Dais cotinifolia (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Dais cotinifolia L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. ed. 2, 1: 556 (1762).
Family: Thymelaeaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 18

Vernacular names

  • Pompon tree, African button flower (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Dais cotinifolia is distributed in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. It was introduced into the highlands of Kenya and Tanzania as an ornamental. It has been planted in Europe since the 18th Century and was also introduced in other parts of the world.


The fibrous bark has been used for tying and weaving and is plaited into strong rope. Dais cotinifolia has ornamental value and is frequently planted as an ornamental tree or shrub in East and southern Africa. A decoction of the leaf is drunk to treat stomach-ache in South Africa.


The ultimate fibres in the bark are (2.8–)3.1(–3.5) mm long and (10–)12(–15) μm wide. The fibre is said to be very strong.


Much-branched shrub or small tree up to 8(–15) m tall; crown rounded; branches dark or greyish brown, striate, glabrous. Leaves opposite or alternate, often at the ends of the branches, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole (2–)4–6 mm long; blade broadly lanceolate to elliptical, (2.5–)3–9(–15) cm × (1.5–)2–5(–6.5) cm, apex acute to obtuse, more or less leathery, glabrous, with slightly bluish tinge above, pale green beneath, pinnately veined, with midvein and lateral veins yellow or pale green beneath and slightly raised. Inflorescence a dense terminal head up to 4 cm in diameter, 20–60-flowered; peduncle up to 8 cm long; involucral bracts (2–)4(–6), ovate to almost orbicular, 8–16 mm × 5–14 mm, outer ones largest, leathery, green, becoming chestnut brown or black, persistent. Flowers bisexual, regular, lilac, pink or white, fragrant; calyx tube cylindrical, often slightly curved, 10–30 mm long, silky hairy outside, less densely inside, lobes 5, narrowly ovate, unequal, 4–8(–10) mm × 1–2(–3) mm, hairy outside, less so inside; petals absent; stamens 10, in 2 whorls of unequal length, inserted on the calyx tube; ovary superior, 1-locular, style filiform, c. 22 mm long in short-styled flowers, 24.5 mm long in mid-styled flowers and 29 mm long in long-styled flowers. Fruit a dry nutlet, reddish brown, enclosed in the base of the persistent calyx tube. Seeds small, black, with crustaceous testa.

Dais cotinifolia grows fast; in South Africa trees reach their full height within 4–5 years. Flowers are produced on the previous year’s growth. They are cross-pollinated. In southern Africa flowering is in November–February and fruiting in January–April.

Dais comprises 2 species, with Dais glaucescens Decne. ex C.A.Mey. being endemic to Madagascar.


Dais cotinifolia occurs at 1200–2300 m altitude in margins of evergreen forest, in grassland, along streams and on rocky mountain sides. It is fairly resistant to drought. Young trees need to be protected from frost for their first two years, but older trees are frost-hardy.


Dais cotinifolia is easily propagated by seed or cuttings. It can be pruned. Dais cotinifolia is recorded to be susceptible to pink disease, caused by Corticium salmonicolor (synonym: Erythricium salmonicolor). Symptoms include branch and stem die-back due to girdling cankers, which are characterized by gum exudation, cracking of the bark due to death of the cambium, and abundant pink mycelial growth.

Genetic resources

In southern Africa trees are destructively harvested for their bark, but there are no reports that Dais cotinifolia is threatened by genetic erosion.


The bark fibre of Dais cotinifolia is strong and can be made into rope of excellent quality. However, detailed, quantitative information on the fibre properties is scarce, and research in this area is warranted.

Major references

  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Peterson, B., 1978. Thymelaeaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 37 pp.
  • Peterson, B., 2006. Thymelaeaceae. In: Pope, G.V., Polhill, R.M. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 3. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 85–117.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.

Other references

  • Bhat, R.B., 1998. Medicinal plants of Transkei (South Africa) for the treatment of digestive tract disorders. Phyton 63(1–2): 51–55.
  • Huxley, A. (Editor), 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Volume 2. MacMillan Press, London, United Kingdom. 747 pp.
  • Hyde, M.A. & Wursten, B., 2009. Thymelaeaceae. [Internet ] Flora of Zimbabwe. http://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/ speciesdata/ family.php?family_id=220. February 2009.
  • Lovett, J.C., Ruffo, C.K., Gereau, R.E. & Taplin, J.R.D., 2006. Field guide to the moist forest trees of Tanzania. [Internet] Centre for Ecology Law and Policy, Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom. http://celp.org.uk/ projects/ tzforeco/. February 2009.
  • Medina, J.C., 1959. Plantas fibrosas da flora mundial. Instituto Agronômico Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil. 913 pp.
  • Pienaar, K., 2003. Gardening with indigenous plants. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 96 pp.
  • Roux, J. & Coetzee, M.P.A., 2005. First report of pink disease on native trees in South Africa and phylogenetic placement of Erythricium salmonicolor in the Homobasidiomycetes. Plant Disease 89(11): 1158–1163.
  • van der Walt, L., 2000. Dais cotinifolia L. [Internet] South African National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch, South Africa. http://www.plantzafrica.com/ plantcd/ daiscotonifolia.htm. February 2009.
  • van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P., 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 536 pp.
  • Zavada, M.S. & Lowrey, T.K., 1995. Floral heteromorphism in Dais cotinifolia l. (Thymelaeaceae): a possible case of heterostyly. Bulletin du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 4e série, 17, section B, Adansonia 1–2: 11–20.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2009. Dais cotinifolia L. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 13 July 2021.