Animal feed resources information system

Red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum)

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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Common names 

Red bush willow, sabi willow, bush willow [English], rooiblaar, rooiboswilg [Afrikaner]; umbhondo [Ndebele]; mohwelere [Sepedi]; bonda, chikukute, mudziyaishe, mugodo, mugoro, ndhuva, tsingidzi [Shona]; imbondvo [Swazi]; muvuvha [Tshivenda]; mohwidiri [Tswana]; umbondwe [Zulu]

Taxonomic information 

Red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum) is member of the Combretaceae family which encompasses 16 genera and 530 species. The members of the Combretum genus are usually climbing species but Combretum apiculatum is not (Masupa et al., 2011)

Related feed(s) 

Red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum) is a deciduous, small to medium-sized tree reaching 10 m in height that is found in many savannah areas of tropical eastern Africa and of southern Africa. It is widely browsed by wild and domestic ruminants.


Red bush willow is a deciduous, small to medium-sized tree growing to a height of 10 m. It has a deep root and is a single or multi-stemmed species with a short, often curved trunk and a scanty, irregular crown. The slender branches are dropping and provide the tree a willow-like habit. The bark of the trunk is initially smooth but becomes fissured and scaly with age, grey to dark grey or brownish grey in colour. The leaves are thin, shiny, yellow green in colour in summer and brownish red or yellow in winter. They are opposite or borne in whorls of 3 at the nodes. The leaf blade is 3-14 cm long x 1.5- 7.5 cm wide and may have sharp twisted tips, hence the Latin epithet “apiculatum” The flowers are fragrant, yellow to creamy green in colour. They are borne in groups of 3-4 on axillary, shortly petiolated spikes of new shoots. Flowering occurs during spring and summer. The fruits are nearly spherical, 4-winged, one-seeded, 3 cm long x 2.5 cm broad. They are sticky and green when young and they become glossy yellowish- green to reddish brown at maturity. The fruits remain on the tree up to the next flowering season (Hyde et al., 2019; Becking, 2018; Masupa et al., 2011).


Red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum) can be used as fodder for livestock and wildlife provided they do not eat the seeds since these ones are poisonous and are only eaten by the brown-headed parrot (Masupa et al., 2011). The scented flowers are attractive to bees and ants. The wood, which is hard and resistant to termites, is used to make fence posts wheel spokes and good furniture but only of small dimension because the tree has limited size. Red bush willow is used as an ornamental with nice autumn colours and it makes a nice shade tree (Masupa et al., 2011). Red bush willow extracts have been reported to have several biological activities like anthelminthic effect, antischistosomal activity and antibacterial effect (Lima et al., 2012).


Red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum) is widespread in many countries of tropical eastern and southern Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South-Africa.

It is found in dry open woodland and savannah. It is considered an indicator of mixed veld in South-Africa. It is naturally occuring from sea level up to 1400-1500 m altitude in places where rainfall is average or in semi-arid areas. Red bush willow can grow on sandy, granitic or rhyolitic soils as well as in rocky places on basalt plains. Once established, the tree is frost and drought resistant (Hyde et al., 2019; Becking, 2018; Masupa et al., 2011).

Forage management 

It was reported that red bush willow could withstand severe defoliation (100%) without compromising growth of the tree in the short term but could have detrimental effect on the future growth seasons (Rooke et al., 2006). In a former trial, the author had also demonstrated through simulation of goat browsing that browsing by mammals could enhance shoot growth and leaf production of red bush willow (Rooke, 2003).

Environmental impact 

Quality pasture indicator

Red bush willow was reported to be an indicator of mixed veld, an intermediary form of natural rangeland between sweetveld (palatable year-round) and sourveld  (poorly palatable during winter) (Macaskill, 2016).

Nutritional aspects
Potential constraints 

Poisonous seeds

Red bush willow seeds have been reported to be poisonous (Masupa et al., 2011)


Red bush willow is known to be browsed by wild ruminants. In the Mopani woodland of Southern Africa, during the wet season the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepciseros) relishes on red bush willow which represents the largest portion of the female diet (44%) and of the male diet (34%) (Makhado et al., 2016a). During the dry season the red bush willow foliage intake dropped to 5% only (Makhado et al., 2016b).

In natural reserves, red bush willow was also reported to be an important source of fodder for giraffes almost all year at the exception of the few weeks whent the tree sheds its leaves. The red bush willow foliage intake of giraffes was positively correlated with protein and moisture content (Sauer et al., 1982).

Red bush willow green foliage collected on the trees was assessed as a protein supplement to grasses or crop residues for livestock feeding. The composition and digestion parameters were studied. The medium-low protein content of the foliage was found to be insufficient for livestock grazing on poor quality grass and protein availability was thought to be reduced by its high tannin content (Lukhele et al., 2003). It could however be recommended in periods of grass scarcity (Lukhele et al., 2003).


In Niger, rams fed on poor quality forage were given access to red bush willow during 60 or 120 minutes a day. They had higher overall DM intake but the digestibility of the red bush willow was lower than that of control and the animals allowed to browse had much poorer growth than animals fed on controls or on another browse species Ziziphus mauritiana. These results could be explained by the high level and the nature of tannins contained in red bush willow foliage (Sangaré et al., 2003)


In Botswana, red bush willow foliage was used to replace alfafa in the diet of Tswana goats fed on a buffel grass basal diet. It was shown that there were no difference in feed intake, in water intake, and in growth performance between animals fed on alfalfa and those fed on red bush willow foliage. It was concluded that goats could be supplemented with red bush willow foliage (Aganga et al., 1999).



Up to now, no information seems available in the international literature on the use red bush willow leaves in rabbit feeding (August 2019). However, since some positive results were obtained with ruminants such as goats for example (see Ruminants section above) some experiments with rabbits would be welcome. However, as long as results of such experiments are not available, use of this type of low fibre and low protein forage may not be recommended in rabbit feeding. As for other herbivorous animals, seeds of red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum) must be considered as toxic for rabbits.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 88.0 1
Crude protein % DM 12.3 12.2 12.4 2
Crude fibre % DM 21.6 1
NDF % DM 32.9 32.4 33.4 2
ADF % DM 22.3 21.4 23.2 2
Lignin % DM 3.2 2.6 3.7 2
Ether extract % DM 3.8 1
Ash % DM 10.0 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.9 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 28.4 1
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.9 1

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Balogun et al., 1998; Groenewald et al., 1967

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:53

Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/164 Last updated on August 20, 2019, 11:01

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