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The Big Five (No, not that Big Five) – #5: The Marula Tree

In the final commemoration of our Big Five Tree species – which in fact has turned into a magnificent ten – we look at one of Africa’s most beautiful, iconic trees, the Marula tree. The timing of this celebration couldn’t be better, with our own marula trees in full fruit season – a tart and sweet delight for our beasts, birds and insects.

Explore the wonders of Abelana’s Big Five Trees (Baobab, Tamboti, Knobthorn, Marula and Mopane) – tough, beautiful, nurturing and enduring!

The rugged landscape is no match for the trees of Abelana – tough, resilient, resourceful and abundant!

The Marula Tree

When people hear mention of the Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), they generally think immediately of delicious Amarula – a rich, nutty-caramel cream liqueur distinctly flavoured with the citrusy undertones of fermented marula fruit. The exotic alcoholic beverage, first concocted in 1989, is a firm favourite as a dessert liqueur, especially enjoyed by visitors from abroad.

Almost as old as time, the Marula forms an important part of sub-Saharan Africa’s landscape and the people who have dwelled here, century upon century.

  • Marula trees grow as tall as 18m. They are exquisite trees with grey bark and a rich supply of dark leaves that provide deep summer shade.
  • There are female trees and male trees! The male displays flowers, while the female produces the fruit – fascinating!
  • Archaeological evidence shows that marula fruit and nuts – which are rich in minerals and vitamins – provided a source of nutrition as far back as 10,000BC!
  • The Marula tree flowers in Spring, from September to around November. The tree bears a hardy, tart fruit from January through to March, which a variety of animals indulge in during the late summer months. Warthog, waterbuck, kudu, baboons, and especially elephants, will frequent the branches and undergrowth of the Marula for its nutritious, ripe fruit.
  • Marula oil, derived from the fruit kernel, has been found to possess antioxidant, skin healing and hydrating properties, and has been used by local people long before any of this was scientifically established. Ingesting green leaves relieves heartburn, while bark contains a natural antihistamine and malaria prophylactic!
  • Legend has it that when wildlife consumes fermented marula fruit, especially elephants, they become intoxicated. While charming as an African anecdote, this is but a myth – it’s estimated that an elephant would need to consume more than 1,500 well-fermented marula fruits in one seating, in order to feel the effects of any alcohol.

Gracing the woodlands and open plains of southern Africa, the majestic Marula tree draws life from all corners of the continent, for its fruit and beauty and shade – a gift of nature worth paying homage to!

A young Marula silhouetted against a late-afternoon African sky

Another Abelana Favourite – The Nyala Tree

A vision in resplendent, evergreen glory, the Nyala tree (Xanthocercis zambesiaca) is a giant that effortlessly reaches heights of 30m or more. Although it’s not officially a member of our Big Five Trees, it most certainly is worthy of it! With its dense thicket of branches and leaves, the Nyala’s rounded crown provides idyllic shade and shelter for animals of many kinds.

  • The Nyala tree is neither drought-resistant nor frost-tolerant, preferring to grow in deep, fine-grained fertile soil deposited by water flowing over flood plains, on river banks, and directly over underground water sources. That’s why the Nyala grows so well at Abelana.
  • Delicate, rose-scented white flowers produce grape-like fruits –a super food source for elephants, giraffes, various antelope species (including the actual Nyala), and monkeys, baboons, birds and bats.
  • The Nyala tree’s wood is attractive and can be worked and carved into a smooth velvety finish, but unknown to many, it irritates the nose and throat during the process.

At Abelana, we cannot adequately express the gratitude we have for our tree and plant life – for the loveliness that they bring, but most importantly, the wildlife that these magnificent fruit-bearers attract to our slice of African paradise!

We invite you to journey to Abelana and explore for yourself, with our guides as your own.