Vepris lanceolate can occur as an evergreen shrub or small tree of up to 5 m in height but can reach a height of 8m in dry forest areas. The bark is smooth and grey to dark grey in colour. The leaves are trifoliate, leathery, alternately arranged on the stem, and hairless. The leaflets are narrowly elliptic in shape, with the margins entire and wavy; the tip tapers to a more or less rounded point. The flowers are small, inconspicuous, star-shaped and arranged in terminal heads or panicles and are greenish yellow in colour. The globose, 4 celled fruit is covered by a smooth, thin, fleshy cover that turns black when ripe.
This endemic Mascarene tree thrives mostly in humid conditions but can tolerate and survive an occasional drought. The tree grows relatively quickly and does not develop an aggressive root system. The flowers are pollinated by flies and geckos, the fruit are dispersed by birds. Seedlings and young shrubs can be seen in the wild.
The species is considered ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. It can be grown from seeds. It is used in forest restoration projects and makes an excellent garden shrub. The population is declining due to habitat loss and the invasion of exotic species.
The trifoliate leaves look like a "hen’s foot" hence its vernacular name.
Traditionally, the powdered root is used to treat the flu and colic and the leaves are burnt to dispel evil spirits.
The wood was used for the manufacture of wheel spokes, sleeves, roof beams, ornaments and carpentry.
The leaves and fruits are covered with glandular points which when crushed spread a lemony scent.
The first sample of the plant was collected in 1797 by Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Larmarck, French naturalist, soldier and biologist.