Euclea divinorum

Hiern

Family : Ebenaceae
Common names : Magic guarri; towerghwarrie (Afrikaans.); Mohlakola (Northern Sotho) umhlangula, ubophanyamazane, umncafuzana (Zulu); umdlelanyamatane (Swati); Nhlangula (Tsonga); Mutangule (Venda)

Female flowers: Image Geoff Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

The magic guarri is a useful medicinal plant. Although not very tasty to humans, its fruit is enjoyed by birds. The tree is also said to have supernatural powers—it can bring luck to your home.

Description
Euclea divinorum is an evergreen shrub or small tree, up to 9 m high with male and female flowers on separate plants. It is single or multi-stemmed, with a rounded crown. Young stems are smooth and pale grey with rusty granules. The bark is grey-brown to black, rough and cracked longitudinally. The leaves are opposite or sub-opposite, alternate, broadest at or below the middle, 35–90 × 10–40 mm, tapering to the bases and apices, hard, leathery, hairless, shiny, grey- to olive-green, with the midribs raised below and margins conspicuously wavy. Leaf stalks are about 6 mm long.

Euclea divinorum

Flowers are small, white to creamy-yellow, scented and borne on short, dense branched sprays to 15 mm wide from axils of leaves; stalks covered in reddish-brown granules. Euclea divinorum flowers from August to December. The fruit is round, purplish black, about 5–7 mm in diameter, single-seeded and fleshy. Euclea divinorum can be confused with E. undulata, but the magic guarri has larger leaves and fruits, with a denser inflorescence. Euclea crispa has leaves that are broad in the middle, hairy branchlets and one inflorescence per leaf axil.

Leaves & Flowers:Image Geoff Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

Conservation status
According to Raimondo et al. (2009), Euclea divinorum is Red Listed as Least Concern (LC), as evaluated against the five IUCN criteria.

Distribution and habitat
Euclea divinorum is widely distributed in the northeastern parts of South Africa, through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and northern Namibia into tropical Africa. It occurs naturally in bushveld, thicket, thorn scrub, on hillsides, along riverbanks and in woodland. The magic guarri is often found growing in large numbers on brackish floodplains.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Euclea is from the Greek word, ‘eukleia', meaning ‘of good report' or ‘famous', referring to the fine ebony-like wood of some species. The specific name divinorum is in reference to the plant's use by medicine diviners or sangomas in parts of Africa.

Ecology
Its flowers are visited by beetles and wasps.

Fruit

Uses and cultural aspects
The frayed ends of twigs are used as toothbrushes and branches are good to put out veld fires with. The fruit is edible (not very tasty), loved by birds, and also used to make purple ink and used in the brewing of beer. The roots are used medicinally for the treatment of toothache, headache, convulsions, diarrhoea, infertility, bilharzia and as a purgative. Roots are also used in the production of brown dye for basketware. The wood is fairly heavy and hard, and occasionally used to make small items of furniture. The wood is alleged to have supernatural powers and is therefore avoided as fuel; small branches are often hung at the doorsteps of houses as a good luck charm. Due to its tolerance to soils containing high levels of heavy metals, it has also been considered an indicator of gold deposits.

Flowers: Image Geoff Nichols
©Geoff Nichols

Growing Euclea divinorum

In its natural habitat, Euclea divinorum is a fairly fast grower and hardy. There is little evidence of this species being cultivated in gardens. It can also be invasive, especially in disturbed areas due to its ability to produce suckers from its roots. Users of this plant usually harvest it from the wild.

References and further reading

  • Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of eastern South Africa . Flora & Fauna Publication Trust, Durban.
  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa , edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Neuwinger, H.D. 2000. African Traditional Medicine: A dictionary of plant use and applications . MedPharm Scientific Publishers. Stuttgart.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.
  • Van Wyk, A.E. (Braam) & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa . Struik, Cape Town.
  • Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants: A guide to useful plants of southern Africa . Briza, Pretoria.

 

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