Searsia lancea (Karee)
Plant image

The Karee is a graceful, hardy, fast-growing evergreen tree with fabulously contorted branches that attracts wonderful birdlife.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Searsia lancea

Common names:
Karee, Willow Crowberry (Eng.)
Rooikaree (Afr.)
Mokalabata, Monhlohlo, Motshakhutshakhu (N. Sotho)
Mosabêlê, Mosilabêlê (Tswana)
Mosilabele, Mosinabele (S. Sotho)
Mushakaladza (Venda)
umHlakotshane (Xhosa)
iNhlangutshane (Siswati)

Rhus lancea

Plant family:
Anacardiaceae (an-a-kard-ee-AY-see-ee)
- Mango & cashew family; the Greek name means without a heart. This is an economically important family which has about 200 species world-wide. It has about 75 to 80 trees and shrubs in southern Africa, which makes it one of the largest tree families in the region. The family includes an African icon, the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) of southern and tropical Africa . In South Africa, mango fruit production (Mangifera indica from India and South East Asia) is an important part of the agricultural economy of the hot, low-lying regions such as the province of Limpopo. Pistachio nut (Pistacia vera) and the cashew (Anacardium occidentale) are also exotic members of the mango family which have economic significance. Other alien species within the family are important in South Africa because of their invasive nature. These are from South America, namely the pepper tree, (Schinus molle) and the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius ).

Plant categories:

SA tree no:
Zimbabwe tree no:

Name derivation & history:
Searsia was named after Paul B. Sears (1891-1990) who was head of the Yale School of Botany, and lancea refers to the lance shaped leaflets.

The word karee is thought to be the original Khoi word for mead (that is produced from the fruits).



Leaf habit:

7 metres

7 metres

Plant shape:
Rounded, single-stemmed, low branching with a fairly dense canopy and wonderfully contorted branches.

Leaf description:
The leaves are trifoliate (a compound leaf with three leaflets), possessing narrowly lanceolate (lance shaped) leaflets. The leaves are dark green above and paler green below. They do not have any hairs on them and the margins of the leaves are entire. The leaves are leathery and are often sickle shaped.

Flower description:
The small, inconspicuous flowers are presented as much-branched sprays which are greenish-yellow in colour and are produced from June until September. The male and female flowers occur on separate trees.

Flower colour:

Flowering months:
June to December

Flower scent:
Sweetly scented

Fruit description:
The fruit are small (up to 5mm in diameter), round, slightly flattened and covered with a thin fleshy layer which is glossy and yellowish to brown when ripe. The fruits are produced from September until January.

Bark or stem description:
The karee has a course textured bark and on older specimens it is dark grey or brown in colour while on young branches and trees it is a reddish brown-colour.


Natural distribution:
The karee occurs from Zambia in the north to the Western Cape in the south. It is found throughout the Free State and in parts of all the other provinces of South Africa except for KwaZulu-Natal.

The karee occurs naturally in Acacia woodland and along drainage lines, rivers and streams. It is often found growing on lime rich substrates.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:

Cold tolerance (°C):

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Wind resistant
Has non-aggressive roots
Suitable for hedging
Low maintenance

Edibility & Toxicity

Edible fruit
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.


Interaction with physical surroundings:
The fruit is eaten by birds such as bulbuls, guineafowl and francolins.

Game animals such as kudu, roan antelope and sable browse the leaves of the tree which can serve as an important food source for them in times of drought.

The sweetly scented flowers attract bees and other insects to them.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects
Attracts mammals

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
Searsia lancea is useful in providing natural soil stabilisation and increasing infiltration of rainwater into the soil thus reducing erosion and raising the ground water table.

The leaves of the karee provide valuable fodder for livestock but can taint the flavour of milk if eaten in large quantities by dairy cattle as a result of the resin contained in them.

The tree is also an important source of shade for livestock in certain regions.

The bark, twigs and leaves provide tannin.

In the past the hard wood was used for fence posts, tool handles and parts of wagons. Bowls, tobacco pipes and bows were also made from the wood.

The fruits are edible and were once used as an important ingredient of mead or honey beer. The word karee is said to be the original Khoi word for mead.

The karee is an excellent shade tree especially in hot regions such as the Karoo and Kalahari since it is evergreen and drought resistant. Searsia lancea does not have an aggressive root system and can be used near paving and tarred surfaces. Because the karee is hardy, frost resistant and evergreen, it is ideal for establishing a protective canopy for frost sensitive and shade loving plants. It could thus be considered as a possible pioneer plant for establishing a new forest in an area that receives frost. Searsia lancea is suitable for use as a large hedge along the boundaries of properties such as farms because of its dense growth habit. The density of the plant makes it suitable for use as a screen or barrier against wind, noise, objectionable views or to provide privacy. The karee can adapt well to different soils including those that are poorly drained (which means that it can be planted almost anywhere). Searsia lancea is therefore ideally suited for use as a street tree. Aesthetically the karee is a graceful tree possessing a willow-like appearance due to its drooping habit and this makes it suitable for use near water e.g. next to a water garden, dam or river.

Searsia lancea can be propagated easily from seed, cuttings or layers. The ripe seed should be sown in seedling trays using a good seedling medium and transplanted into bigger containers when the seedlings reach the two leaf stage. Cuttings can be taken using young growth from September till October. The tree can grow up to 80 cm a year and is thus fairly fast growing. Because the tree is both drought and frost resistant it does not require any special attention once it has established its root system.

South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

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