Indigenous marula tree
Scientific name: Sclerocarya birrea - Poupartia birrea.
Sclerocarya birrea is a medium to large tree, usually 9m tall, but can grow up to 18m. The bark is grey and usually peels off in flat, round disks, exposing the underlying light yellow tissue. It has a thick, relatively short taproot.
Bark of Sclerocarya birrea is used to treat a variety of illnesses, notably fever, boils and diarrhoea. Together with butter, it is applied as an cream for headache and pains of the eyes. Steam from the bark is also used to treat eye disorders. Bark extracts can be mixed with other medicinal plants to treat sicknesses such as, malaria, syphilis, leprosy, dysentery and hepatitis. Leaves, bark and roots are used externally (as a rub) for snakebites, and internally (as a beverage) for toothache. It has occasionally been used in veterinary medicine.
All parts of the fruit of Sclerocarya birrea are edible. The pulp can be consumed raw or boiled into a thick, black consistency and used for sweetening porridge. The fruit is an excellent jam and makes a delicious amber-coloured jelly. A relatively good quality rope can be made from the inner bark. The wood is light reddish-brown to whitish with no definite heartwood, soft and light. As trees attain large diameters, the wood is preferred for mortars, pestles, bowls and various local crafts, saddles, furniture and heavy crates. The nuts yield an oil with a quality and fatty acid composition comparable to olive oil but with a stability that is 10 times greater. The oil from the seeds has preservative properties. A popular, fermented alcoholic beverage is prepared from the ripe fruit. The yeast occurring naturally in the fruit is normally used for spontaneous fermentation. The tree is a host to the edible mopane worms commonly known as vinkubala (N).
Planting and tree management
Sclerocarya birrea is a fast-growing tree and grow up to 1.5m per year.
The fruits are eaten by cattle and goats and a wide variety of game animals.
The plant grows in areas where the mean annual temperature is within the range 19 - 35°c; the mean annual rainfall is in the range 200 - 1,600mm; and there is a well-defined dry season. It prefers a warm, frost-free climate but is also found at high altitudes where temperatures may drop below freezing point for a very short period in winter. It prefers well drained sandy soils and loams in the wild, though it is also often found growing on rocky hills and tolerates a pH in the range 4.5 - 6.5