First-Ever Successful Rooting Of South African Critically Endangered “Yellow Peeling Plain Tree”

Dyna ball filled up with peatmoss media.

Application of hormone (Plant Growth Regulator)

Mounted Dyna ball, with approximately 6 months to root.

2022 has been an incredible year for SANBI and conservation horticulturist and tree expert Mpendulo Gabayi from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Mpho Mathalauga (horticulturist) from KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden, and Ntsakisi Masia (seed collector - Millennium Seed Bank Partnership) from Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden as they were triumphant in their efforts to propagate the Critically Endangered Mutavhatsindi (Yellow Peeling Plain) tree.

These saplings of propagated trees will be used to establish ex situ collections and more propagation research trials at Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, as well as Limpopo’s Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden. The overall success of this project contributes to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation; making 20% of threatened plant species available for recovery programmes, and at least 75% available in the country of origin.

In 2020 Gabayi highlighted the severity of threats to the Mutavhatsindi tree’s existence in South Africa, as none had been successfully propagated before. They only exist in a small 110-hectare subpopulation in Mutavhantsindi Nature Reserve where they are favoured for their medicinal benefits and are therefore heavily harvested. Missouri Botanical Garden and the University of Venda in the Limpopo Province, together with the SANBI team collaborated to save this highly Endangered tree species.

A second trial of traditional air layering, using plastic, foil and peatmoss media.

The very first rooted Mutavhatsindi through Dyna ball and sphagnum moss.

One of the successful saplings of Brackenridgea collected from Mutavhatsindi NR.

This project was supported by ArbNet, Botanic Gardens Conservation International,the Millenium Seed Bank Partnership and Propagation BioScience Research (PBR) International. These institutions teamed up to create a long- term project that will eventually result in saving and preserving the South African gene pool through ex situ and in situ conservation.

The Mutavhatsindi, scientifically known as Brackenridgea Zanguebarica, is a species of tree that has been under extreme threat due to the harmful harvesting of mature tree parts, which inevitably resulted in the poor regeneration of the new generations of trees.

“Mutavhatsindi is highly sought after for its medicinal bark and roots, and traditional healers use the yellow dye to treat wounds, worms, aching hands, swollen ankles, and amenorrhea. Due to its severe rarity and limited occurrence, the tree is currently categorized as Critically Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants,” explains Gabayi, who says that the Mutavhatsindi tree was propagated successfully after experimenting with many different propagation methods.

All the propagation methods tested had not shown any promising results. However, through the manipulation of Plant Growth Regulators using the air layering method and Dyna Ball (PBR international), positive results were obtained. The propagules had shown a good set of healthy roots emerging but had a low rooting percentage of 15%. Through a successful procedure of air layering, new trees can be grown from branches that are still attached to the parent plant. More propagation methods and procedures are still under trial to build onto the current successful experiment.

“For future generations to appreciate the existence of the Mutavhasindi tree, it is of utmost importance that the need for its conservation is incorporated into education, communication, and public awareness programmes.”

"By exchanging information on environmental legislation and methods of propagation and cultivation, people will better understand the value of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.”

“This coincides with SANBI's overall mandate, 'To explore, reveal, celebrate and champion biodiversity for the benefit and enjoyment of all South Africans’,” concludes Gabayi.
For more information on the conservation efforts and unique species found at Kirstenbosch visit:

Editors Notes

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Renowned as the most beautiful garden in Africa – Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa is situated against the eastern slopes of the iconic Table Mountain.

Kirstenbosch is the largest of a network of eleven National Botanical Gardens administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). SANBI’s mission is to champion the exploration, conservation, sustainable use, appreciation, and enjoyment of South Africa’s exceptionally rich biodiversity for all people.

Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to promote, conserve and display the rich and diverse flora of southern Africa, and was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country's indigenous flora. Kirstenbosch estate, covering 528 hectares, includes a cultivated Garden and nature reserve. The developed Garden (36 ha) displays collections of southern African plants including many rare and endangered species.

Kirstenbosch lies in the heart of the Cape Floristic Region, also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. In 2004 the Cape Floristic Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – another first for Kirstenbosch, making it the first botanic garden in the world to be included in a natural World Heritage Site.

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