Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Rauvolfia caffra
(quinine tree )

Rojas-Sandoval J, 2016. Rauvolfia caffra (quinine tree). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.46839.20203483255



Rauvolfia caffra (quinine tree )


  • Last modified
  • 22 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Rauvolfia caffra
  • Preferred Common Name
  • quinine tree
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • R. caffra is a tree native to Africa, where it is commonly used in traditional medicine (PROTA, 2016). This tree species has an attractive app...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Rauvolfia caffra Sond.

Preferred Common Name

  • quinine tree

Other Scientific Names

  • Rauvolfia goetzei Stapf
  • Rauvolfia gonioclada K.Schum. ex Stapf
  • Rauvolfia inebrians K.Schum.
  • Rauvolfia leucopoda K.Schum. ex Stapf
  • Rauvolfia mayombensis Pellegr.
  • Rauvolfia natalensis Sond.
  • Rauvolfia obliquinervis Stapf
  • Rauvolfia ochrosioides K.Schum.
  • Rauvolfia oxyphylla Stapf
  • Rauvolfia tchibangensis Pellegr.
  • Rauvolfia welwitschii Stapf

International Common Names

  • English: African quinine; rauvolfia
  • Spanish: arbol de quinina

Local Common Names

  • Cuba: arbol de quinina ; rauwolfia
  • South Africa: umHlambamanzi; kinaboom; quinine tree; umJelo; umKhadluvungu; umThundisa
  • Tanzania: mkufi; msesewe; mwembemwitu; olchapukalyan; oljabokaryan
  • Zimbabwe: mutowamakaka; mudzurungu; mukamamasanhi; mukashu; mukaurura; musingwiswi

Summary of Invasiveness

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R. caffra is a tree native to Africa, where it is commonly used in traditional medicine (PROTA, 2016). This tree species has an attractive appearance and is often planted as an ornamental and shade tree. Until now, R. caffra has been listed as invasive only in Cuba, where it has escaped from cultivation and can be found growing in ruderal areas and abandoned farms (Granda and Fuentes, 1987; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012). Its high growth rate, wide environmental tolerance, prolific seed production, shade tolerant seedlings, and the attraction of biotic dispersal agents are all factors contributing to the likelihood of this species becoming naturalized and invasive into new habitats. Consequently, this species should be monitored where introduced but not yet regarded as generally invasive.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Gentianales
  •                         Family: Apocynaceae
  •                             Genus: Rauvolfia
  •                                 Species: Rauvolfia caffra

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The family Apocynaceae includes about 400 genera and 4,555 species distributed mostly across tropical to warm temperate regions the world (Stevens, 2012). Members of this family are characterized by the presence of “milky latex” and include trees, shrubs, vines and rarely subshrubs and herbs (Jussieu, 2011). Rauvolfia (sometimes misspelled as Rauwolfia) is a pantropical genus of about 60 species, especially diverse in the Old World (Stevens, 2012).

Rauvolfia was named after Leonhart Rauwolf of Augsburg, a 16th century medical doctor and collector of medicinal plants; caffra refers to Kaffraria (now the Eastern Cape). The common name 'quinine tree' refers to the bitter and supposedly quinine-like properties of the bark (Mnxati, 2011).


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R. caffra is a medium-sized to fairly large tree up to 40 m tall; bole up to 1 m in diameter; bark grey to brown, smooth or rough and corky, fissured; branchlets often 4-5-angular or 4-5-winged, with conspicuous leaf scars. Leaves in whorls of 3-6, crowded at the top of branches, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole up to 6 cm long; blade narrowly elliptical to narrowly obovate, 2-50(-70) cm × 1-15(-20) cm, base decurrent into the petiole, apex acute, glabrous. Inflorescence a congested cyme, in terminal whorls of 1-4, many-flowered; peduncle 1.5-13.5 cm long, glabrous. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant; pedicel up to 2 mm long; sepals fused at base, unequal, ovate, 0.5-1.5 mm long; corolla tube cylindrical, 3-5.5 mm long, glabrous outside, inside glabrous in the basal 1.5-4.5 mm, then shortly hairy to the mouth and hairy at the base of the lobes inside, lobes ovate to obovate, 0.5-1.5 mm long, white, greenish white or yellowish white; stamens inserted at 2-4 mm above the corolla base, included; ovary superior, globose to obovate, composed of 2 partly fused or free carpels, style 0.5-3 mm long, pistil head cylindrical with a basal collar and a stigmoid apex. Fruit a globose to ellipsoid drupe 5-20 mm long when 1 carpel is developed, obcordate, 2-lobed, 10-30 mm long when both carpels are developed, dark red, 1-2-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid, 7-13 mm long, laterally compressed (PROTA, 2016).

