Friday, June 4, 2010

Trichelia emetica - Natal Mahogany

Trichilia emetica is a magnificent evergreen hardwood. The lovely glossy, deep green, drooping foliage forms a rounded crown, creating dense, dark shade. With its low branching habit and sturdy single trunk the Natal mahogany has long been one of our most popular indigenous ornamental trees. When the flowers begin to appear from December, the sweet scent can be enjoyed on warm summer evenings while those beautiful jewels of the garden, the sunbirds, can be observed delighting in the generous amounts of nectar. The bright red and black seeds are enjoyed by a number of bird species while a variety of butterfly larvae feed on this tree. In the wild, where antelope, monkeys and giraffe forage on the fruit and foliage, Trichilia emetica is an accurate indicator of palatable grass species.
Botanical Name Trichilia emetica
Common Name Natal mahogany
RSA National Tree No’  301
Natal mahogany is a superb shade tree that is perfect for any parking area as it doesn’t grow too high, but has a wonderful wide spreading crown, offering ample protection from the sun. The roots of this beautiful, fast growing tree are non-invasive, so it is quite safe to plant it near any type of paving, making it an ideal choice for shading a patio where it will provide welcome relief from the heat in summer. Plant the Trichilia emetica as a magnificent specimen tree on a lawn or as a striking avenue along a street or driveway where it will always be admired. This adaptable tree has been successfully used for soil conservation and erosion control as well as being widely planted as a windbreak in both urban and rural areas.
Height 8m-20m
Spread 6m-8m
Deciduous/Evergreen Evergreen
Growth Habit
Trichilia emetica is found along streams and rivers as well as in woodland, coastal forest, montane forest and savannah.
The dark grey to brown bark is smooth but can become rougher as the tree ages.
The Natal mahogany has dark green compound leaves with each pair of leaflets alternate or sub-opposite with a single leaflet at the tip. The upper surface of the glossy leaves is smooth while the underside is covered with dense, felt like hairs.
The small, creamy- green, sweet scented, trumpet shaped flowers are carried in dense axillary sprays from August to November. 
The furry, grey-green fruit appears in bunches from December to April. Each fruit is divided into three valves that carry 3-6 seeds which are released when it ripens and bursts open.
The black seeds are almost entirely enveloped by a bright red aril and look similar to a lucky bean. It should be noted that the outer coat of the seed is poisonous.
Trichilia emetica is found in sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to the Red sea, throughout East and Central Africa and from the Congo to South Africa.
Growing conditions
The Natal mahogany prefers a sunny or semi-shaded position, plenty of compost and a moderate amount of water.
Best season All year
This lovely tree needs to be protected from frost. When kept well watered throughout the year, Trichilia emetica grows extremely fast, it can however withstand long periods of drought when mature.
The seeds need to be planted when fresh otherwise germination can be difficult, but cuttings are a quicker and easier method of propagation.
Growth rate
Trichilia emetica has a wide variety of uses. The skinned seeds are edible. When they are soaked in water or ground, they enhance the flavour of spinach dishes, while a sweet milky liquid is extracted from the arils. The oil that is extracted from the seed kernels and husks is excellent for soap and candle making as well as being used as a superior furniture oil. The oil is also widely used in cosmetics and as a food preservative. The powdered bark of this remarkable tree is used as an emetic and is effective for the treatment of rheumatism. The handsome reddish-brown wood is used extensively for fine furniture, musical instruments, dugout canoes, fish floats and for the traditional carvings that are sold along the roadside. 

      T.emetica Fruit, Seeds & Foliage  T.emetica Bark           T.emetica Interesting Furniture

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