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Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Marula, cider tree [English]; Prunier d'Afrique, marula [French]; maroela [Afrikaans]; Mfula [Chi-Chewa]; danya [Hausa]; eedi [Fulfulde]; Mng'ong'o [Kiswahili]; Morula [Setswana]; Nkanyi, Ukanyi [Xitsonga]; Mufula [Tshivenda]; Béer [Wolof]; Umganu [IziZulu]; مارولا  [Arabic]; מרולה [Hebrew]; 馬魯拉 [Chinese]マルーラ [Japanese]; 마룰라나무 [Korean]; มารูลา [Thai]


Poupartia birrea (A.Rich.) Aubrév.; Spondias birrea A.Rich.

Taxonomic information 

Sclerocarya birrea includes 3 subspecies: Sclerocarya birrea subsp. birrea, Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra, and Sclerocarya birrea subps. multifoliata. Subspeciesbirrea and caffra subspecies are found in western and southern Africa respectively, while multifoliata is found where the two other subspecies are overlapping (Hall et al., 2002).

Related feed(s) 

Marula (Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) Hochst.) is a multipurpose deciduous African tree that produces prized juicy fruits, seeds rich in oil and protein. Marula is well known for its multiple potential uses, including animal feeding, and it could be valuable in agroforestry systems. However, as of 2021, the tree is not widely cultivated and remains underutilized.


Marula is a deciduous, dioecious tree that can reach 9-12 m (occasionnally 18 m) in height. It has a rounded spreading leafy crown, a short bole (up to 4 m tall x 1.2 m in diameter) and a cracked grey bark. The tree is deeply (down to 30 m ) taprooted. The leaves are borne in clusters at the apex of stout branchlets. They are alternate, 8-38 cm long imparipinnate, bearing 3-18 pairs of leaflets. Lateral leaflets subsessile, terminal leaflet petiolated. The limb is glabrous, round to oblong-elliptical or elliptical, dentate-serrate in shape, 1–9 cm long × 0.5–3.5 cm broad. The male inflorescences rare terminal or axillary, drooping raceme 5–22 cm long, with flowers in groups of 3–4 towards the base but solitary towards the apex. The female inflorescences are reduced, subterminal and spiciform, with 1–2(–3) flowers. The flowers are small, shortly pedicellate, whitish purple to red in colour. The fruits are obovoid fleshy and juicy drupes, 2-3.5 cm in diameter, green becoming yellow at maturity. The flesh surrounds a hard stone, 2.5–3 cm long × 1.5–2.5 cm wide, that contains 2 oily seeds (POWO, 2021; Hall, 2002).


Marula is mainly used for its edible and prized fruits in Africa, which are consumed in different forms by local populations, for example in South Africa, Namibia, Niger, and Burkina Faso (Shackleton et al., 2002; Hiwilepo-van Hal, 2013). The fruit, eaten fresh without its thick skin, has a delicate nutty flavour and contains a higher concentration of vitamin C than oranges. The juice is drank fresh or it can be boiled to flavour and sweeten porridge. The fruit can be fermented to prepare an alcoholic beverage called "marula beer" (maroela mampoer or amarula), which can be consumed directly or further distilled into stronger alcohol. The pit is high in protein, and the oilseed contains antioxidants. The kernels are eaten as snack, or crushed and used to make cakes or biscuits or as a soup or dish ingredient (mixed with wild spinach and served with maize meal). The oil extracted from the seed is used as cooking oil, for meat preservation, or for skin care. In Benin, marula leaves are known to stimulate milk production in nursing women (Gouwakinnou et al., 2011). In South Africa leaves are cooked as relish by local population (Shackleton et al., 2002).

Several marula products are used to feed livestock.

Marula provides shade to livestock and to underneath forage grasses. Marula wood is used for furniture, carving, utensils, and as a good firewood. The inner bark yields fibre for ropes and a red-brown dye used in traditional crafts. Marula flowers produce attractive nectar for pollinators. Bark and fruits have several ethnomedicinal uses. For cattle, an infusion of the fruit is used as a tick killer.

Though it is not commonly cultivated, marula is reported to be easy to propagate and could be valuable in agroforestry systems (POWO, 2021; Gouwakinnou et al., 2011; Shackleton et al., 2005; Hall, 2002).


