The genus Strychnos has about 9 representatives in South Africa, of which we are featuring two large-fruited species in this post. While the fruit pulp is edible and even delicious in certain species, if you are not certain with which species you are dealing the seeds should never be chewed or swallowed as many are extremely poisonous; the poisons strychnine and curare come from plants in this genus.
Both the Black and Green Monkey Oranges are small, deciduous trees with many branches and irregular growth forms. The fruit are huge (up to 12cm in diameter) and take very long to ripen, with a thick husk protecting the fleshy pulp and densely-packed seeds.
Monkey Orange leaves are browsed by a wide variety of animals, and the fruit is eaten by baboons, monkeys, large antelope and bushpigs. Humans eat the pulp of the fruit (it is often dried and powdered for preservation). The wood of the Green Monkey Orange lends itself to carving, as does the husks of the fruit of both species, which is often sold as ornaments in curio stalls. The roots of the Black Monkey Orange are ground and taken as a tea to induce vomiting. The root, bark and unripe fruit of the Green Monkey Orange is used in traditional medicine to treat venomous snake bites; it is thought that the strychnine or similar alkaloid it contains might counteract the effects of the snake venom. The seeds of the Green Monkey Orange should therefore definitely not be eaten, though the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds is apparently delicious.
While both species are well known from the savanna and forest regions of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal, only the Green Monkey Orange’s distribution extends into the Eastern Cape and as far as the Garden Route.
Black Monkey Orange – Strychnos madagascariensis
Green (Natal) Monkey Orange – Strychnos spinosa