Sclerocarya birrea

Family: Anacardiaceae

This is the amarula tree, known as mgongo in Swahili. Scientists formerly called the species Sclerocarya caffra.

It is found in miombo woodland. In different parts of the range the tree has a different appearance. In Kilwa District the tree can be recognized by its stubby twigs, which resemble baobab. The young bark is pink, aging to slate grey with irregular black cracks. The species flowers before the start of the rains. The male and female flowers are borne on different tree (i.e. it is dioecious). Male flowers are variable in colour; female flowers are a curious greenish pink.

The flowers are pollinated by insects and the fruit matures at the end of the rains. They are yellow and about 3cm long, with fibrous flesh and the turpentine taste that poor quality mangoes have. Inside the fruit is a single large stone with three ‘eyes’. Elephants are said to become drunk by eating fermented fruit from under the tree.

This species does not have useful timber. In southern Africa the fruit pulp is used by locals to make jam and alcoholic drinks, and some people eat the oily kernel. The widely available liqueur Amarula is produced in South Africa from this species. Various medical uses are made of the bark.