The Marula Tree

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If you have ever been on safari in Southern Africa, the chances are good that you have had a sundowner drink called Amarula. What you may not know, is that this drink is made from the fruit of the Marula Sclerocarya birrea.

This beautiful medium-sized tree is common in the Kruger National Park and other miombo woodlands of southern Africa, some parts of western Africa and the island of Madagascar. It is a deciduous tree growing up to 18 metres tall. It produces flowers from September to November and bear fruit from January to March.

The generic name “Sclerocarya” is derived from the Ancient Greek words ‘skleros’ meaning ‘hard’ and ‘karyon’ meaning ‘nut’. This refers to the hard pit of the fruit. The “birrea” comes from the common name ‘birr’, for this type of tree in Senegal. The Marula belongs to the same family as the mango, cashew, pistachio and sumac.
Other common names for the Marula include jelly plum, cat thorn and cider tree. The Marula tree is protected in South Africa.

It has many uses for humans and is of great socioeconomic importance. The fruit has been eaten as food since ancient times, the fruit juice and pulp are made into a traditional alcoholic beverage, the fruit can be burnt and made into a type of “coffee” and Marula oil is used as a skin moisturiser and cosmetic ingredient. The fruit is, of course, also used to make the famous cream liqueur Amarula, a South African icon product the world over. The Marula also has various medicinal uses, including heartburn relief (leaves), antihistaminic properties (bark) and diarrhea relief (bark and branches).

The Marula, apart from providing shade for animals, also provides food for them. Various animals eat the fruit, including African Elephants, Giraffes, Greater Kudus, Common Warthogs and Chacma Baboons. African Elephants also eat the bark and branches of the tree and distribute the Marula seeds in their dung. The tree is also a favourite siesta spot for the Leopard.

The Marula has also featured in the writings and movies of Herman Charles Bosman, Jamie Uys and many others. There is also a firm belief among the Venda people of South African that the Marula has the power to determine the gender of an unborn child!
An interesting tree indeed!

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