Central African Republic. A chocolate berry (species unidentified) locally known as mbili. (Roy Danforth and Paul Noren)

having a chocolate berry tree3 around. Some already go out, gather the seeds, and deliberately plant their own. For such reasons, these species likely have exceptional promise in agroforestry and rural reforestation, and they might perhaps become standard components in the mix of species employed to stabilize eroding slopes and abandoned wastelands across much of the continent. Among other advantages is their longevity. These trees are never cut down irresponsibly. Even the wild ones are protected by societal rules.

Those traditional rules have a good social purpose. Almost everyone—not to mention the environment—benefits from the living trees. But certain people benefit more. An example is livestock owners, for whom the trees’ ability to stay green far into the dry season has a vital appeal. When grasses shrivel away to nothing these trees, whose roots tap into moisture reserves far below the grass’s reach, stay green. That is a feature particularly appreciated by anyone facing loss of livelihood when the fodder runs out.

In addition, the living trees are renowned among honey hunters. The flowers attract bees from long distances. Indeed, beekeepers deliberately seek out the trees and hang their hives among the branches. Furthermore, a hollowed-out chocolate-berry trunk makes a most favored beehive.


There is no collective common name for these fruits. “Chocolate berry” has in the past referred only to Vitex payos, but for purposes of this chapter we have co-opted the name to refer collectively to the various African Vitex species with promise as fruit trees. It is not a perfect match, given that botanically speaking the fruits are not berries but drupes.

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