Trichilia emetica Vahl
Common names: Natal mahogany; rooiessenhout (Afr.); mamba (Northern Sotho); umathunzini (isiZulu); umkuhlu (SiSwati); umkhuhlu (isiXhosa); nkulu (Xitsonga); mutuhu (TshiVenda)
SA Tree No: 301
The Natal mahogany is an evergreen tree with handsome dark green glossy leaves and a wide-spreading crown. Its sweet-scented flowers will attract bees and birds to your garden.
Trichilia emetica is an evergreen medium-to-large tree, up to 25 m high, with separate male and female plants. It has a dense, spreading crown. Leaflets are dark glossy green above, tips more or less rounded or broadly pointed, lower surface sparsely to densely hairy with principal side veins in 11-18 closely spaced pairs.
Flowers are creamy green and sweetly scented. Trichilia emetica flowers in August to November. The fruit is a dehiscent capsule, 18-25mm in diameter, sharply differentiated from a 5-10mm long neck. The seeds are black and almost completely enveloped by a bright red aril.
Trichilia emetica is Red Listed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Trichilia emetica is widely distributed in the eastern part of South Africa, from KwaZulu-Natal through to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and northwards throughout the rest of Africa. It occurs naturally in riverine forest and bushveld. Trichilia emetica has two subspecies: emetica and suberosa. T. emetica subp. emetica is restricted to southern Africa, while suberosa occurs north of the Zambezi River.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Trichilia is derived from the Greek word tricho meaning in three parts referring to the fruits which often have three valves. The specific name is derived from the word emetic — a medicine that induces nausea and vomiting.
Trichilia emetica 's leaves are browsed by game. Its flowers are visited by sunbirds that feed on nectar and are also eaten by monkeys. The fruit is eaten by baboons, monkeys and antelope. The seeds are eaten by birds.
The powdered bark of Trichilia emetica is a popular remedy for stomach and intestinal ailments. The bark is also used to produce a pinkish dye
Root decoctions are used for the treatment of fever and also as a purgative. Leaf or fruit poultices are used to treat skin diseases, such as eczema. Oil can be extracted from the seeds and is used to moisturise the skin and also to manufacture soap. It is further used medicinally to treat rheumatism and to dress wounds and cuts.
The seeds are soaked in water and the milky soup is eaten with spinach. Seed arils are soaked and cooked together with sweet potatoes or squash.
The pinkish to light brown wood is the most important source of timber for the rural carving industry in southern Africa. It is used for traditional carvings, musical instruments, furniture, boats and canoes. In Maputaland several traditional items are carved including bowls (iziMbenge ), dishes for meat (uGqoko), spoons (iziNkhezo ) and head rests (iziGqiki).
Growing Trichilia emetica
Trichilia emetica is a fast grower and can be planted throughout the year. It is able to tolerate moderate winter drought and slight frost. It should be planted from fresh seeds, otherwise germination can be difficult. It can also be propagated from cuttings. This species prefers full sun or semi-shaded areas, in soil with compost and moderate amounts of water.
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- Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa , edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
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- Neuwinger, H.D. 2000. African Traditional Medicine: A dictionary of plant use and applications . MedPharm Scientific Publishers, Stuttgart.
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- Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.
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- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants: A guide to useful plants of southern Africa . Briza, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 2009. Medicinal plants of South Africa , edn 2. Briza, Pretoria.
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Tree
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Green
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)