A tree of wild medler
Common names: wilde mispel, Mpfilwa, Mmilo, muzwilu, mavelo, umViyo, umTulwa, umVilo, umbizo, umViyo,
Mmilo, mothwanyê umVile, amantulwane.
Wild medler is one of South Africa’s most popular wild fruits, and can be enjoyed while walking. This lovely little tree is considered to possess evil powers and not even the wood should be used for making fire. It is believed that it could cause cattle to bear only male offspring. Despite this, the plant is used extensively.
Wild medler is a deciduous shrub or small tree that varies in height from 3-7 m, depending on the habitat. It can be single or multistemmed, but usually the latter. The bark is greyish to yellowish brown, smooth and peeling in irregular small strips. The branchlets are covered with short, woolly hairs, especially when young. The leaves are single, oppositely arranged, as is typical of this family.
The leaves are light green in colour, covered with soft, velvety short hairs and even more so when young. The margin of the leaf is entire. The shape of the leaf is elliptic to ovate with the net veining conspicuous below. When older, the leaves often appear twisted and are rough to the touch.
Flowers of wild medler
Soft, velvety, acorn-shaped buds appear either before or simultaneously with the new leaves around September to October. These open into small flowers, greenish white to yellowish in colour. They occur in clusters along the short lateral branches.
The fruit is almost round, glossy dark green when young and changing to a light brown when ripe. The ripe fruit is soft and fleshy with a leathery skin that encloses 3-5 seeds embedded in soft pulp.
Young developing fruits of wild medler
The fruit is edible and has a pleasant sweet-sour, mealy taste. It tastes like an apple. It can be found on the plants from January to April. The remains of the old flower base can be seen on the tip of the fruit.
Uses and economic value
The fruit is mostly eaten raw but in some parts it is stored as dried fruit to be used in time of food scarcity. A strong alcoholic drink or brandy can be distilled from it or fermented to make beer. If mixed with a little water and sugar it produces an acceptable substitute for apple sauce. The fruit juice can also be used for flavouring purposes by squeezing it out in water, discarding the seed and skins. This is done often for flavouring porridge. Vinegar can be produced from the fruit.
Wild medler fruits
This plant has medicinal value as well. An infusion of the roots and leaves has been used to treat malaria, chest ailments like pneumonia, as a purgative and to treat ringworms. An infusion of the leaves is used for the relief of toothache. For the treatment of swelling of the limbs the affected parts are bathed in a decoction of the pounded leaves and small twigs, especially in children.
The wild medlar is a hardy and drought resistant plant that can withstand moderate cold. It is rarely cultivated in the trade. It can be propagated from fresh seed or cuttings. To make sure that it germinates readily, remove the outer skin and the pulp. Sow in well-drained, sandy seedling mix.
This plant is slow growing, but would make an attractive garden plant if trimmed from the start to form a specimen plant.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden, Pretoria