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Plant of the month December 2017

Common Name: Umzimbeet (Eng.); Umsambeet (Afr.); UmSimbithwa (Zulu); UmKunye (Xhosa)

Scientific Name: Millettia grandis (E.Mey) Skeels

Family: Fabaceae - Faboidaeae




Millettia is named after Charles Millett a plant collector and employee of the East India Company in China in the early nineteenth century


grandis means large 


Umzimbeet has a restricted, disjunct distribution in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It is most common in Pondoland.

Native Habitat

Coastal forests.


A semi-deciduous tree up to 25 m tall with a spreading crown in good conditions, but much smaller in shallow soils. Compound leaves have 3-7 pairs of opposite, lance-shaped leaflets with fine silky hairs on the underside. New leaves and petioles (leaf stalks) are reddish and velvety.

Flowers and Fruit

Flowers: Pea-shaped, mauve to purple flowers emerge from rusty brown buds in early Summer. They are held at the end of branches in upright inflorescences.
Fruit: The fruits are flat, woody pods covered with a thick layer of golden brown hairs. They split when dry to release oblong shaped seeds.

Location in Garden

Lawn 28 near the Henry Lawson Gate.


The hard, strong wood is used in the manufacture of furniture, domestic implements and walking sticks.

Baboons strip and eat the bark of wild trees and the larvae of four species of butterflies feed on the leaves.

The seeds are poisonous when eaten in large quantities, but when they are ground up and soaked in milk they provide a traditional remedy for roundworm. The powdered root can be used as a fish poison, but fish must be boiled before consumption.

This tree is usually grown from fresh seed which must be placed in hot water to soak overnight. Fresh seed germinates very well. Plant seedlings into nursery bags at the two-leaf stage. Young trees will transplant easily and they are fast growing (0.8 to 1 m per year) in favourable conditions. This tree likes ample water and can withstand several degrees of frost, particularly when older. It makes a very shapely, attractive specimen with seasonal interest for the garden.

December Plant of the Month