Although it resembles the buffalo thorn, Ziziphus rivularis is a thornless upright tree with dark green leaves. This tree is evergreen to semi-deciduous depending on the prevailing growing conditions. It is fast growing reaching a mature height of 7m. This tree is not endemic to any particular area in South Africa, it occurs in bushveld, along stream banks and watercourses, often among rocks in the Limpopo, Kwa Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga.

The glossy leaves of this tree are simple, alternate and spirally arranged. They may be hairy when young becoming smoother with maturity. The bark is smooth and whitish, and it becomes grey with maturity of the tree. The False Buffalo thorn bears yellowish inconspicuous flowers in November. These are followed by shiny yellow fruits that attract a variety of bird species to the garden.

Z.rivularis tolerates frost to a certain extent and does best in warm climates. Since this tree is bird friendly, it will make a useful addition to the garden where the purpose is to attract or benefit wildlife. It is also ideal for small gardens.