This species was discovered by Allan Radcliffe-Smith and Peter Bally in 1972. They found a single tree growing in a rocky canyon in northeastern Kenya near the Ethiopian border. The tree was in flower and fruit but was leafless, so the leaves have been a mystery since no one went back to the area for over 30 years.
In 1998, I revisited the type locality to look for M. arborea. In the same canyon, I found almost a dozen individuals, and locals informed me that the tree was more widespread. But the trees were leafless when I saw them, too. I collected many cuttings and two small plants. All the cuttings and one small plant remained with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and I the other small plant back to Missouri. Now, we have an idea of what the leaves look like!
Moringa arborea is a very beautiful tree, especially when covered with its large sprays of pale pink and wine red flowers. The young fruits, which resemble a yard-long string bean, are being eagerly awaited on plants being cultivated at KEFRI to be tested for their suitability as a vegetable for arid climates.
Locals use the tree, like other species of Moringa, for medicine, especially the roots, which are thick and fleshy and pungent smelling.