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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
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Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) Hochst.

Anacardiaceae

syn: S. caffra Sond.

Borana: didisa, Chonyi: fula (fruit), mfula Digo: mngongo, mng'ongo English: cider tree, morula Giriama: mfula, mufula, tulafula (fruit), fula Ilchamus: lmang'wai, lmang'wa Kamba: muuw'a, mauw'a (fruit) Luo: ong'ong'o (Gwasi), ng'ong'o (Kanyamwa), olemo, mang'u (Kadem) Maa: olmang'uai, ilmang'ua (plural) Marakwet: arol, oroluo (singular) Mbeere: mukomothi Pokot: oroluo, oroluwo, Sabaot: kotelalam Swahili: mng'ongo, mongo, mungango Teso: ekajikai Tugen: tololokwo Turkana: ekajiket

Description: A deciduous shrub or medium-sized tree to about 15 m, usually with a rather dense rounded crown. BARK: Grey, finely fissured, scaling. LEAVES: Pinnate, borne at tips of branchlets that end bluntly. Leaflet margins entire or undulate. FLOWERS: Dioecious. Female flowers reddish, borne on long stalks at the tips of branches. FRUIT: Light green, oval or nearly globose, 3-4 cm long, turning yellow on ripening. Fruit skin tough, leathery, enclosing a juicy white pulp and a single large hard nut.

Ecology: A widely distributed species in the dry zones. Ssp. birrea: Found from Senegal to Ethiopia and widespread in Kenya, e.g. in Lambwe Valley (Ruma National Park), Moyale, Ortum (West Pokot) and Baringo. Wooded grassland and rocky hillsides. Commonest on sandy and loam soils as well as dry rocky riverbeds. Ssp. caffra: Found in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) south to South Africa and Madagascar. A very common plant in Botswana. In Kenya, in coastal and adjoining areas. Open bushland, especially on sandy loam soils and rocky hillsides. Altitude: ssp. birrea, 500-1,600 m; ssp. caffra, 0-1,200 m. Zones IV-V.

Uses: FOOD: Ripe fruit eaten raw, fruit cover removed (often after squeezing the fruit several times) and the cream fruit pulp sucked. Pleasantly acid (+++) and strongly scented. Fruits can make a refreshing drink and are exceptionally high in vitamin C. The oil-rich seeds are edible. The stone is cracked and the contents eaten raw (Pokot, Kamba). Children are advised against swallowing the seed as it can easily cause choking. In southern Africa, the fruits are used for making a kind of alcoholic drink.

FOOD/MEDICINAL: Root or bark decoction added to milk as child's health drink (Pokot, Maasai). The bark is added to boiling Balanites pedicellaris cotyledons in the last hour of the 10 hours of cooking to improve taste and colour (Pokot).

MEDICINAL: Bark used for the treatment of dysentery (Pokot). Bark decoction used for diarrhoea, for adults with enlarged spleen as well as for liver diseases (Pokot). Medicine for toothache (Swahili).


Figure


Figure

OTHER: Wood used for making bowls (Pokot), wood carving, mortars, stools, beehives (Kamba). Bark is used for cleaning gourds used in beer brewing. It is left for 3-4 days then washed out (Pokot). The bark also yields a dye as well as fibre. Trees can serve as shade trees but are deciduous. The plant is also a source of soft fuelwood (takes rime to dry). Fruit eaten by elephants and goats; the seeds are regurgitated by the latter and are still of value to humans (Pokot).

COMMERCIAL: Fruits sold (Pokot). Wine made from the fruits.

Season: Fruits in April-May in Kerio Valley, Baringo, Makueni and Sultan Hamud, in July in Homa Bay and Lambwe Valley.

Management: This species does not readily propagate itself by seed. Due to the hard coat, seeds require pre-treatment by nicking or applying concentrated sulphuric acid to enhance germination. The species does not respond well to coppicing.

Status: May be locally uncommon.

Remarks: A quite variable species, especially in leaf shape, fruit size and taste. The two subspecies may be distinguished by the shape of the leaflets:

· ssp. birrea: Leaflets are usually shorter with obtuse or acute tips, and
· ssp. caffra (Sond.) Kokwaro (syn: S. caffra Sond.):

Leaflets have narrower and more elongate tips. This is the marula fruit which is much valued in southern Africa, especially in Botswana. Ripe fruits fall from the tree to the ground where they ferment naturally and can be quite intoxicating to humans, goats and wild game. In Botswana, varieties with exceptionally large fruit have been bred. Fruiting has been achieved in about 3 years in grafted plants.


Figure