Trichilia emetica


Family : Meliaceae
Common names : Natal-mahogany; rooiessenhout (Afrikaans); mamba (Northern Sotho); umathunzini (isiZulu); umkuhlu (SiSwati); umkhuhlu (isiXhosa); nkulu (Xitsonga); mutuhu (TshiVenda)

Trichilia emtica fruits.Photo Geoff Nichols
© Geoff Nichols

The Natal-mahogany is an evergreen tree, with handsome glossy dark green 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.

Leaves:Photo Geoff Nichols

© Geoff Nichols

Flowers are creamy green and sweetly scented. Trichilia emetica flowers in August to November.

Flowers.hoto Geoff Nichols

© Geoff Nichols

The fruit is a dehiscent capsule, 18–25 mm in diameter, sharply differentiated from a 5–10 mm long neck. The seeds are black and almost completely enveloped by a bright red aril.

Trichilia emetica has two subspecies, emetica and suberosa. T. emetica subp. emetica is restricted to southern Africa, while suberosa occur northwards of the Zambezi River.

Conservation status
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.

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 of T. emetica is eaten by baboons, monkeys and antelope. Seeds are eaten by birds.

  Stem and bark

Uses and cultural aspects
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 moisture the skin and also to manufacture soap. It is further used medicinally to treat rheumatism and as wound dress or dress cuts for fractured bones. 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 Maputuland several traditional items are carved including bowls ( iziMbenge ), meat dishes ( 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.

The Natal-mahogany 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.

References and further reading

  • Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's trees of eastern South Africa: A complete guide , edn 2. Flora & Fauna Publication Trust, Durban.
  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa , edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G., Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu Medicinal Plants: An Inventory . University of Natal Press, Durban.
  • 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. 2013. Field guide to trees of southern Africa , e dn 2. Struik, Cape Town.
  • 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.


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National Herbarium, Pretoria

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