Plant Type

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Seed propagated


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R. caffra is native to Africa where it occurs from Togo to southern Sudan, Uganda and Kenya and south through Central and East Africa to eastern South Africa (Govaerts, 2016; PROTA, 2016).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Central African RepublicPresentNative
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentNative
Congo, Republic of thePresentNative
Equatorial GuineaPresentNative
South AfricaPresentNative

North America


Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of R. caffra is moderate. Although this species is relatively common throughout its native distribution range, it is not widely planted or commercialized outside Africa (PROTA, 2016).


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Within its native distribution range, R. caffra grows in riverine areas, rainforests and old secondary forests at elevations from sea level up to 2500 m (Dilst and Leeuwenberg, 1991). It is restricted to coastal forests in southern Africa where it grows along wooded streams, on riverbanks, at margins of evergreen forest and in swamp forests (Mnxati, 2011). In Tanzania, R. caffra is widely distributed in riverine woodlands, lowlands, in dry montane rainforests and swamps and as a common element in the highlands of Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Morogoro, Mbeya and Tanga (Njau et al., 2014). In Cuba it has escaped from cultivation and can be found naturalized in ruderal areas and abandoned farms (Granda and Fuentes, 1987).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
LittoralCoastal areas Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome number reported for R. caffra is 2n = 44 (Laan and Arends, 1985).

Reproductive Biology

The sweetly scented bisexual flowers of R. caffra are visited and probably pollinated by butterflies, bees and other insects (Orwa et al., 2009; Mnxati, 2011).

Physiology and Phenology

In South Africa, R. caffra produces flowers from May to October and fruits from October to March. It takes about 9-10 months between fertilization of the flowers and ripening of the fruit (Dilst and Leeuwenberg, 1991; Mnxati, 2011). In Tanzania, flowering occurs during the long rains, and fruit ripens during the dry season extending into the short rainy season, February to November (FAO, 2016).

R. caffra produces a seed bank and its seeds can remain on the forest floor for a long time (FAO, 2016). Germination is fast and reaches up to 80% two weeks after sowing (PROTA, 2016). When established, the plants have a fast growth-rate, up to 1.5 m/year. In Kenya it was reported to grow up to 27 m in wet forests (FAO, 2016).


R. caffra is a perennial long-lived tree (Dilst and Leeuwenberg, 1991). Adult trees naturally regenerate by coppice, suckers, seed, and root suckers (PROTA, 2016).

Environmental Requirements

R. caffra appears to be adapted to fairly fertile soils that are well drained. It grows best on loamy sands to sandy loam soils but is also common in volcanic rocks (Orwa et al., 209; FAO, 2016). This species prefers to grow in wet areas at elevations from sea level to 2500 m and mean annual rainfall ranging from 500 to 1270 mm (Orwa et al., 2009). It is a frost sensitive species (FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016). R. caffra needs shade when young; old trees, however, do not tolerate shade (PROTA, 2016).

In Africa, R. caffra is always associated with available ground water; therefore it is often regarded as an indicator of water (Orwa et al., 2009).


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 16 24


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall5001270mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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R. caffra spreads by seed and stumps (PROTA, 2016). The hydrophilic nature of the plant allows seed dispersal by water to take place (Mnxati, 2011). Fruits are also dispersed by birds (Orwa et al., 2009; PROTA, 2016).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Escape from confinement or garden escapeEscaped from cultivation in Cuba Yes Yes Granda and Fuentes (1987)
Medicinal useWidely used in traditional African medicine Yes Yes PROTA (2016)
Ornamental purposesSometimes grown as ornamental and shade tree Yes Yes Orwa et al. (2009)

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesFruits/Seeds escaped from cultivation Yes Yes Granda and Fuentes (1987)
WaterSeeds dispersed by watercourses Yes Yes Mnxati (2011)

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Environmental Impact

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Currently, R. caffra has been listed as invasive only in Cuba, where it has escaped from cultivation (Granda and Fuentes, 1987; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012). Its large size and invasive root system are reported as displacing native vegetation (Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012).

