Magic Guarri Not Just Another Tree
It’s not called magic for nothing
Africa is home to many splendid and amazing trees and shrubs; veritable “Wonder trees” that make life in this beautiful and brutal continent easier! One of the most interesting is a small tree or shrub known as the Magic Guarri (Euclea divinorum).
Its name ‘divinorum’, is believed to come from the use of Y shaped branches, cut from the magic guarri to divine for underground water, for wells and later boreholes.
You’ll find this little wonder-worker in various and diverse habitats from Ethiopia and Sudan all the way through equatorial Africa, down to South Africa.
This slow growing evergreen tree/shrub’s innocent appearance belies a plant with enormous capabilities. A tree that can predict drought and if you thinks that’s impossible, it goes on to warn all the other trees near it? Just a little skeptical?
Okay, here’s how.
Not only do the animals suffer through drought, plants too, are threatened and when this happens they become stressed. This stress causes the magic guarri to create pheromones, that act as an early warning of coming drought to other trees in the vicinity. The trees’ reaction is to discharge tannin into their leaves, making them highly inedible to browsers like impala, kudu and giraffe. Thanks to the Magic guarri, the surrounding trees save the greenery they need to survive the drought, by also adding tannin to their leaves.
In the extremely dry conditions, we have right now, you can see the results of the tree’s protective mechanism. On the bottom, almost at ground level, there’s a small patch of new growth. Although there are many animals who can get to them, the leaves haven’t been touched – the effect of all the tannin!
Now, if predicting the weather, saving itself and other trees isn’t enough, the magic guarri has a few other tricks.
Birds, especially hornbills, like the round and fleshy fruit (5-7mm) although, apparently, it doesn’t taste nice – I’d have tried some myself except every magic guarri I know is stripped of its fruit before they’re even ripe. The fruit is also used to brew a potent alcoholic beer, make jelly and vinegar, and can be used as a laxative. The fruit also produces a pink ink, and the bark a brown ink, both commonly used to dye woven baskets. To mention all its medicinal use, would take up too much space for this little article.
The beloved, highly endangered Black rhino eat the bark and browse the leaves, along with giraffe, kudu, impala and grey duiker when other food is scarce. And the bark found its way into the dyeing of basket-ware made by local people. Guarri leaves are used to improve a person’s appetite and indigenous tribes make various medicines from the tree.
In Timbavati, back in the day, M & co. used branches of magic guarri to cover any exposed meat when skinning and preparing animals for the pot/biltong – flies don’t like the smell of the magic guarri. Branches can be broken off and used for beating out veld fires and even the twigs are useful – you can turn them into nifty toothbrushes!
The dark brown, hard and close-grained wood is used to make small pieces of furniture and implements. This humble tree is also one of the ebony woods used for piano keys.
If you’re fortunate enough to go to the Kruger Park, the Magic Guarri can be found in the Mixed Bushwillow Woodlands, Pretoriuskop Sourveld, Malelane Mountain Bushveld, Sabie Crocodile Thorn Thickets, Knob Thorn / Marula Savannah, Delagoa Thorn Thickets, Alluvial Plains, and in the Tree Mopane Savannah & Mopane / Bushwillow Woodlands ecozones.