There are three Atalaya species in South Africa, namely A. alata, A. capensis and A. natalensis.

This semi-deciduous, small to medium tree generally grows to a height of 4 to 7 m.  Originally found on the rocky slopes of the Lebombo mountains, Atalaya alata grows well in hot, dry areas.  It has a slender shape with a sparse crown and the foliage droops gracefully.  The bark of the tree is greyish white and textured, and the foliage turn yellow in autumn.

From September to December sprays of small, white flowers appear in large heads at the tips of branches, providing a showy display.  Fruits, resembling the propeller like shape of the fruit of the maple tree, are pale green and mature to a brown colour during autumn.

Atalaya adapts well to cultivation and is ideal as a light shade tree in a small garden.  When young, the tree should be protected against frost in colder areas.