One of the more remarkable trees at Thanda Safari is the marula tree or umganu. Marula trees are of course famous for the liqueur Amarula, which is made from the fruit of the marula tree and is a staple for any fireside nightcap. Marula trees are deciduous trees, found over much of Africa, and can grow up to 18 metres, producing very juicy fruit which is extremely high in Vitamin C. Birds love the fruit, while numerous mammals including elephant, kudu, giraffe and waterbuck eat the fruit and leaves of the tree. The skin of the marula fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee, while the pips can be cracked open to obtain nuts which are rich in protein and can be either eaten raw or cooked with porridge, with the oil being used as a skin cosmetic.
Interestingly, marula trees are dioecious, which means they have a specific gender. It is therefore revered in many cultures in Africa, with the Zulus considering it to be the “marriage tree” as it is a symbol of fertility and is used in a cleansing ritual before marriage. The bark is emerged into boiling water and the steam inhaled for cleansing. It is also believed that the bark infusions can be used to determine the gender of an unborn child, so if a woman wants a son the male tree is used, and for a daughter, the female tree. In the event that a child of the opposite gender is born, the child is considered to be exceptional as it was able to defy the spirits.
The bark can be used in the treatment of dysentery, diarrhoea and fever, including against malaria, while the wood is quite soft which makes it ideal for carving.
For those of you who may have visited Thanda Safari in the past, you would no doubt be familiar with the marula tree found in the waterhole adjacent to the villa. This female marula tree has stood strong through hot and cold, summer and winter, but last week met its untimely demise. One of Thanda’s bulls, Majimbos, decided that it was as good a time as any to push the tree over and with a few good shoves duly did so, for no better reason than because he could! Some Thanda staff members were looking out over the waterhole from the villa and watched it all unfold, just as that marula tree must have presided over thousands of other animal interactions over the years. While the green leaves are reputed to aid in heartburn, we are unfortunately not aware of any other magical properties of these amazing trees that aid in heartache – a truly iconic monument lost forever but that is part of life!
Love from Thanda Safari