Tree Grapes. Although in the same plant family as mango, cashew, and pistachio, tree-grape fruits show their grape-like form. They also hang in bunches like grapes. And when ripe they are reddish to purplish-black skins with a whitish bloom. Perhaps most intriguing, many have a pleasant flavor described as truly “grape-like.” These are thought to be Lannea microcarpa, photographed at Malamawa Jibrim, 13 km southwest of Zinder, Niger. (Josef Garvi, Eden Foundation)

“wine.” They can be dried like raisins and safely put aside for later use. And those “tree raisins” themselves can be fermented into a beverage—an often-all-too-potent beverage.

Even when the fruits are unwanted, these trees are useful. They coppice well and sprout with vigor if the branches are cut at the proper time of year. This makes them useful for live hedges. The bark yields a water-soluble edible gum and a reddish-brown dye, as well as a fiber used among other things for cordage. The living trees also provide poles and floats for fishing. Oil from the seed kernel is used for soap and unguents.

These versatile wild resources are well worth exploratory research. Tree grapes are plants that could especially reward adventurous botanists, horticulturalists, and ethnologists. For plant physiologists and pathologists they present some fascinating mysteries. For horticulturists, their selection and growth requirements are complex enough to challenge the best minds. And anyone succeeding in overcoming these plants’ problems will reap the satisfaction of having created crops capable of contributing to the health and wealth of some of the world’s most destitute corners.

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