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
Impact outcomes
  • Conflict
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Economic Value

In Tanzania the root extract and ground stem bark are both added to a local beer made of bananas. The wood is suitable for making fruit boxes, kitchen furniture and shelving. Household utensils and drums are sometimes carved from it. In Kenya poles are used in hut building and for making beehives. The tree is a good source of fuel wood. The bark contains a fibre that is used in Cameroon and Gabon to make bowstrings and cords.

R. caffra is a decorative fast-growing tree for sheltered gardens, which is planted as an ornamental shade tree in southern Africa (Orwa et al., 2009; FAO, 2016; PROTA, 2016).        

Social Benefit

R. caffra has many traditional medicinal applications as well as established modern pharmaceutical uses. In Africa, the bark is used to treat rheumatism, pneumonia, and colic. The root is used for insomnia, and intestinal worms. It is also used to treat malaria, hypertension, and psychosis (Orwa et al., 2009; Njau et al., 2014; PROTA, 2016).

Environmental Services

R. caffra is often planted as a shade tree in coffee plantations, and is an important species in bee keeping due to its multitude of flowers (PROTA, 2016). Leaves are browsed by nyala antelopes, and the leaves, flowers and fruit are eaten by vervet monkeys (Orwa et al., 2009).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Agroforestry
  • Amenity


  • Fuelwood


  • Botanical garden/zoo

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Honey/honey flora


  • Fibre
  • Rubber/latex

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Wood Products

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  • Boxes


Sawn or hewn building timbers

  • For light construction


  • Tool handles
  • Wood carvings

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

There is no information published on management strategies or chemical control of R. caffra. However, the herbicides glyphosate, triclopyr, aminopyralid, and imazapyr have been used to control the closely related species R. vomitoria in Hawaii (ISSG, 2016).


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Dilst FJH van, Leeuwenberg AJM, 1991. Rauvolfia L. in Africa and Madagascar: Series of Revisions of Apocynaceae XXXIII., Bulletin du Jardin Botanique National de Belgique / Bulletin van de Nationale Plantentuin van België, 61:21-69

FAO, 2016. Rauvolfia caffra, Indigenous multipurpose trees of Tanzania.

Govaerts R, 2016. World Checklist of Apocynaceae. Richmond, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Granda MM, Fuentes VR, 1987. Nuevas contribuciones al conocimiento del género Rauvolfia L. en Cuba., Revista del Jardín Botánico Nacional, 8(3):27-32

ISSG, 2016. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). Invasive Species Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Jussieu AL, 2011. Apocynaceae in the Flora of China.

Laan FM, Arends JC, 1985. Cytotaxonomy of Apocynaceae., Genetica, 68:3-35

Mnxati S, 2011. Rauvolfia caffra. PlantZAfrica. KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium.

Njau EFA, Alcorn J, Ndakidemi P, Chirino-Trejo M, Buza J, 2014. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activity of crude extracts of Rauvolfia caffra var. caffra (Apocynaceae) from Tanzania., International Journal of Biology, 6:156-160

Orwa C, Mutua A, Kindt R, Jamnadass R, Anthony S, 2009. Agroforestree Database:a tree reference and selection guide version 4.0.

Oviedo Prieto R, Herrera Oliver P, Caluff MG, et al., 2012. National list of invasive and potentially invasive plants in the Republic of Cuba - 2011. (Lista nacional de especies de plantas invasoras y potencialmente invasoras en la República de Cuba - 2011). Bissea: Boletín sobre Conservación de Plantas del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba, 6(Special Issue 1):22-96.

PROTA, 2016. PROTA4U web database. Wageningen, Netherlands: Plant Resources of Tropical Africa.

Stevens PF, 2012. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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20/09/16 Original text by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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