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Learn about the fruits and flowers of the Lowveld

Here in the Lowveld, there is always a sense of anticipation amongst the bushveld guides as the rainy season sets in. This anticipation comes from looking forward to sharing the bounty of flavours that sit in the wide variety of fruiting bushveld trees.

This time of year most are still flowering or about to flower so, let’s have a look at the potential tastes that lie waiting in a pollinated flower.

The tongue can detect seven ‘common’ flavours:

  1. Sweet
  2. Bitter
  3. Sour
  4. Salty
  5. Meaty
  6. Cool i.e. minty
  7. Hot i.e. chilly

Beyond these seven basic tastes, there are several other flavours that researchers have found receptors for, including;

  • Calcium
  • Dryness
  • Fattiness
  • Heartiness
  • Numbness

So, how does this help us in the bush?

The average person has around 10,000 taste buds and generally, the tongue is divided into sections where all the above tastes can be detected. But new research is showing that all the above tastes can be experienced to some extent all around the mouth, even into your windpipe. Make sure your nose is unblocked as your sense of smell can detect so many more sensations than the tongue.

Just a word of caution before trying the recommended fruiting trees, take time to speak to the locals and make 100% sure on the specific species. You could also do the poison test before consuming a fruit that you have never tried i.e. take a small quantity of the plant juice and rub it on a sensitive part of your skin, I usually use the underside of my wrist. Wait around 15 min, and if there is no unpleasant reaction you could put a small amount on your tongue. DON’T EAT TO MUCH AT ONCE! Give your body a chance to get used to the new fruit.

Let’s see…where to begin? Maybe you could make a Lowveld Fruit Salad once you have tasted each wild fruit’s uniqueness.

  1. Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) – this is at the top of my list with regards to flavour. Sweet and juicy!
  2. Brown Ivory (Berchemia discolor) aka Bird Plum – this is very very sweet, almost like a little raindrop of caramel on your tongue.
  3. Jacketplum (Pappea capensis) – a lovely combination of sour and sweet.
  4. Wild medlar (Vangueria infausta) – also a combination of sour and sweet but it has a hint of dryness to it.  This species is one of South Africa’s more popular veld fruits particularly here in the Lowveld.
  5. Woolly caper bush (Capparis tomentosa) – a very bright orange/red fruit with bright pink pulpy seeds that are undoubtedly toothsome!
  6. Large leaf rock fig (Ficus abutilifolia) – a nice hearty fruit with a subtle hint of sweetness.
  7. Wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata) – a delicious sweetness with a rather stringy texture.
  8. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos family) – a captivating sweetness but be careful of the tiny seeds which can bring a faint bitterness to the tongue.
  9. Sour Plum (Ximenia caffra) – the name speaks for itself; the first taste is candy-like but the challenge is to get through that caustic tartness. Good luck!
  10. Sandpaper Bush (Ehretia amoena) – this fruit has a slightly sweet taste and is rather watery. Good for rehydration after a long day of walking in the bush.


If you love plants and flowers, we have a wonderful Flora Friday Series on our YouTube Channel if you are interested in learning more about different trees, grasses, sedges and their flowers. But in the meantime, here is an awesome video with Instructor Mike Anderson as he shows us step by step how Marula Beer, of course, made the traditional way!

The scientific name of the Marula is Sclerocarya birrea which translated from Ancient Greek means, “hard nut”, this is referring to the hard stone-like seed inside the fleshy fruit. This is a medium-sized deciduous tree, indigenous to the miombo woodlands of southern Africa, the Sudano-Sahelian range of West Africa, and Madagascar. This tree is loved by most of the wildlife that comes across it, but especially by elephants as you can see below.

The fruit of a Marula is extremely high in vitamin C, containing eight times more of it than an orange so we can definitely see why the elephants love them so much.

Special features of a Marula - fruits and flowers of the Lowveld
About the Author:
David Havemann

David Havemann

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