Well known for the snuff boxes that can be made from its hard-shelled fruit, Oncoba spinosa is a semi-deciduous medicinal tree or shrub that occurs naturally in the north-eastern part of South Africa, primarily in Mpumalanga and further north along the Zambezi River.
It is a slow-growing tree that varies in habit from a shrub, growing to a mature height of 3 – 4 metres tall in drier areas to a much-branched tree with a height of up to 13 metres tall in the moist areas. The leaves are dark, glossy green in colour, leathery and also have toothed margins. Produces many white attractive blooms with a yellow centre, resembling a fried egg from just before or around the time the new leaves are produced. This tree flowers from September to December. It is characterised by branches with straight, sharp, spines up to 7 cm long and smooth bark which is mottled grey in colour. The shiny red brown fruits of Oncoba spinosa are edible, but are rarely used for that purpose.
In the landscape, the snuff – box tree is particularly valued for its large white flowers, which have a mild melon like fragrance and it is often grown as hedge or an ornamental. Oncoba spinosa is frost tolerant and its root system is non-invasive. This tree favours full sun conditions, and grows well on sandy and loam soils.