South African Forestry Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 55 pp.


  • R.H.M.J. Lemmens, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Lemmens, R.H.M.J., 2008. Vepris lanceolata (Lam.) G.Don. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 30 June 2022.