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Châtaignier du cap (Calodendrum capense) - Jardin botanique Val Rahmeh-Menton © MNHN - Christophe Joulin
Châtaignier du cap (Calodendrum capense) - Jardin botanique Val Rahmeh-Menton © MNHN - Christophe Joulin

Cape chestnut

This Calodendrum, known as the “Cape chestnut” is native to southern Africa. The person who discovered it thought it bore a resemblance to the horse chestnut because of its fruit and flowers. Yangu oil is extracted from its seeds.

Identity Card

Common name
Cape chestnut, um Bhaba
Binominal name
Calodendrum capense (L.f.) Thunb.



Detailed Informations

Area of origin
Southern parts of Africa (from Kenya to Tanzania up to the Eastern-Cape Province in South-Africa


Calodendrum means "beautiful (kalos in Greek) tree (dendron in Greek)". Capense means "from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa" (latin).

Description and flowering period

Calodendrum capense is a single-trunk, free spreading tree with streaky grey bark. It reaches 10 to 20 meters in height. The leaves are large (22cm in length and 10cm width), simple, deep green, elliptical with undulate (wavy) margins. They are covered in glands which produce a deeply fragrant oil compound reminiscent of pine and citrus, especially when bruised (just like most species in the Rutaceae family). The foliage can be persistent or deciduous depending on planting location’s climate and can turn golden-yellow in autumn. The numerous flowers appear in terminal clusters and cover the whole tree which completely turns pale pink. Each individual flower is star-shaped, has 5 narrow pink petals, 5 purple-dotted flattened sterile stamens which resemble petals and 5 white functional stamens. The lumpy fruit, initially green then brown in colour, is a woody capsule. It contains 5 lobes which in turn each contain 5 light, smooth brown seeds. Many animals (monkeys, parrots, pigeons…) feed on the seeds.


This tree requires a humus-rich, well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered position. Young subjects do not tolerate frosts (up to 7-8 years old), but older subjects are proving hardy to -7°C.


  • Ornamental & cosmetics: Yangu oil is extracted from the seeds: it is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants and is used as UV-protection as well as skin and hair care and as a soap base.
  • Other uses: The wood is used to craft tools and accessories, the bark is transformed into a medicinal balm ; the seeds are considered to have magic properties for the Xhosa tribes of South-Africa. They wear them as bracelets to bring luck while hunting.


The "species" common name "Cape chestnut" was given by William Burchell (1782-1863), because he thought that the flower and fruit resembled the horse chestnut. It is, however, not at all closely related to the horse-chestnut tree.
The Latin genus name, Calodendron, was given by Carl Peter Thunberg, considered to be the "father of South African botany". He was so excited at the first sighting of a tree in flower when he visited Grootvaderbosch in 1772, that he fired his gun at the branches until one broke and delivered the blooms into his hand.

Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN

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