Ehretia rigida (Puzzle Bush)
Plant image

Ehretia rigida is a deciduous small tree or shrub, usually multi-stemmed, with an untidy rounded crown. It has tangled branches which arch downwards or droop. This rather haphazard look gives it its common names, puzzle bush and deurmekaarbos.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Ehretia rigida

Common names:
Puzzle Bush (English); Deurmekaarbos (Afrikaans); umHlele (isiZulu); Morobe (Northern Sotho); iBotshane (Xhosa); Mutepe (Venda)

Plant family:

Plant categories:
Trees; Shrubs

SA tree no:
Zimbabwe tree no:

Name derivation & history:
Ehretia was named after an 18th century botanical artist, R.D.Ehret.

The Latin word rigida means stiff, referring to the hard leaves.

Other species of the genus in southern Africa are Ehretia amoena, E. obtusifolia, E. alba, E. coerula, E. cymosa and E. namibiensis. Three of these, E. rigida, E. amoena and E. obtusifolia occur in South Africa. Ehretia rigida is further divided into three subspecies, namely, E. rigida subsp. rigida, E. rigida subsp. silvatica and E. rigida subsp. nervifolia.



Leaf habit:

9 metres

Plant shape:
Ehretia rigida can grow up to 9 m in height

Leaf description:
The plant has an alternate leaf arrangement but the leaves seem to grow together in clusters at the tips of its short branches. The leaves can be smooth or covered with stiff hairs that are rough to the touch. It has small leaf stalks of about 2 mm long.

Flower description:
The flowers grow in dense clusters on the branches. These pale mauve, blue or white flowers can only be seen in spring with male and female flowers on different plants. They have a diameter of 7 mm and are sweetly scented.

Flower colour:
Pale mauve, blue or white

Flower scent:
Sweetly scented

Fruit description:
The fruits are round, orange to red, turning black when ripe and are eaten by wild animals.

Bark or stem description:
The bark is very smooth and grey on new branches and rough on older branches and stems.


Natural distribution:
In South Africa it occurs throughout the eastern half of the country and also in Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.

The plant occurs in a wide variety of habitats, including wooded grassland, karroid vegetation and bushveld.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade

Other Characteristics

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

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:
Parasitic plants, such as the mistletoe, Viscum rotundifolium, are often found on the puzzle bush.

The tree is a food source to domestic stock and wild animals, such as the kudu, nyala, bushbuck, impala and grey duiker. Its fruits are eaten by people and many birds such as the Crested Francolin, Helmeted and Crested Guineafowl, Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill, Crested Barbet, bulbuls and starlings.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects
Attracts mammals

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
Ehretia rigida is very attractive to birds and insects and is therefore a wonderful addition to the wildlife garden.

It can be pruned to make a shape and can also be used as a hedge in a garden.

Ripe fruits of this plant are edible but not tasty.

For traditional, medicinal purposes, the roots are powdered and used to treat small cuts in the skin. It is used over the abdomen and chest to relieve pains and is also used to treat gall sickness in cattle.

The plant is believed to bring luck to hunters and is also used to protect huts and crops from hail. Hunters use branches of this plant to make hunting bows and fishing baskets because they are strong and flexible.

The puzzle bush is becoming very popular as a garden plant because it is hardy and drought resistant. It can easily grow from seed and cuttings. Use river sand or a mixture of river sand and compost to sow the seedlings. They should be sown in a seedling tray and be covered with a thin layer of sand. Do not sow the seeds too deeply. If they are sown properly, the seeds will take 10-20 days to germinate. Plants should be kept in nursery bags until the next season before they are planted into the ground.

The plant has a fast growth rate of about 600-700 mm per year.

Similar species:
Ehretia alba

Pests & diseases:
Parasitic plants, such as the mistletoe, Viscum rotundifolium, are often found on the puzzle bush.

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