In eastern, central, and southern Africa, at least eight species of Vangueria are commonly found growing with vigor in dry, eroded, infertile, leached, or otherwise challenging sites. These trees closely resemble one another in both appearance and a propensity to bear lots of fruits. Specimens with as many as 1,800 fruits have been recorded and, given a street value of 4 cents each (U.S. currency, as recorded from Botswana), that amounts to a harvest worth more than $70 a tree.
With their unusual but appealing flavor and aroma, these fruits are described as being akin to dried apple. Although of apricot size, the fresh fruits resemble the European medlar (Mespilus germanica) in color and appearance. In many parts of Africa they are eaten and enjoyed like medlars…raw, roasted, and dried. A renowned and potent gin (known in Afrikaans as mampoer) is distilled from their fermented pulp. Indeed, they are so all-round popular that farmers from South Africa to Sudan and Senegal carefully preserve the trees when clearing land to make fields.
Despite the widespread enthusiasm, little was done to explore the economic potential or horticultural development of these species until quite recently. They were thought to grow slowly and yield too little to be worth the bother. Now a few brave pioneers are discovering that at least one member of this African fruit genus is relatively fast growing and has good potential for domestication.
For the moment, though, a horticultural industry based on African medlars is a long way off. Wild stands are likely to remain the predominant source of fruits for some time to come. This is unfortunate because the fruits of most of those trees are more seed than flesh. It is misleading to judge the ultimate promise by present appearances. The current types are unselected, and some are wasted and withered because they come from trees that are stressed from the difficult sites they grow on.
As these trees are made increasingly user-friendly they could contribute much to rural Africa. Although seeds fill most of the space inside most of the fruits, the pulp-to-seed ratio is very variable. Where the trees are reasonably well watered and benefit from good soils (which is far from frequent nowadays), the fruits are larger and can have a huge proportion of flesh. Fruits of the best-known medlar (Vangueria infausta) have been