leopardess in tree

Brown Ivory Tree [Berchemia discolour]

Other names – bird plum, bruin ivoor (Afrikaans), Nkuhuma (Tsonga, Shangaan).

brown ivory tree
A living Brown Ivory tree alongside a dead Brown Ivory which is potentially 400 years old

The brown ivory is a fairly common tree in the northern Sabi Sands, with some impressive specimens on the Arathusa property.

The brown ivory is a moderately fast-growing tree reaching up to 15 metres, and in exceptional conditions, over 20 metres.

The leave structure of the tree alternate, with glossy/shiny on top and dull at the bottom. They can either be ovate shaped (egg-shaped with the broader end at the base) or obovate shaped (egg-shaped and flat, with the narrow end at the base).

The trees can often be found growing on top of termite mounds, which is very useful to animals and birds as nesting and roosting spots. A very valuable tree for both humans and wildlife alike.

Brown Ivory Fruits
Brown Ivory fruits


The fruits of this tree are very nutritious for human and animal alike, being high in Vitamin C and A.

The brown ivory is fruiting at the moment and does so between April and June in the Sabi Sands. Fruit can be enjoyed fresh off the tree or dried and saved for later use. Delicious jam can be made as well as a potent alcoholic beverage, and the fruits can be added to porridge to add flavour and nutrition.

The fruits are a favourite of the primates – the chacma baboon and vervet monkey in this area. A wide variety of antelope also feed off the fruits and leaves as well as elephants and black rhino. Porcupines will feed off the bark. Unfortunately, damage from bark removal by elephant and porcupine can kill the tree and there are plenty of dead standing brown ivory’s trees. These trees however, does still have their a role to play in the environment as roosting spots for the important Eagle Owl and vulture species.

Interestingly enough, the Nkuhuma pride of lions that is often on the Arathusa property, actually derives its name from this tree.

The bark and leaves are used to treat a variety of ailments including wounds. The Tsonga and Venda people also make use of the fruit and bark to treat infertility. This is a very attractive wood and used for things such as fighting sticks, walking sticks and furniture. If treated properly the wood can last a long time, being fairly dense at 900kg per cubic meter.

This is an amazing tree and come of the big specimens have survived the feeding carnage of elephants as well as fires. At Arathusa, we are privileged to have some of the most impressive specimens ever seen in southern Africa.

Words by: Ranger Jordan
Images by: Ranger Jordan

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