The lucky bean tree

Erythrina abyssinica

Mbangangoma (Swahili), Muhoti (Kikuyu), Murembe (Luhya/Luo), Mulungu (Taita), Muvuti (Kamba), Muuti (Meru), Olepangi (Maasai)

A story from Karichota

July 2001 found me in Kakamega Forest landscaping a friend’s garden and chatting to Patrick Inziani about the trees of the wonderful rain forest; amongst the many fascinating stories he shared with me was the Luhya belief that wayward young men would adjust their anti-social ways if they spent a few days sitting in the shelter of the Mirembe (Muhoti) tree. He also told me of a traditional Luo belief that fires should not be lit with its wood, at the risk of attracting lightning. 

Undaunted by these beliefs, children throughout the region use its shiny, red seeds as jewellery and playthings, although it is said that each seed contains enough curare-like poison to kill a horse. Fortunately the seeds are so hard that if a child happens to swallow one, they pass easily through the system and out the other end without harming her. 

If a tree could be said to be dramatic, this is the one. Usually flowering after it has lost all of its leaves, it is one of the distinctive sights of our East African landscapes, covered with bright orange-red blooms which are very attractive to pollinators. Its seed cases are uniquely sculptural and the bark seems to have been carved by the Makonde sculptors, so intricate is it in texture and beauty. Aside from its obvious aesthetic value, the tree is valuable as mulch and for nitrogen-fixing as well having medicinal properties. 

Along with the Muthiga tree, we have found that the Muhoti has been quite successful at digging down through the rocky soil to find some benefit below. The profuse seeds sprout readily if you soak them after gathering them, and we have plenty of seedlings in our sparkling new tree nursery. 

Come visit it! Plant a tree or two, perhaps a Lucky bean Tree…

See you in the forest!