Elephantorrhiza elephantina … now there’s a mouthful for you..

Eland’s bean, elands wattle, elephant’s root (Eng); baswortel, elandsboontjie leerbossie looiersbontjie and olifantswortel (Afrikaans) 

I know that some call me a bit of a “tree huger” but this would be one very difficult tree to hug…. But yes, I am a bit of a tree huger and hate seeing plants being destroyed unnecessarily…

A recent walk around the Sishen golf course caused my faith in plant protection to be renewed… somehow this plant is doing well and if anything increasing in the area. As the course is within a forest of protected trees (Camel Thorn Vachellia erioloba ) it was great to see many outcrops of the plant or tree…

Underground trees??? Sound like a misnomer??? Not so, they do exist and this is one… walking amid the stems that grow above ground gives one the feeling of walking on the canopy of a very old large tree….


Perennial suffrutex (Low-growing woody shrub or perennial with woody base) produces unbranched, unarmed, aerial stems up to 0.9 m high. It is these stems that represent the canopy of the much larger tree which is growing below ground… Now how do you hug a tree that is below ground.??


This plant when I first came across it in the Steelpoort area was listed as “threatened” on the Red Data List, but has now been categorised as LC (least concerned).. It was thought to be threatened because of its medicinal uses, but studies have now shown it has withstood the test of time better than what was first expected….



The flowers grow in clusters near the ground and even in some cases protruding from the ground.. it flowers from September to November and has never relied on rain, the pods are dark or reddish-brown…


Although considered least concerned on the Red Data List… it is important to realise that when a stand is destroyed, regeneration is not always forthcoming… this is not a weed, yet it is often wrongly identified as “Black Wattle” (Acacia mearnsii) and destroyed as unwanted…

The medicinal uses of this plant by the local tribal doctors is thought of as a remedy for dysentery, diarrhoea, stopping bleeding, treating intestinal disorders, hemorrhoids, heart ailments and syphilis..


29 thoughts on “Elephantorrhiza elephantina … now there’s a mouthful for you..

  1. Where the “tree hugger” badge with pride, Rob. I really do believe that every living species is important in supporting life. These underground trees are fascinating. I hope you saved a few from a Roundup death!

    • The underground tree is just too big before it flowers Sonel so no it would not work as a bonsai… and the other problem the above ground branches die back after seeding so it is not a permanent, above ground plant…. sorry…

  2. Wow – what a learning experience. I love discovering new facts and this certainly is a new one for me. This is just amazing… Thanks for sharing this info with us…

  3. Quite the ailment cure, isn’t it? I’d love to see what that tree looks like below ground. When I had a garden, I couldn’t resist pulling up the carrots a tad too soon because I couldn’t wait to see how big they had gotten. 😉

    • It is quite a tuber if I can call it that… and they get quite big, not quite the trees we know, but I’ve seen one that was dug up on a construction site, a good 6 ft long and at least 2 ft in diameter… I was called in to ID and I couldn’t never seen it before and that is when we called in Prof .. he is South Africa’s expert on trees with a few books and also sits on the international board for tree naming… that is when he showed me the first one I’d ever seen….

    • I actually spent a day with a Professor looking for this plant years ago to establish protection for it on a mine… I couldn’t believe it at the moment either. ..

  4. That is really fascinating – I’ve never heard of such a thing. Any idea of what it looks like underground – I’m assuming there’s no greenery 😉
    Good luck to the farmer or property owner trying to pull out those ‘weeds’ 🙂

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