lecythidaceae

Lecythis minor (syn. L. elliptica) - Coco de Mono

Lecythis spp. mini Brazilnut.jpg

This is a fantastic tree with much potential for further dissemination and integration into agroforestry and regenerative agricultural systems.

I first encountered the species growing in a stand of three trees in a somewhat neglected area on the edge of Summit botanic gardens outside of Panama City. I have collected seed from these trees for years. A cream colored aril is attached to the end of each nut, the aril tastes like anise but I’m not entirely sure if its edible. The nut itself is one of the best tasting tropical nuts I have eaten, identical in taste to its close relatives L. zabucajo and Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa).

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Lecythis elliptica fruit

Ranges from the Maracaibo lowlands of Venezuela to the northern coast of Colombian where it ascends to the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. The species most often occurs in dry, open, somewhat disturbed habitats where it grows as a much branched tree, however it can also be found growing in moister forests, especially along waterways where it reaches heights of 25 m. 

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Lecythis elliptica fruit.jpg

The tree is primarily cultivated from seed for its nut, which can be eaten fresh or roasted. The seedpod and nut are like smaller versions of the closely related L. zabucajo. The nut has a superior flavor and a high oil content. In Brazil, an oil is extracted from the nuts to make soap.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

The tree is easily propagated from seed, although this species has never been systematically cultivated for commercial purposes. It is an underutilized crop that warrants further experimentation and research for incorporation into tropical agroforestry systems. 

Lecythis elliptica tree.jpg

Gustavia superba - Membrillo

ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Gustavia superba, or Membrillo, is a tree with origins in tropical lowlands from Ecuador to Panama and Venezuela. It is mostly found in homegardens grown for personal consumption. 

Gustavia superba fruit 1.jpg

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The rounded, pear shaped fruits appear on the trunk contains one to four large smooth light brown seeds are surrounded by a fleshy edible orange pulp, which is typically boiled and is said to have a taste resembling meat.Membrillo pulp is rich in vitamins A, B, and C.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Gustavia superba fruit.jpg

The tree can be propagated easily from the seeds found embedded in the edible pulp. The tree is generally slow growing, likes water and sun, and can reach a height of five to ten meters. The species is adapted to hot, humid, tropical climates and will do best in well drained soils with full sunlight. The leaves of G. superba are a favorte food of iguana.

Lecythis zabucajo - Monkey Pot

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DESCRIPTION, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBITION

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.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

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.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

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..