Vachellia galpinii (Monkey Thorn)
Plant image

This is a large deciduous tree with luxuriant, light green foliage, making it ideal for a big garden, avenue or park. It is fast-growing and can reach 25 to 30 metres. Creamy to light yellow flowers appear during the growing season followed by reddish to purplish brown pods.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Vachellia galpinii

Common names:
Monkey Thorn, (E); Tshikwalo (V); Apiesdoring (A); Molopa, Mologa (NSo)

Acacia galpinii

Plant family:
- Pod-bearing family, legumes, peas & beans

Plant categories:

SA tree no:
Zimbabwe tree no:

Name derivation & history:
The name Acacia is derived from the Greek word 'akis', meaning a point or a spike, referring to the thorns in many Acacia species. The South African species are armed with spines. Most of introduced species from Australia are spineless.

The species was named in honour of Ernest Galpin (1854-1941), a plant collector.

Monkeys like taking cover in its wide branches and may also eat the pods and seeds, hence the common name.

There are about 1,340 species in this genus of which 954 are indigenous to Australia, 230 to the Americas, 129 to Africa and some species scattered in Asia. This very large, pan-tropical genus occurs mainly in dry country.



Leaf habit:
Semi-deciduous to deciduous (depending on conditions)

25 to 30 metres

Has thorns

Plant shape:
Acacia galpinii is a large tree with a spreading, roundish crown and fluted trunk in older specimens

Leaf description:
Twice compound, glabrous with a large gland just below the first leaflets. Up to 160mm long with 7 to 14 pairs of pinnae with 12 to 40 pairs of leaflets.

Spine or thorn description:
Recurved to nearly straight, 8 to 12 mm long, dark brown and in pairs below the nodes

Flower description:
Flowers in 60 to 110mm long spikes on short side shoots with sessile flowers which are reddish to purplish before opening giving the tree a reddish colour before fully opening. FLowers are honey-scented.

Flower colour:
Reddish to purplish opening to yellow

Flowering months:
September to January

Flower scent:

Fruit description:
Straight pod 100 to 200mm long, reddish to purplish-brown, splitting, brittle.

Wood description:
Pale brown sapwood with a hard, heavy (air-dry 980kg/m³) coarse-grained, dark brown heartwood

Bark or stem description:
Corky and yellowish on younger branches, but on older branches, yellowish to brown, corky, rough and longitudinally fissured, often with scattered thorns on the trunk and branches


Natural distribution:
It is indigenous to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, northern and eastern Botswana and South Africa. In South Africa, Acacia galpinii occurs naturally in Limpopo and the North-West.

Monkey-thorn grows naturally in open, wooded grassland, open woodland and often near streams. It is seen as an indicator of sweet veld, which retains its nutritional value in winter.

Water requirements:
- Select -

Frost tolerance:
Semi-hardy to hardy (tolerates a fair amount of frost)

Cold tolerance (°C):

Light conditions:

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Wind resistant
Has aggressive roots

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
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:
Many insects such as bees and wasps visit the flowers. Ripe fruit pods burst open, releasing the seeds. Seeds are also dispersed by animals eating the pods.

In the wild the plant is grazed and used for shade during the hot summer by different animals including giraffe, kudu and elephant. Many birds often prefer nesting in this tree as it provides protection.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects
Attracts mammals

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
Acacia galpinii is one of the trees that can survive hot and dry conditions. It makes a stunning tree along roads where there is enough space. It is an ideal tree for a big garden. It provides dappled shade on hot summer days, making it an ideal tree for planting on a lawn where some sun can penetrate.

Monkey-thorn is easy to propagate from seed that is not parasitized. Like other plants belonging to the Fabaceae, seed of this tree must be soaked in hot water overnight and then sown the next day. Seed must be sown in a seedling tray filled with river sand. To avoid unnecessary moisture loss, the seed can be covered with vermiculite.

Seedlings are fairly fast-growing but must be protected from frost probably for the first growing season. Although it is frost-tolerant, severe frost often kills off tender young branches. The tree prefers full sun.

Do not plant it too close to buildings as it has extensive roots.

Similar species:
Acacia galpinii is often confused with Acacia polyacantha from which it can be distinguished by the gland on the leaf stalk which is small in A. galpinii and large in A. polyacantha.

South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

Making the most of Indigenous Trees by Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter - Briza Publications (2005).

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