Sclerocarya Birrea ssp. caffra
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 t 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.