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Marula Rare Fruit Trees Skyfield Tropical.

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Other Names: Drunkard’s Plum, Elephant Plum


Related To: [Anacardiaceae] Mango, Cashew, Pistachio

Main Uses: Fruit, Seed, Oil

Growth Rate: Moderate to fast.

Mature Height/Spread: To 50′ but usually smaller.

Flowering/Pollination: Most commonly, trees are diecious; and only the females bear fruit, requiring a male for pollination. Hermaphroditic trees have been reported, but produce less fruit.

Tolerance: Well adapted to drought, and extreme heat. High tolerance for salt.

Soil/Nutrition: Grows well on fertile soils, but is well adapted to thrive almost anywhere. This tree is very adaptable.

Light: Full sun.

Wind: Very sturdy.

Temperature: Can tolerate light freezes. Trees are deciduous and will shed their leaves in winter.

Dangers: None.

Diseases Prone: Unknown.

Bearing Age: 6-10 years from seed, but sometimes longer.

Fruit: Fruits are plum-sized, dropping to the ground while still slightly green, and ripening naturally under the tree. The flesh is mango-like, though often with a more piney tone. The nut, which has a creamy flavor like macadamia, is eaten also, being often more sought after than the fruit surrounding it.

History/Origin: Marula is native and common to Southern and tropical Africa, predominantly in drylands and open woodlands. It is a prolific tree, with older specimens producing 3-4 tons of fruit (many thousands of individual fruits) in a good season.

There are three distinct types of marula. The Southern marula is a subspecies classified as Sclerocarya Birrea ssp. Caffra. This species is most suited and used for food purposes. The northern occurring populations are designated Sclerocarya Birrea ssp. Birrea, with an intermediate subspecies Sclerocarya Birrea ssp. Multifoliata occurring between these ranges.

The English name “drunkard’s plum” comes from a regional fable. It is said that monkeys and elephants eat old, fermented marula fruit from the ground and become intoxicated. The fruit does in fact ferment easily, being often used for the production of alcoholic drinks. This intoxicated animal story is unlikely to be true, as freshly fallen fruits do not lay around long enough to ferment, and the amounts of alcohol potentially produced are miniscule. The name “drunkard’s plum” is set, nonetheless. Marula is not domesticated in any strict sense, however it has clearly been planted deliberately along human habitation zones and migration areas for centuries or longer. The presence of exclusively female trees (males do not bear fruit) is an indicator of human cultivation.

Species Observations: This species has significant underground growth. The roots are large compared to above ground growth, the trademark of a species evolved to water conservation. Because this species is so vigorous when actively growing, if done carefully this large root can be split, or root cuttings taken, to produce new trees.

Propogation: By seed, which often require a few months of dormancy before sprouting. Expose them to direct sunlight and keep them moist for best results. Sometimes they do not sprout until the following year. Seeds can contain 2-4 embryos. If cleaned and dried, they can be stored for years and still be viable. Aerial and root cuttings are used to clone desirable trees. Cultivars with large fruits (as big as 1/2 pound) are being developed in South Africa, Botswana and Israel.

Container Culture: Possible, but not ideal.

Medicinal Uses:

Nutritional Information: Vitamin C: 180 mg, per 100 g of fruit (4 times that of an orange)

The kernel (nut) is calorie dense: 700 calories per 100 grams. The nut is considered very nutritious, being high in healthy oil (57-61%) as well as protein (30%), and a collection of trace minerals and b vitamins.

Preparation / Food: Fruits can be eaten fresh, but very often are prepared for fermenting a hard “marula cider” or “marula beer,” which is very popular in all regions when in season. The fruit is particularly prone to fermentation naturally, so this use is a natural fit. The fruits are also prepared simply as a juice, or sometimes boiled down into a syrup used to sweeten or flavor other foods.

Marula nuts are roasted in their hard, woody shells before being cracked and eaten. Extracting the kernels can be a difficult task, and usually the nut is broken with rocks or a hammer of several pounds weight. A common household hammer will not suffice. A macadamia nut breaker would be well advised for this purpose.