Sclerocarya birrea originated from Africa and was introduced to Madagascar. There is evidence of marula presence and of its possible use by humans (Homo sapiens) in Zimbabwe as far as 150 000 years BCE, and stronger evidence of its use is dated from 11 000-9 000 BCE. It has been used brewing for several centuries. Marula is rarely cultivated and there has been research programmes dedicated to the development of its commercialisation in South Africa (Shackleton et al., 2005; Wynberg et al., 2003).

Marula is naturally found in a vast geographic range (3.75 million km²) across Africa and Madagascar. Marula is particularly important in areas too arid for other oil trees like Parkia biglobosa or Vitellaria paradoxa (Hall et al., 2002). Marula trees can grow in open woodlands, bushes, in well-drained, rocky, clayey or sandy loamy soils. They can be found from sea level in Western Africa (Senegal, Namibia) and up to 2000 m altitude in Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania). Marula trees survive in a wide range of rainfall conditions (200-1500 mm annual rainfall) including arid and semi-arid conditions with rainfall as low as 200 mm/year. Marula tolerates seasonal waterlogging. In Israel, it showed tolerance of a salinity level of 4 dS/m in irrigation water (Hall et al., 2002). The 3 subspecies are able to survive different average temperature ranges. Subspecies birrea is adapted to 22-29°C mean annual temperature. Subspecies caffra does well between 19 and 26°C and it can survive -4°C frost, though it generally undergoes major loss of branches in such case (Hall et al., 2002).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 


Marula foliage is a relatively poor quality browse, with a protein content often lower than 10% DM. It is not too rich in fibre but can contain high amount of lignin (>10% DM). Calcium levels are high and lead to unfavourably high calcium:phosphorus ratios.


Whole marula seeds include a thick hull and are thus extremely fibrous (NDF 80% DM) and poor in protein (6% DM) (Aganga, 2001). Marula seed kernels, obtained after the removal of the hull, are rich in protein (27-32%) and lipids (53-62%) (Hall et al., 2002). Marula oil is very rich in oleic acid (> 70% of total fatty acids) with significant levels of palmitic acid (10-14%) and linoleic acid (7%).

Oil cake

The oil cake is rich in protein (32-47% DM) and residual oil (> 40% DM), and poor in fibre (NDF < 25%) though there are reports with NDF values > 30%. Some papers also report oil values higher than 60%, which would put the sum of constituents much higher than 100% and also raises the question of how much oil is extracted, since the kernel itself contains about 60% oil (Hall, 2002). 


Marual foliage, whole seeds and oil cake have been assessed in ruminant feeding.


Foliage can be browsed or be consumed by livestock after it falls or after being loped by herdsmen (Shone, 1979; Bille, 1978 cited by Hall et al., 2002). It is not a major source of browse: it is mainly used during feed shortage as it is one of the only foliage that remains available. Though it had been reported to be palatable and of high nutritive quality, no factual data could support this statement. A valuable trait is that leaf material retains more than half its nutritive value after leaf fall, and, during the dry season marula litter would still contain 4% digestible protein (Bille, 1978 cited by Hall et al., 2002). In South Sudan, it was shown that marula foliage had relatively low protein, high fibre content and high tannin content but was still in the range of potential protein source for ruminants (Mangara et al., 2017).

Marula leaves are browsed by tall wild ruminants such as great kudus (marula foliage may represent 24% of their diet), giraffes or elephants (Makhado et al., 2016a; Makhado et al., 2016b; Scogings et al., 2012; Thiong’o et al., 2002). Elephants browse similarly male and female trees, suggesting that the nutritive value is quite independent of tree sex (Scogings et al., 2012).

Whole seeds

The in vitro DM digestibility of whole marula seeds was reported to be very low (8%) which could be explained by their high NDF and ADF contents (80% and 67% respectively). It was still suggested that whole marula seeds could be potential source of nutrients for free grazing animals in Botswanian rangelands (Aganga et al., 2001).

Oil cake


In South Africa, marula oil cake was found to be richer in protein, lipids and essential and essential amino acids, and to have higher in vitro and in vivo DM and protein degradability (assessed in goats and cows) than macadamia and baobab oil cakes. It was thus suggested that marula oil cake could be used as a valuable source of energy and protein for dairy cattle (Nkosi et al., 2019; Phenya, 2018; Mlambo et al., 2011a). Milling marula oil cake reduced its degradability in ruminants (Mlambo et al., 2011a).

Lactating dairy cows

In Swaziland, marula oil cake could partially or totally replace soybean meal in the ration of lactating Friesian dairy cows. Its inclusion had no effect on performance and production parameters (milk yield and milk composition). It was recommended to small-holders to completely replace soybean with marula as it decreases feed costs and increases farm and country autonomy (Mdziniso et al., 2016).

