Lecythis zabucajo - Monkey Pot



Monkey Pot, or Olla del Mono, is a term to describe not only L. zabucajo, but a number of other closely related species, including: Lecythis ellipticaLecythis grandiflora, and Lecythis pisonis.

All of the Monkey Pot species are native to the humid tropical forests of northern South America, from Colombia to Brazil. They have been introduced on a small scale to a number of countries with similar climates around the world.

The trees are of varying sizes. Lecythis elliptica is smaller with spreading branches, the others can reach heights of over 35 meters, also with a spreading canopy, also about 35 meters, if not more.

There are a few old L. zabucajo trees in a stand where I collected seed, remarkably wide canopy, close to sixty feet I would say. The branches arc up and out until they almost touch the ground. Typically, one can locate an open pod and merely walk around beneath it and find seed. However, the agouti forage for nuts in these trees and will chew through the woody pod to extract them. So I had to climb up the end of a branch and hang precariously  while pulling on a rope tied around a higher branch holding the fruit, then clip the 3/4 inch stem.

The large woody fruit of L. zabucajo.

The large woody fruit of L. zabucajo.

The photos below are from that stand. The last two photos are from a smaller fruit from a smaller tree, but larger than L. elliptica. I’m not sure if it was just a smaller L. zabucajo tree or another species.

The fruit is a roundish and woody with a cap that pops off when it’s reached maturity. Inside are anywhere from 8 – 40 seeds (depending on the species) which fall from the woody capsule after a period of time.


This species is closely related to the Brazil nut, both belonging to the family Lecythidaceae and having coconut-sized fruits. The tree's large woody gourd-like fruits with edible white flesh are used for water vessels and for ornamental purposes. The fruit is called 'monkey pot', a name used for a number of other species, including Lecythis ellipticaLecythis grandiflora, and Lecythis pisonis. The name is said to derive from baiting an empty fruit with food and fixing it to a low branch; a monkey can easily insert its paw through the opening, but cannot withdraw it once it has grasped the contents.Although they are little known outside their area of origin, the nuts produced by these species are among the best in the world, equal or superior in flavor to the Brazil Nut. There is a cream colored arial attached to the end of each seed. On numerous occasions I have tried it, it has a sweet licorice-like flavor although I was once told it has psychoactive properties. The tree wood is also of high quality.


Lecythis zabucajo open pod

The Monkey Pot (Lecythis species) require a hot, humid climate. Deep, well drained soils are preferable. The young trees will also benefit from a shady environment in their first few years of growth.

Trees are propagated by seeds, which will germinate in anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months. In my experience, fresher seed will germinate faster. Initial growth is fast, a young tree can reach a meter in height in its first year. Trees are typically spaced 8 – 10 meters apart in single species plantations or groups. They can also be integrated into mixed species agroforestry systems as a long lived overstory / canopy tree..

Emergence and evolution of urban agriculture in Cuba: A brief overview

  Before 1989 agriculture in Havana, Cuba was virtually unheard of. Today, Cuba has the most extensive urban agriculture program in Latin America and is the only country in the world that has developed state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production and urban growers.   Today’s urban agriculture programs emerged in the early 1990s in response to food shortages incurred by the limited transnational trade as a result of embargos. Disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989 compounded the problem, closing down the few trade channels that Cuba had maintained with the industrial world. This development left the country totally unable to import the necessary chemical products that make capital-intensive, industrial, mono-crop agriculture possible. It was time to look for alternatives.

Cuba’s ‘alternative model, backed by the Cuban ministry of Agriculture, evolved as a science-based, low-input sustainable agriculture approach –growing food in and around cities on small farms operated by highly motivated producers using non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The people’s need for information and agricultural inputs was encouraged and satiated through the creation of the Urban Agriculture Department in Havana. The Departments’ basic objective was to put all of the city’s open land into cultivation and provide a wide range of extension services and resources such as agricultural specialists, short courses, seed banks, biological controls, compost, and tools.  Hundreds of vacant lots, pubic and private, were officially sanctioned as gardens and farms. In some cases land ownership titles have been accorded but, in most cases land has been, and continues to be, handed over in usufruct, a planning concept which grants free and indefinite right to use public land for gardening. At the very outset of the organic revolution the government gave unused city land to anyone who wanted to cultivate it. Chemical-based pesticides, fungicides,  and fertilizers had ceased to exist so Cuban farmers did what they had to and began to fabricate less costly, more healthy and productive alternatives.

The Department of Urban Agriculture also set up Seed Houses (Tiendas del Agricultor), selling garden inputs along with seeds, ornamental and medicinal plants, tree samplings (mostly fruit-bearing) tools, books, biological control products, biofertilizers, biological pest and disease controls, packaged compost, worm humus, and other needed inputs.  

In addition to the success of its urban farms, the Cuban program has initiated the establishment of larger peri-urban farms located just outside cities and towns. Due to the greater availability of larger properties, these farms can tend to place greater emphasis on arboriculture systems and agroforestry through the integration of trees with vegetable, herb and spice production.  

Nelso Compagnioni, of the Institute for Tropical Agriculture points out one basic concept illustrating why urban agriculture is economically viable: "The secret is in the high productivity of small urban units, every dollar of produce on a small plot costs 25 cents to produce: as soon as you increase the area you get higher costs — more workers, lower yields, more complex irrigation. And we have no need for transport: customers collect their food on the way home from work." 

Today, Cuba’s cities are home to 4,035 organic plots, 8,563 high-production gardens, and 137,000 small plots on patios and suburban farms, totaling 35,775 hectares (88,000 acres) of vegetable, tuber, banana, spices and rice production. Over 350,000 people have joined the Urban Agriculture Program. The Cuban Association of Agriculture and Forestry Technicians estimates that some 40,000 of those workers are retired people and nearly 68,000 of them are women. Thanks to the success of the program, the production of vegetables has been between 3-4 million tones every year for the last five years.