BOTANICAL: Sclerocarya birrea
COMMON NAME: Marula / Cider Tree
OTHER NAMES: Maroela (Afr) umGanu (Zulu) mufula (Tsivenda) ukanyi (Tsonga)
FAMILY: Anacardiaceae (The Mango family)

  • A family of flowering plants belonging to the Sapindales order, commonly found in the warmer and temperate regions of the world, with somewhat 80 genera and 870 species of evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs and woody vines. Several members are of commercial importance, producing useful, edible fruits, such as the Mango, Cashew and Pistachio trees, and many produce a watery or milky latex, which has been known to cause skin irritation or be toxic, such as the Poison Ivy from America. Members usually have minuscule flowers, male & female borne on separate trees, and fruits that are fleshy, often edible, drupes. The leaves are typically compound, comprising of several smaller leaflets in various formations.



Marula usually grows as a medium sized tree, with a relatively short, erect trunk, attractive silvery-grey, speckled bark and a dense or lightly curved crown of dense, bright foliage. Rich crops of delectable, juicy fruits are readily devoured by most animals and people, and it is one of our most cherished and commercially significant, multipurpose indigenous trees, its uses reputed to have known for more than 10 000 years. It is a protected species.


  • Commonly found in medium to low elevations, in open woodland, wooded grasslands, riverine thickets, bushveld, on rocky bluffs, in or along the margins of forests, from the south coast of Natal, and further north into Swaziland. Also in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.


  • Deciduous.


  • Pale, grey-brown to silvery, purplish-grey, flaking and cracking in roundish, irregular segments, giving the tree a lovely, artistic and mottled appearance. The ends of the branchlets are stout, stumpy and thick, and the main stem is usually straight and tall, with a diameter of about 600 mm.


  • The main leaves are large (150-300 mm long) and handsome, compound and alternately or spirally arranged, and can often be seen clustered near the ends of the branchlets. Oval to broadly elliptic (25-100 x 150-450 mm), with 3-7 pairs of opposite or sub opposite leaflets, plus a terminal one. They are bright green above, significantly paler and bluish green below, hairless, with broadly tapering to rounded, slightly asymmetrical, bases and narrow, slender tips. The margins are finely serrated or toothed on younger and coppiced leaves, and entire on mature specimens. The leafstalk is long and slender, (30-50 mm), with a light pinkish hue. New leaves are an attractive, coppery, metallic red colour, and the leaves turn a cheerful yellow in colder areas, before being shed in autumn.


  • Small, inconspicuous flowers are carried in unbranched sprays that usually appear before the new leaves. These consist of stiff, somewhat erect spikes (50-80 mm). The individual flowers are deep pink, yellow or white, and new buds are a striking, deep-wine red. The male and female flowers are separate, borne either on the same tree or separately. Male flowers are carried on larger sprigs of up to 8 cm long, while female flowers are smaller, only up to 3 cm, and occur singly or in small groups. (September to November)


  • A large, fleshy, almost spherical drupe (35-40 mm diameter), with a smooth texture, thick, pale-green skin and 3 rather vague marks just below the tip. A white flesh covers the single, woody stone, and the fruits often fall to the ground while still green, where they ripen to a creamy yellow. Only the female flowers eventually bear fruit. (February to June)


  • Each stone contains 2-3 seeds or small kernels, which have a taste similar to walnuts and are highly nutritious and quite tasty.




  • 7-13 m, occasionally reaching 20 m.


  • 8 -15 m


  • Frost sensitive. It prefers a temperate to warm, frost-free environment but also occurs in zones where temperatures may drop below freezing point for a very short period in winter. Young and unestablished plants should be given adequate protection. Moderately drought tolerant, as they grow in areas where there is usually a distinct dry season and moderate rainfall. Young plants are susceptible to fire damage.


  • A fast grower, 0.7 to 1.6 m per year, especially when young and given adequate amounts of water.


  • Prefers a sunny position.


  • Tolerant of a wide variety of soil conditions, from sandy to loam, and has even been seen growing in very rocky places. it flourishes in soils that are too poor to support other vegetations, and is remarkably tolerant of saline soils. Favours well-drained soils. Moderate water-requirements.


  • Hardy, able to grow in poor, sandy and saline soils, making it ideal for problematic coastal gardens. Maroelas also make lovely, deep shade giving trees, and look very appealing when planted as a single specimen. A wonderful food giving tree for reserves and farms. In large parks or gardens, the trees look magnificent, and will attract a large variety of wildlife.


  • The flowers are visited by honeybees, ants, butterflies and occasionally, sunbirds. The tasty fruits are enjoyed by most mammals, including baboons, monkeys, small antelope, livestock, bush pigs, warthogs, giraffe and elephants, who also habitually strip and eat the bark. The trees are also host to the larval stages of the Charaxinae and Lycaenidae butterflies, as well as the gorgeous African moon moth (Argema mimosae). In summer, certain trees are nearly completely stripped of their leaves by huge saturniid caterpillars (amaCimbi), which often cover entire trees with their silvery webs, and are collected and eaten by local people.


  • Propagation can be done by seed or cuttings. If propagating from seed, it is recommended that fresh, yellow, not green, fruits should be harvested from the ground. The seeds show strong dormancy and therefore the hard-outer shell must be broken to ensure good germination. (without this pre- treatment, germination may take as long as nine months.) The sturdy outer layer acts as a physical barrier to prevent germination. Soak the seeds overnight in warm water to soften the lids, and use a sharp object to remove them. Sow the seeds in the rainy season, from September to late December, in large seedling trays filled with a well-drained, loose mixture of river sand and fertiliser (2:1). Keep in a cool, shady area, and mist often, keeping the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Germination will generally occur within 3-5 weeks. Cuttings should be taken from active growths on the tree, are usually about 10 to 15 cm in diameter, 2 m in length and are planted at a depth of 1 m. With adequate moisture, roots are usually readily produced from the buried butt ends, and a rooting hormone can be used to improve rooting.


  • The bark contains numerous anti-inflammatory and antidiarrheal compounds, and is taken orally or as an emetic to treat dysentery, diarrhoea, various stomach complaints and fever. The leaves are chewed to provide relief from indigestion, heartburn and diabetes symptoms. The root is pulverized, mixed with water, then drunk ton treat schistosomiasis, or applied topically to rinse scabies sores. The leaves and fruits are chewed to provide relief from persistent coughs, and the fruits have a mild laxative effect when consumed in copious amount.


  • The wood is pale, whitish to pinkish-brown, strong, heavy and evenly-grained. Used for making household items, carvings, ornaments, drums, furniture, panelling and as a good quality firewood. The inner layer of bark is fibrous, and makes a sturdy rope, and the fresh bark yields a pale, brown-red dye. The main use of the fruits is to produce a nutritious, traditional, beer-like beverage, or to add flavour to liqueurs. They are generally produced in abundance, have a tart but pleasant taste, are very juicy and contain about 4 times more Vitamin C than oranges. The fruits have a rich scent, and are also used to make delicious jellies, preserves, sweets, vinegar and syrup. The seeds are laboriously removed from the stones, and are consumed raw or cooked, even crushed and mixed with maize or porridge. They contain a protein rich, nutrient dense oil, and when boiled in water, a mixture suitable for skin application is obtained.