Bottle tree (Pachypodium lealii)

Bottle trees in habitat
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Bottle tree fact file

Bottle tree description

GenusPachypodium (1)

The bottle tree owes its name to the unusual swollen shape of its succulent trunk (3). Covered in slender thorns, the narrow branches of this shrub or tree spread sparsely from the top of the trunk, while the leaves are arranged in spiral clusters towards the tips (1) (3) (4). At flowering, the leaves drop off, and long, pointed buds positioned at the ends of the leafless branches, open into attractive, sweet-smelling, white flowers, flushed with purple on the undersides. The conspicuous fruit are borne in V-shaped pairs of cylindrical follicles that split down one side to shed numerous seeds, each tufted on one end with a plume of hair that aids dispersal (1) (3). The two subspecies of Pachypodium lealii are separated by more than a 1,000 kilometres, but share many of the same characteristics (3) (5). However, while the nominate subspecies Pachypodium lealii lealii grows up to eight metres tall and has velvety leaves, P. l. saundersii, commonly known as the kudu lily, rarely grows over 1.5 metres and has glossy leaves (3). Due to their different habit and the large distance that separates the two subspecies, P. l. saundersii is often treated as a separate species, P. saundersii (5).

Also known as
Kudu lily.
Height: 1 - 8 m (1)

Bottle tree biology

Like other pachypodiums, the succulent stem of Pachypodium lealii acts as a water store that enables the plant to tolerate the hot, dry environments in which it grows (3). The nominate subspecies P. l. leali flowers from May to Novemeber, with a peak in August in the middle of the dry winter (5) (6), while P. l. saudersii tends to flower earlier in the year, from February through to May (3).

Traditional hunters in northern Namibia used the highly toxic sap of the bottle tree as an arrow poison, and carved drinking bowls from the wood to poison unwitting birds (6).


Bottle tree range

Pachypodium lealii lealii is found in northwestern Namibia, southwestern Angola and northwestern Botswana, while P. l. saudersii is found in South Africa, Swaziland, southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe (1) (3).


Bottle tree habitat

Occurs in arid or semi-arid environments, amongst dry scrubby vegetation on rocky hillsides or outcrops (1) (3).


Bottle tree status

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).


Bottle tree threats

Neither subspecies of Pachypodium lealii appears to be under significant threat, but the lack of young specimens, and the removal of wild plants for trade, is a concern in Namibia (6).


Bottle tree conservation

Both Pachypodium lealii subspeciesare listed on Appendix II of CITES, which makes it an offence to trade these plants without a permit (2).


Find out more

For further information on Pachypodium lealii and other Pachypodium species see:



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Dry fruit derived from a single carpal that split along one side to release numerous seeds.
Nominate subspecies
The subspecies indicated by the repetition of the specific name. Thus, in this case Pachypodium lealiilealii is the nominate subspecies.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2009) Pers. comm.
  2. CITES (March, 2009)
  3. (March, 2009)
  4. Van Wyk, B. and Van Wyk, P. (1997) Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  5. Court, D. (2000) Succulent Flora of Southern Africa. A.A. Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  6. Curtis, B.A. and Mannheimer, C.A. (2005) Tree atlas of Namibia. National Botanical Research Institute of Namibia, Windhoek.

Image credit

Bottle trees in habitat  
Bottle trees in habitat

© Martin Gabriel /

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