Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst.

First published in Flora 27(Bes. Beil.): 1 (1844)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is W. Tropical Africa to Ethiopia and Tanzania. It is a tree and grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome.

Descriptions

Anacardiaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:2. 1958

Morphology General Habit
A savannah tree, to 40 ft. high,
Morphology General Bark
Grey fissured bark
Morphology Branches
Stout branchlets
Morphology Leaves
Pale foliage
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Flowers greenish-white or reddish
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruits yellow, thick-skinned, resembling a small mango
Morphology General Shoots
Sterile regrowth shoots often with coarsely serrate leaflets
Ecology
In the drier savannah regions.
[FWTA]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

An African tree with juicy fruits that are much sought after by many local people, marula is a member of the Anacardiaceae, the same plant family to which mangos and cashews belong. Marula fruit is highly prized by many animals, from elephants to mongooses - although the story that they can get drunk on fermented fruit is probably just fiction. The fruit pulp is made into a popular alcoholic drink, known as maroela mampoer or amarula.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Marula is distributed from Senegal to Ethiopia and south to South Africa and is also found in Madagascar.

Description

Overview: A tree up to 18 m tall, with a rounded crown (the leafy part of the tree) and cracked, grey bark. Trees are either male or female.

Leaves: Divided into 7‒21 leaflets with separate points of attachment along a central axis.

Flowers: Small, whitish-purple to red, in tight groups on long stalks (male flowers) or in clusters of 1‒3 (female flowers).

Fruit: Yellow, round or egg-shaped, 2.5‒5.0 cm across, with a juicy flesh surrounding a hard stone.

Uses

Marula fruit is prized by many African people. It has a delicate nutty flavour and contains a higher concentration of vitamin C than oranges. The stone is high in protein, and the seed oil contains antioxidants.

A decoction of the bark is used medicinally against malaria, scorpion and snake bites, dysentery, diarrhoea and haemorrhoids. An infusion of the fruit is used to bathe cattle with the aim of destroying any ticks present.

The wood is used for furniture, planks, carving and utensils. Rope is made from the inner bark, and the bark also yields a red-brown dye used in traditional crafts. The nectar attracts insect pollinators, and marula is often planted to attract pollinators to farms.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Sclerocarya birrea (marula) fruits

Eight collections of marula seeds are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

See Kew's Seed Information Database for more information on Sclerocarya birrea seeds

Cultivation

Marula can be grown from seed or from sticks planted during the early rainy season. It can grow up to 1.5 m in a year but will not tolerate frost.

This species at Kew

Sclerocarya birrea is grown in the behind-the-scenes Tropical Nursery at Kew.

Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Sclerocarya birrea are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including some images, can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Specimens of marula wood and bark and a box of marula-flavoured biscuits are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Distribution
Madagascar
Ecology
Wooded grassland, woodland, bushland on rocky hills.
Conservation
Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria; widespread and locally common.
Hazards

None known.

[KSP]

Anacardiaceae, J. O. Kokwaro (University of Nairobi). Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1986

Morphology General Habit
A spreading deciduous tree up to 18 m. high; bole pale grey, widely reticulate and flaking in small or large scales.
Morphology Leaves
Leaves variable, 7–37-foliolate, 10–38 cm. long; rachis semicylindric, grooved above, glabrous; leaflets round, ovate, obovate, elliptic or oblong-elliptic, 0.8–9(–11) cm. long, 0.7–3.5(6) cm. broad, acuminate or cuspidate to obtuse or apiculate at the apex, asymmetric and slightly cuneate or rounded at the base, margin entire to dentate-serrate (especially on new outgrowths), lateral ones sessile or with petiolules up to 3 cm. long, the terminal petiolule up to 5 cm. long, membranous to semicoriaceous, glabrous; midrib prominent beneath; lateral nerves distinct on both sides and impressed or slightly raised and reticulate beneath.
sex Male
Male inflorescences 7–22 cm. long; peduncle puberulous; bracts ovate, ± 2 mm. long by 1.5 mm. broad, obtuse, puberulous or glabrous. Male flowers:sepals ± 2 mm. long and broad; petals oblong-ovate, 4–6 mm. long, 3–4 mm. broad, obtuse, yellow to dark red with cream margins; filaments ± 3 mm. long; anthers 1–1.5 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Female inflorescences shorter, usually 1 or 2(–3)-flowered; peduncle and pedicels thickened during fruiting stage; sepals and petals similar to ♂; staminodes present; ovary subglobose. Male inflorescences 7–22 cm. long; peduncle puberulous; bracts ovate, ± 2 mm. long by 1.5 mm. broad, obtuse, puberulous or glabrous. Male flowers:sepals ± 2 mm. long and broad; petals oblong-ovate, 4–6 mm. long, 3–4 mm. broad, obtuse, yellow to dark red with cream margins; filaments ± 3 mm. long; anthers 1–1.5 mm. long.
sex Female
Female inflorescences shorter, usually 1 or 2(–3)-flowered; peduncle and pedicels thickened during fruiting stage; sepals and petals similar to ♂; staminodes present; ovary subglobose.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Drupe obovoid, 3–3.5 cm. in diameter, yellow and with a very juicy mesocarp; stone obovoid, 2–3 cm. long, 2.5 cm. in diameter.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
Seed 1.5–2 cm. long, 0.4–0.8 cm. wide.
[FTEA]

Uses

Use
Edible fruits, medicine, timber.
[KSP]

Common Names

English
Marula

Sources

  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    • Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Flora of West Tropical Africa

    • Flora of West Tropical Africa
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Species Profiles

    • Kew Species Profiles
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0