Fattening cattle

Marula oil cake could be used to partially or totally replace urea in a commercial fattening ration for dairy weaner calves without affecting feed intake, growth rate, feed conversion ratio. Replacing urea by marula oil cake was reported to reduce feed costs and to limit incidence of urea poisoning in feedlot animals (Mlambo et al., 2011a)


Marula oil cake used as a protein supplement for goats fed a basal diet of mixed grass hay was compared to soybean meal and sunflower cake. The diet containing soybean meal had the highest hay intake and the highest OM digestibility but marula oil cake had the same effect as sunflower cake on hay intake and its OM and ADF digestibility. The NDF digestibility was the lowest in animals fed marula. Marula-supplemented goats retained the most N (2.75 g/d) while goats supplemented with sunflower cake and unsupplemented goats had negative N balance (-0.81 and -0.64 g/day). It was concluded that maruila oil cake had higher nutritive value than sunflower cake for goats fed grass hay as the basal diet (Mlambo et al., 2011b).


Oil cake


When marula oil cake was tested in broiler diet as a dietary protein source to replace soybean meal at levels varying from 0% to 20%, all production parameters decreased linearly with the inclusion rate of marula seed cake. The presence of DON (deoxynyvalenol) and T-2 toxin may be partly responsible for these poor results (Mthiyane et al., 2017).


In a diet for Japanese quails (7 to 51 days), marula oil cake could replace 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of crude protein provided by soybean meal without any negative effect on growth performance, feed intake and feed fficiency and on the empty carcass mass (Mazizi et al., 2019).


No information seems available in the international literature (March 2021) on the use of any part of Sclerocarya birrea in rabbit feeding. Since the tree is already used to feed other livestock, it could be of interest for rabbits, but direct experiments would be welcome to ascertain the real value of marula products in rabbit feeding.


As mentioned in the previous section, marula leaves are well consumed by livestock species and this could be a potential forage for rabbits. However it must be underlined that the tree has a relatively short leaf carriage period (about December to May) (Dekker et al., 1996), thus limiting the potential year period for a leaves utilization to feed rabbits and other animals.

Fruits and kernels

Marula fruits can probably be used for rabbits feeding, as they are in other species, mainly as a source of protein and energy, due to the high lipid content in the kernel. Due to the fatty acid profile of the oil, using large amounts of marula fruit and kernels in the diet would probably result in relatively soft fat in rabbits (Ouhayoun et al., 1987).

Oil cake

Marula oil cake is well used in other livestock species and could be probably usable in standard rabbit feeding. This cake would be an important source of proteins but with a very low level of some essential amino acids: about only 40% of rabbits requirements for lysine or threonine. Otherwise, it is an interesting source of phosphorus (1% DM) but completely deficient in calcium (0.13% DM). The calculated digestible energy varies between 20 and 25 MJ/kg DM depending on the residual lipid content of the cake (Lebas, 2016).

Nutritional tables

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 30.6 10.1 21.2 47.5 5  
Crude protein % DM 10.4 2.9 5.6 19.1 36  
Crude fibre % DM 12.2 2.9 8.5 16.6 11  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 37 6.5 28.7 49.7 9  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 28.3 4.2 21.2 33.9 11  
Lignin % DM 11.4 3.9 7 18 10  
Ether extract % DM 6.1 2.7 2.2 10.6 10  
Ash % DM 11.7 3.1 6.9 19.9 32  
Insoluble ash % DM 2 1.1 0.7 4.7 12  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.8         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 26.9 11.6 6.2 47.4 15  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.2 0.5 0.5 2 16  
Potassium g/kg DM 8.9 6.8 3.1 27 10  
Sodium g/kg DM 3.68   0.12 9.89 3  
Magnesium g/kg DM 5.4 1.5 3.8 7.6 9  
Manganese mg/kg DM 39 23 1 60 5  
Zinc mg/kg DM 46 37 11 97 5  
Copper mg/kg DM 19 28 4 69 5  
Iron mg/kg DM 86       1  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 80   80 90 2  
Tanins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 20       1  
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin) % 75   69 87 4  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 50   46 57 4  
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 41   40 43 2  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 66.3         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 63.4         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.3         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.3         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 9.8         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 9.5         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 55.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 43.9         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


CIRAD, 1991; de Bie, 1991; FUSAGx/CRAW, 2009; Le Houérou, 1980; Mangara et al., 2017

