The Sausage Tree

Kigelia africana

Mwengea (Swahili), Muratina (Kikuyu), Ol-darpoi (Maasai), Muatine (Kamba), Kumufungu (Luhya), Yago (Luo), Imombi (Samburu)

A story from Karichota

The botanical world is full of joy and a great deal of satisfaction, but it doesn’t often provide many belly laughs….well today I would like to describe a tree which absolutely made me shake with laughter when I first saw it!

In 1980 I was part of an expedition to Lake Turkana and on the way back (having survived a collapsed car and a small war – but those are other stories) we passed into the Samburu Game Reserve. Down by the river there were massive tumbling down acacias and dotted amongst them were the hysterical Muratina trees; their long creeping branches hanging down with a giant sausage hanging from each one, or a startling flower of a deep, almost indescribable red. The trunks were rubbed clean by elephants scratching, and twisted with the whole story of Africa and I felt I could spend the whole day by the river under its generous branches – but not the night, because one of the fruits could finish you finally if it landed on your head.

Over the years my Masai friends in Loita taught me that the Muratina, mixed with pure forest honey, made the most delightful alcoholic drink of all, and many nights were spent around log fires sharing stories and feeling the slow, pleasing sensation of a drink which made all around seem right and in its place, a feeling echoed by the glittering stars above in their correct constellations. The seeds are boiled in water, honey is added then it ferments for a week or so; the drink is slipped slowly under night skies and is the starting point for many great friendships. Joyce the drummer has a neighbour who makes fantastic Muratina!

Over the years I learned that the seeds would germinate if left soaking for a year or two (yes!) and then seedlings sprouted quite happily. I would be happy to show you Muratina trees, now 30 feet tall, growing happily around Nairobi – they just need some water, sandy soil and space, but mostly tlc.

Actually, this posting is a bit of a con – because the only Muratinas at Karichota are the ones that we have planted but this seems a perfect spot for them; it must be because they love laughter!

When my children were younger, we often played a foolish travelling game where the answer to every question had to be “A Sausage!” Maybe that is why the tree feels so at home here. When you come we will teach you the game, as we sip Muratina by the fire side.

One of the Muratina trees at Karichota was planted in honour of the dance group which came to work here under the guidance of Pamela Acaye in 2018. We hope they will come back soon to check its progress.

Recently our great friend Mark Nicholson has planted a Kigelia Moosa ( at Karichota; this variety produces a stunning yellow flower (see picture below) and a full grown version can be seen at Mark’s Marvellous Forest, at Brackenhurst (in Tigoni.)

Uses for this tree, as you might imagine, are legion, including keeping whirlwinds at bay and as an aphrodisiac. Lots of fascinating information on the tree can be found in Medicinal plants of East Africa: an Illustrated Guide (authors Najma Dharani and Abiy Yenesew.)

Seedlings for this wonderful and important tree are not so easy to source, but I will gladly help you look for them. Please plant as many as you have space for!