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The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) as the custodian of forestry in South Africa, highlight two specific trees (one common and one rare species) every year during Arbor Week to help increase public awareness of the 2000 indigenous tree species in South Africa.

  Common Tree Rare Tree
Scientific Name Sclerocarya birrea Philenoptera violacea
Leaves, fruits and stem of of Sclerocarya birrea.

Leaves of Philenoptera violacea
Common name(s) marula (Eng.); morula (Northern Sotho); mufula (Tshivenda); ukanyi (Tsonga); Mufuna, Mupfura, Mushomo (Shona); Umganu (Ndebele)b apple-leaf (Eng.); appelblaar (Afr.); umBhandu, umPhanda, isiHomohomo (isiZulu)
Family Anacardiaceae Fabaceae
Origin Southern Africa, Madagascar and Ethopia Madagascar and southern Africa
Description The marula is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree with an erect trunk and rounded crown. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. It is one of the plants that played a role in feeding people in ancient times. Philenoptera violacea is a hardy, small to medium sized, upright, semi-deciduous tree up to 15 m tall with a wide-spreading, dense and rounded crown that has beautiful pale lavender-grey bark.
Leaves Leaves alternate, crowded near the ends of branches, imparipinnate with 7-15 pairs of ovate to elliptic leaflets and a terminal leaflet, dark green above, paler bluish-green below. Leaves are large (70-200 mm long), unevenly compound with 1-3 pairs of opposite leaflets and one terminal leaflet, hard and rough in texture, shiny or glossy above and grey-green beneath, with prominent midribs. The terminal leaflets are always much bigger than the lower leaflets (about 180 mm long and 90 mm broad).
Fruit Fruits fleshy, plum-like, pale green turning yellow when ripe. The fruit is edible and highly valued by animals and people. Fruit is a flat pod, non-splitting, relatively large (about 120 x 25 mm), hairless, tapering at both ends, persisting on the tree during winter, usually 2- or 3-seeded
Fruiting time September to November September to December
  • The powdered bark is used to treat pregnant women to determine the gender of an unborn baby. If a pregnant woman wishes to have a girl, she will take a preparation from the female plant and for a boy she will use the male plant.
  • A decoction of the bark treats dysentery, diarrhoea, rheumatism and has a prophylactic effect against malaria.
  • The bark is an excellent remedy for haemorrhoids. Roots and bark are also used as laxatives. A drink made from marula leaves is used for the treatment of gonorrhea.
  • In the former homeland of Venda it was a criminal offence to cut down a living tree of this species. The wood is used for furniture, panelling, flooring, carvings and household utensils like spoons. The inner layer of bark makes a strong rope. Drums and yokes for certain animals are made from the wood of this tree. In Namibia some people use the wood for sledges. Boats are also made from the trunk. Red-brown dye can be produced from the fresh skin of the bark. The gum, which is rich in tannin, is mixed with soot and used as ink.
  • Most parts of the plant are used to treat diarrhoea.
  • The roots are used for gastro-intestinal problems; powdered root-bark is used to treat colds and snakebite.
  • Root infusions are commonly used as part of a hookworm remedy.
Propagation This tree grows easily from seed sown in washed river sand in spring. Propagation is by seed. The seeds must first be soaked in hot water, left overnight and planted the next morning in seedling trays.

Boon, R. 2010. Trees of eastern South Africa: A complete guide. The Flora Publication Trust Coates Palgrave, K. 1983. Trees of southern Africa, edn 2. Struik, Cape Town.
Pooley, E. 2005. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publication Trust van Wyk, B-E., van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997.
Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria. van Wyk, B. and van Wyk, P. 2009.
Field guide to trees of Southern Africa. Struik Nature Publishers Venter, F. & Venter, J-A. 1996. Making the most of indigenous trees. Briza Publications