A relative of cashew, mango, and pistachio plants, the marula tree is iconic in South Africa. It’s best known as the main ingredient in Amarula cream liqueur, which tastes nutty and sweet, like a butterscotch milkshake. Most diners consume the fruit raw, pureed in juice, or cooked in jams and jellies.
Humans aren’t the only ones who appreciate marula fruit, though. Baboons, warthogs, impalas, kudu, and giraffes have all been seen gorging on its juicy flesh. In some regions, the tree is referred to as the “elephant tree” because the animals love its fruit so much. Early travelers to South Africa came home with tales of wobbly elephants wandering the safari after eating the fallen and fermented fruit.
In 1974, filmmaker Jamie Uys (of The Gods Must Be Crazy fame) produced a documentary where wild animals acted intoxicated after eating marula fruits. Unsurprisingly, the footage was a hit. It even earned Uys the Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film, but later research suggests that the scenes were probably staged. Elephants would need to eat a very large amount of fermented marula fruits to cause such effects, and they typically go for fruit fresh from the tree.
Need to Know
Marula fruits start green and grow golden yellow as they ripen. They can be harvested—typically after ripening and falling to the ground—during the South African summer, between December and March.