Marula Tree: [Planting, Care, Harvest, Irrigation and Characteristics]

The marula tree, native to Africa, is a species that stands out for its evergreen leaves and a fruit that has been widely used in cosmetology.

This fruit can also be consumed because it has a pleasant sweet taste.

In general, it is not very tall, being able to reach up to 10 meters, or even 20, when the environmental conditions are adequate.

The marula tree cannot be kept isolated, as it needs male and female specimens to successfully achieve its flowering process.

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Important points when planting the Marula tree

  • Scientific name: Sclerocarya birrea.
  • When? In summer.
  • Where? In full sunlight.
  • How do we prepare the land? It needs good drainage, so it could be prepared with peat or sand additions.
  • How should we water? By drip.
  • How often do you have to water? Every day in the germination phase and every 2 or 3 days when it is growing.
  • What pests and diseases does it have? In general, none.

Characteristics of the marula

It is a single- stemmed tree with a broad crown spreading horizontally.

It is characterized by a mottled gray bark. The tree grows up to 18 m tall, especially at low altitudes and in open woodland.

The distribution of this species in Africa and Madagascar has followed the Bantu in their migrations. There is some evidence of human domestication of marula trees, as trees found on farmland tend to have larger fruit sizes.

The fruits, which ripen between December and March, have a light yellow skin (exocarp), with white pulp (mesocarp). They fall to the ground when immature and green, and then mature to a yellow color on the ground.

The fruits are drupes with a single seed enclosed within its endocarp, although up to four seeds may be present. They are succulent and tart with a strong, distinctive flavor. Inside is a thick-walled, walnut-sized bone (endocarp).

These stones, when dry, expose the seeds by shedding 2 (sometimes 3) small circular plugs at one end. The seeds have a delicate nutty flavor and are highly sought after, especially by small rodents that know to gnaw exactly where the plugs are located.

The trees are dioecious, which means there are male and female trees. Male trees produce multiple male flowers in a cluster. These have red sepals and petals, and about 20 stamens per flower. On rare occasions a male flower may produce a gynoecium, making it bisexual.

The female flowers grow individually on their own pedicels and have staminodes.

Sclerocarya birrea (marula) is divided into three subspecies: subspecies birrea, subspecies caffra, and subspecies multifoliolata.

These subspecies are differentiated by changes in the shape and size of the leaves. They also grow in different areas of Africa. The birrea subspecies is found in North Africa, the caffra subspecies is found in southern Africa, and the multifoliolata subspecies is found only in Tanzania.

The leaves are alternate, compound and divided. Leaf shapes range from round to elliptical.

When to plant a marula tree?

Being from Africa, the marula stands out among its germination needs of high ambient temperatures.

This condition makes it an ideal species to sow in summer, when the thermometer is in full rise.

Where to plant a marula?

Marula needs to be planted in full sun. Being a species from the African savannah, it is used to these conditions.

Another important detail is that the terrain must be flat, since it does not survive above 2000 meters above sea level.

How to prepare the land?

The soil needs to be firm but with good drainage capacity, since it is a species that needs a lot of moisture but no waterlogging.

A good way to add this condition, if you don’t have it, is by mixing the soil with a substrate such as sand or peat.

On the other hand, the pH accepted by the species leans towards the acid, a level between 5 and 7 being acceptable.

A last important point is that it is a deep soil, since the roots of the tree tend to expand a lot.

How do we water the marula?

We recommend drip irrigation. The water is used better and also, the land around the tree does not puddle.

How often do we water?

Humidity is a first level requirement for marula . The needs will be classified in two stages.

The first is germination where the amount of water to provide will have to be abundant.

The second is at the time of development and growth where the needs will decrease a little, until reaching a medium range.

In this second stage, an interdaily or capillarity irrigation system could be applied.

How to plant a marula step by step?

  1. Open the shell of the seed. This is quite hard and if this process is not carried out, it is very likely that you will not be able to germinate it. In fact, to open it you will need the support of a tool, such as a small saw that allows access to the interior.
  2. Extract the core of the seed that you will find inside the shell. This part is what you will use to plant. It is an area of ​​very fine brown skin that you have to be careful not to mistreat when you are opening the outer bark.
  3. Check the seed and check which is the thinnest side it has because this will be the one you will use to plant. However, before proceeding with this step, the seed needs to be soaked for a period of between 12 and 24 hours to soften the exterior.
  4. Open a small hole in a germinator and insert the seed.
  5. Water with plenty of water and repeat the operation daily. It is important to note that although it needs high temperatures to prosper, it also needs humidity because, if it does not have it, it will not be able to germinate.
  6. Wait about 2 weeks to start noticing changes in the structure of the seed. In fact, it is one of the species that manages to advance in this process more quickly.
  7. When you have already given your first plant and it is in suitable conditions for transplanting (measuring about 30 centimeters), carry out the process to the final place, taking care not to mistreat its structure too much.
  8. After burying, water abundantly so that the soil compacts and continue this process every 2 days.

