Cordyla africana is a large deciduous tree native to parts of Africa’s east coast, from South Africa to Kenya and inward to Malawi. It grows in swamp forests and along rivers at altitudes to 1000m.
Its common names in English include bush mango, wild mango, and sunbird tree. Locally, Cordyla africana bears a number of common names as well (see page 224 of Edible Wild Plants of Tanzania (PDF)): mbachanga, mpachama, and mroma (Chagga), mkwata (Gogo and Hehe), mgwata (Luguru and Sambaa), mtondo and ntondo (Mwera), mndundu (Ngindo), and mgwata, mroma, mtigonzi, mumbwe, and mvoo (Swahili).
Cordyla africana is a member of the Fabaceae, in the subfamily Papilionoideae. The tangerine-coloured brush-like flowers bloom in short sprays from July to October. The flowers lack petals, but bear numerous colourful stamens that are 1.5 to 2 cm long (just less than an inch). The greenish-yellow pea-shaped structures in the first photo are the calyx lobes. Each calyx begins development as an entire structure, but differentiates into 3 to 5 lobes as it matures. The upright blossoms are pollinated by sunbirds, though the nectar is drunk by other birds as well.
The fruits emerge as dehiscent pods, and grow to be round, indehiscent, and drupe-like (though not true drupes). The genus name, Cordyla, is derived from the Greek kordyle, or club, and refers to the shape of the mature fruit. These fruits are edible and rich in vitamin C, but are reported to smell unappetizingly of turpentine. They are usually eaten only when other food sources aren’t plentiful, and even then require peeling and cooking. However, monkeys and elephants aren’t so discriminating, and will eat the ripe fruits from November to January. The oblong seeds commonly germinate inside the ripe fruit that has fallen to the ground.
The tree itself has a spreading crown and rough brown to grey bark. The heartwood is a yellow-brown colour, striped in a wave pattern. The wood is used for making canoes, beehives, flooring, construction, and firewood. Drums made from the hollowed trunks are said to produce a deep, clear sound.