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Lanternes chinoises (Nymania capensis) - Jardin botanique Val Rahmeh-Menton © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura
Lanternes chinoises (Nymania capensis) - Jardin botanique Val Rahmeh-Menton © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura

Chinese lantern

Contrary to popular belief, this small decorative tree is native to Africa. The shape of its flowers, however, resembles Chinese lanterns. Requiring very little water, it will thrive in a rocky garden.

Identity Card

Common name
Chinese lantern
Binominal name
Nymania capensis (Thunb.) Lindb.


Aitonia capensis Thunb.

Detailed Informations

Area of origin


The genus Nymania is named in honour of Swedish botanist Karl Fredrik Nyman (1820-1893). Capensis means “from the Cape of Good-Hope” in South Africa.

Description and flowering period

This slow-growing shrub/small tree reaches no more than 1.5 meter in 3 years and ultimately between 3 and 6 meters in height. Its tough and leathery leaves are lanceolate (shaped like a spearhead). Its flowers are solitary and in shades of red. Its seeds are brown, pea-shaped and lodged in capsules resembling Chinese lanterns, hence its common name.


This small tree is said to be xerophilous, which is to say its water needs are small and it is well suited to arid climates. It is also suited to dry and rocky soils. In its natural habitat, it blossoms in areas where yearly rainfalls do not exceed 120 millimetres (mostly over the winter months). It can tolerate temperatures ranging from – 4°C to 44°C.


In order to multiply, Nymania capensis relies on bees for pollination and strong winds for its seeds’ dispersal. These mostly germinate under small trees which provide them with shelter against the arid climatic conditions. In its natural habitat, the species can live over 25 years.

Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN

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