Marula and baobab research

Marula and baobab tree projects

Using the baobab and marula tree as a study species to design a workable research methodology and use this as a study template for other iconic, rare and medicinal plant species on the Mogalakwena Reserves and in surrounding areas. The aim of these projects is to successfully utilise and market products from these trees on a sustainable basis. The first stage and focus will involve the collection of data to determine the ecological importance of marula and baobab trees; the current occurrence of the tree species on the reserves, including base line data on each individual. This will enable us to understand how these species fit into the landscape, to establish ecological importance values and to model future growth patterns for potential sustainable utilisation. This project will ask for an interdisciplinary approach of the student.

Distribution, ecology and use of the baobab

This iconic tree of the northern areas of South Africa is one which is steeped in mystique, superstition and legend. Baobab trees can grow for thousands of years and the oldest baobab in Limpopo Province is estimated to be over 6000 years! A tree with many stories to tell. The massive cylindrical trunk gives rise to thick tapering branches resembling a root-system, which is why it is often referred to as the upside-down tree. It is a tree that can provide food, water, shelter and relief from sickness. The leaves are rich in vitamin C, sugars, potassium tartrate, and calcium. The seeds are edible and can be roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Caterpillars which feed on the leaves are collected and eaten by African people as an important source of protein. Wild animals eat the fallen leaves (not many animals can reach the leaves of these gigantic trees) and the fresh leaves are said to be good fodder for domestic animals. The fallen flowers are relished by wild animals and cattle alike. The fibrous bark is much liked by elephants, but also used to make various useful items such as mats and ropes, fishing nets, fishing lines, sacks and clothing.

More information about baobabs at

Distribution, ecology and use of the marula

The marula tree is widespread in Africa; from Ethiopia in the north to KwaZulu-Natal in the south. In South Africa it is more dominant in areas of Limpopo, occurring naturally in various types of woodland, on sandy soil or occasionally on sandy loam. It is a medium to large deciduous tree with an erect trunk and rounded crown. The edible fruits and the multiple uses associated with almost all parts of this tree, make it one of southern Africa’s most valued species. It has a variety of medicinal, traditional and cultural uses; from using the bark to treats dysentery, diarrhoea, and rheumatism, to using the wood for furniture, panelling, flooring, carvings and household utensils like spoons. The marula is one of the plants that played a role in feeding people in ancient times. The white nut is highly nutritious and is eaten as it is, or mixed with vegetables. The fruit is edible, eaten either fresh