Last updated on 04/11/2021 15:25:15

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 96.8   95.8 97.7 3  
Crude protein % DM 8.9   5.7 12.6 4  
Crude fibre % DM 16.2   10.4 22.1 3  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 51.5   41.3 61.8 2  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 34.8       1  
Lignin % DM 18.4       1  
Ether extract % DM 5.1   4.3 5.9 3  
Ash % DM 12.5   9.1 16.5 4  
Insoluble ash % DM 3.9   1.5 6.3 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.5         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 30.5   30 31.1 2  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 0.9   0.7 1.1 2  
Potassium g/kg DM 6.6   6.3 7 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 4.7   4.6 4.7 2  
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 48       1  
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin-cellulase) % 43       1  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 62         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 59.3         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.4         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.6         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.4         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.2         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 47.8         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 27.4         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


CIRAD, 1991; Le Houérou, 1980

Last updated on 04/11/2021 18:06:03

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 95.3 2.5 90.1 98.1 7  
Crude protein % DM 39.3 5.9 32.3 47 8  
Crude fibre % DM 5.8       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 14.8 5.4 7.9 20.8 5  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 11.2 4.9 4.9 18 7  
Lignin % DM 9.4       1  
Ether extract % DM 43.8 7 34.3 53.6 7  
Ash % DM 5 0.4 4.5 5.6 6  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 28.6   28.5 30.7 2 *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine g/16g N 2.7   2.1 3.1 4  
Arginine g/16g N 15.9   13.5 19.5 4  
Aspartic acid g/16g N 6.3   5 7.5 4  
Cystine g/16g N 1.9   0.8 2.5 3  
Glutamic acid g/16g N 19.7   15.7 22.9 4  
Glycine g/16g N 4   2.9 4.6 4  
Histidine g/16g N 2.4   1.7 3.7 4  
Isoleucine g/16g N 3.7   3.3 4 4  
Leucine g/16g N 5.3   4.3 5.9 4  
Lysine g/16g N 2.3   1.9 2.8 4  
Methionine g/16g N 1.8   1.7 1.9 4  
Methionine+cystine g/16g N 3.8         *
Phenylalanine g/16g N 3.8   3 4.4 4  
Phenylalanine+tyrosine g/16g N 7.5         *
Proline g/16g N 3.1   2.3 4 4  
Serine g/16g N 3.7   2.7 4.3 4  
Threonine g/16g N 2.1   1.5 2.6 4  
Tryptophan g/16g N 1.5   1 1.9 3  
Tyrosine g/16g N 3.7   3 4.8 3  
Valine g/16g N 4.1   3.3 4.6 4  
Fatty acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Myristic acid C14:0 % fatty acids 0.1   0.08 0.1 2  
Palmitic acid C16:0 % fatty acids 11.7   9.7 13.6 3  
Palmitoleic acid C16:1 % fatty acids 0.1   0.02 0.2 2  
Stearic acid C18:0 % fatty acids 6.4   5.1 7.7 3  
Oleic acid C18:1 % fatty acids 77.5   72.9 85.2 3  
Linoleic acid C18:2 % fatty acids 6.9   6.8 6.9 2  
Linolenic acid C18:3 % fatty acids 0.05   0.04 0.06 2  
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 1.3 0.2 1.1 1.5 6  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 10 1.2 8 11 6  
Potassium g/kg DM 6.9   5 9.3 3  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.09   0.03 0.14 3  
Chlorine g/kg DM 0.2   0 0.3 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 5   4.5 5.5 3  
Sulfur g/kg DM 5.1   4.2 5.9 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 55   50 60 2  
Copper mg/kg DM 25   20 30 2  
Iron mg/kg DM 365   40 690 2  
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 79.4         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 22.7         *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 21.6         *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 17.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, growing pig % 100         *
Poultry nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
AMEn cockerel MJ/kg DM 21.9         *
AMEn broiler MJ/kg DM 20.1         *
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 78.3         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 84         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 18.7         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 76.9         *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 58   43 86 3  
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 65   52 89 3  
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=6%) % 49   34 75 3  
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=4%) % 56   41 79 3  
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 24.5         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 23         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 85.6         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 72.2         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Kamati, 2019; Malebana et al., 2018; Mlambo et al., 2011; Mlambo et al., 2011; Mthiyane et al., 2017; Nkosi et al., 2019

Last updated on 08/11/2021 10:48:14

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Lebas F., 2021. Marula (Sclerocarya birrea). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/27381 Last updated on November 8, 2021, 10:55