World Plants Logo

search the world

Woody > Oncoba > Oncoba spinosa > Oncoba spinosa

Oncoba spinosa

Fried Egg Tree, Snuff Box Tree, Hagila (Ethiopian), Wolayetgna (Ethiopian), Kimwera (Tanzania)

Origin:  Found from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and into tropical Arabia.
            Mike's Opinion

this is Mike


The snuff-box tree is a protected species in its native Zimbabwe. The flowers are very fragrant and a beautiful white and gold colour with the tree blooming for many months. Interestingly the fruit have an extremely hard shell which is hollowed out and used as a snuff-box, hence the common name.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Flacourtiaceae (Salicaceae)
Tree (deciduous), Shrub (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
Canadian Hardiness Zone
RHS Hardiness Zone
Temperature (°C)
Temperature (°F)
3-8 m
up to 5 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Oncoba spinosa is a woody, deciduous plant which is either found as a small tree or large shrub. It has thick, light to dark green leaves that alter little in colour during the autumn months. The flower is an attractive white and yellow and is followed by a round, golf-ball sized, hard shelled fruit. The stems, leaves and buds are glaborous while the branches are spiny.
Grown as an accent plant, hedges and screens or for attracting wildlife (birds and butterflies) to the garden.
Grow in full sun, under adequate irrigation growth is accelerated, up to 1 m a year.
Usually with many branches and flat topped.
ID Characteristic
Flowers are sweet smelling with 8-10 petals and with numerous golden stamens. The fruit is hard shelled, brown when mature and golf-ball sized. The spines can reach 5 cm long. The leaves are green and hairless with a texture similar to leather with coarse toothed margins.
None serious.
Found in dry forest edges, dry river valleys, hardpan, mid to low bushland, dry grass savanna Brachystegia woodland and rocky cliffs from sea level to 1800 m.
Bark/Stem Description
The bark is smooth and mottled grey with pronounced lenticels. The spines are axillary, single, straight and up to 5 cm long.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
To 2-3 mm in length, glabrous, brown, scaled and ovate to acutely pointed.
Leaf Description
The leaves are elliptic, ovate-elliptic or oblong-elliptic, glossy green most of the year and showing no autumn colour. The leaf base is abruptly cuneate while the apex is acuminate and the margins are serrate or serrate-crenate. They can reach up to 12 cm long although typically they are between 6-10 cm in length.
Flower Description
The perfect flowers occur individually, terminal or lateral, on short axillary shoots with 4, shortly united at base, concave sepals, half the length of the 8-10 petals that are up to 8- 10 cm long. The petals are white while the stamens and pistil are both a golden yellow colour. The flower is sweet smelling and long lasting.
Fruit Description
The fruit is usually 6 cm in diameter, with eight faint longitudinal lines, light to medium green, but red-brown at maturity. It is hard shelled, with the remnant calyx persistent. The fruit contains many, brown, shiny, flattened seeds which are about 4 x 6 mm in size. Fruit can be found on the tree from April to July.
Colour Description
The colour of the leaves stays green year long but lightening slightly as the season progresses. Bark is an uninteresting mottled grey year-round. Flowers are white and yellow while the mature fruit is reddish-brown.
Texture Description
Medium to fine.
Notable Specimens
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, Miami, Florida, United States of America.
Sow fresh seed directly, germination and growth will initially be slow but mature plants can grow as much as 1 m if under irrigation or planted where rainfall is sufficient. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew demonstrated a 100% germination rate with fresh seed sown in agar and germinated at 30°C.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
The hollowed out fruit are used to make snuff boxes. Ripe fruit are eatable (fruit pulp) and consumed in periods of food shortages, although not desirable. The roots in African traditional medicine have been used in the treatment of bladder infections and dysentery. If the fruit are left to dry whole with the loose seeds inside they may be used as rattles for small children or worn around the ankles and arms as a percussive instruments during traditional African dancing. In Swaziland the dried fruit are used as penis covers.