The Sand Olive tree

Dodonaea viscosa

Mwema-muthua (Kikuyu), Kithongoi (Kamba), Muendu (Luhya), Oking' (Luo), Olgeturai (Maasai)

Sand olive seeds

Sand olive flowers

Long slender pointed leaves like other Olive trees

A Story from Karichota:

I want to continue the meditations on the less glamorous citizens of the forest this week, and talk about a tree that is one of the first to pop back up once the ground has been excavated by machines, or pounded into submission by livestock.

A warm welcome to Dodonaea viscosa, or to use its English name the Sand Olive. The name in Kikuyu is one of my very faavourite in the world of plants; Mwema-muthua which we loosely translate as The Termite Defeater, conjuring visions of a Marvel comic book hero. There is one name which needs no explanation!

One of the features of the Laikipia landscape in which we are lucky enough to reside, are gullies and quarries where murram soil was extracted many decades ago to construct the all-weather roads which link together towns and villages. 

The work leaves behind scarred, lunaresque landscapes, but on closer examination you will notice the bright green leaves of the sand olive. When we first arrived at Karichota in 1993, the Sand Olive was very dominant. Although thought by some scientists to be invasive (cf the debate on the Ololeshwa) our experience at Karichota is that, once soil fertility has been re-established through judicious planting, watering and feeding, the Sand Olive grows happily alongside more valued species, without over-dominating. Being hermaphroditic (nice on a cold August evening) it is extremely successful at producing viable seed, whose papery leaves develop rapidly from the flowers are born easily and to great distances by helpful winds.

I am curious as to the feelings of people in other parts of Africa as to its level of invasiveness.

It is certainly a tree of many uses: according to the excellent BioNET-AFRINET web site, ( it can be used as fencing, firewood, bee forage and even a tooth brush. Like the Mukinyei of last week, I have tried it, but it lacks the delicious taste of Muthiga.

See you in the forest.