If the area where the seedling is going to be planted suffers from constant winds, it will be necessary to establish a protective barrier until it has enough strength to support itself.

What care does the marula tree need?

At the beginning, when it is in the germination phase, the marula is demanding with high temperatures.

However, after having passed this process , it is quite adaptable, accepting a range that covers from 10 to 30º C.

It is also important to make sure that it is not subjected to frost because it will not be able to withstand them.

In fact, it is a species that is designed for tropical climates where the 4 seasons are not present, but only the dry and rainy seasons.

Uses given to the fruit of the marula

traditional uses

The fruit is traditionally used as food in Africa and is of considerable socio-economic importance.

The juice and pulp of the fruit are mixed with water and stored in a container for 1 to 3 days of fermentation to make marula beer, a traditional alcoholic beverage. The distilled alcoholic beverage (maroela-mampú) made from the fruit is mentioned in the stories of the South African writer Herman Charles Bosman.

Marula oil is used topically to moisturize the skin, and as an edible oil in the diet of the San people in southern Africa.

commercial uses

On an industrial level, the fruit of the marula tree is harvested from the wild by members of the rural communities on whose land the trees grow. This harvest and sale of the fruit only occurs for two or three months, but it is an important income for the rural poor.

This can be an important source of income for poor rural women. The fruit is delivered to processing plants where the fruit pulp, pips, kernels, and pip oil are extracted and stored for processing throughout the year.

The fruit is used to make Amarula cream liqueur and is also sold as a frozen puree used in juice blends. Marula oil is used as an ingredient in cosmetics.

Food for other species

It has been suggested that marula fruit is the preferred food of the ancestral form of the forest-dwelling fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which was much more selective as to which fruit they preferred, as opposed to flies that they have self-domesticated to live near humans.

Ancestral fruit flies are triggered by marula ester ethyl isovalerate in marula fruit.

The marula fruit is also eaten by various animals in southern Africa.

In Jamie Uys’ documentary Animals Are Beautiful People, released in 1974, scenes show elephants, ostriches, warthogs, and baboons becoming intoxicated from eating the fermented marula fruit.

While the fruit is commonly eaten by elephants, the animals would need a large amount of fermented marulas to have any effect on them, and other animals prefer the ripe fruit.

The amount of water the elephants drink each day would also dilute the effect of the fruit to such an extent that they would not be affected by it.

Giraffes, rhinos and elephants are all curious about the marula tree, with elephants in particular being a heavy consumer. Elephants eat the bark, branches, and fruit of marula, which can limit the spread of the trees.

Damaged bark, due to browsing, can be used to identify marula trees as elephants preferentially target them. Elephants distribute marula seeds in their dung.

What pests and diseases affect you?

The marula is one of the most resistant species in the world that exists because its origin is in African savannahs where human attention is minimal.

This tells us that as long as it is kept in conditions very similar to those of its place of origin, it is possible that it will be able to grow and develop without problems.

It is important to note that one of the problems that could occur is that the plant does not bear fruit and this could be the product of the soil not draining well.

Therefore, the selection and primary preparation of the land is essential to achieve the best results.

Although in Spain it is a little known species, the fruit of the marula is consumed in abundance in the areas of Africa where it is present. This is because it has a pleasant taste, but it is also rich in vitamin C.

How long does the marula tree live?

The normal thing is that it lives a little more than 100 years, but in its area of ​​​​origin in Africa, there are specimens that are around 200 years old.

How long does it take for the marula tree to grow?

It grows quite quickly, being able to see itself as an adult specimen in just 7 or 8 years.

How long does it take to produce fruit?

It takes an average of 4 or 5 years to start flowering and, therefore, to produce fruits.

Can it be grown in a pot?

It is not so advisable to have it in a pot to take advantage of the productive capacity of the tree.

However, having it in these conditions does not cause any problem with respect to its health.

How many times does the marula tree produce fruit?

The fruits carry out their birth and maturation process once a year.

Should the marula tree be pollinated to obtain fruit?

It needs the support of pollinating insects to carry out this process with the detail that it is a dioecious type tree.

This implies that there are female and male specimens. Therefore, for it to produce fruit, two trees of different sexes need to be close.

How cold can the marula tree tolerate?

It is not resistant to cold and less to frost. Important damage to its structure could be noticed from -4° C.

How many marula trees can be planted per hectare?

It is possible to work between 100 and 150 specimens per hectare.

What kind of fertilizer does the marula tree need?

It does not need mandatory fertilization.

In fact, you can only work with well-fermented organic matter once a year and it will be more than enough.

How much heat and/or drought can the marula tree tolerate?

The heat is part of its natural habitat, so it can live even up to 40 ° C without problems.

Being native to the tropical savannah, it is perfectly capable of resisting droughts, even if they are prolonged.

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