Araucaria araucana - Monkey Puzzle tree

Araucaria anguvstifolia, another member of the pan-global Araucariaceae family, many of which have edible seeds and multiple other ethnobotanical uses.

Native to It is native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina. A. araucana is the national tree of Chile. Its conservation status was changed to Endangered by the IUCN in 2013 due to the dwindling population caused by logging, forest fires, and grazing.

The large seeds, or pinions, are edible can be consumed, prepared in a wide variety of ways. The tree, however, does not yield seeds until it is around 30 to 40 years old, which discourages investment in planting orchards (although yields at maturity can be immense); once established, it can live possibly as long as 1,000 years.

Theobroma cacao- Chocolate, Cacao


There's a lot that can be said about this species.

Some of the latin synonyms are: Cacao guianensis Aubl., Cacao minus Gaertn., Cacao sativa Aubl., Theobroma caribaea Sweet, Theobroma interregima Stokes, Theoboma kalagua De Wild, T. leiocarpa Bernoulli, T. pentagona Bernoulli.

Some of the folk names include: Ah kakaw (Lacandon), aka-'i (Ka'apor), aka-'iwa (Ka'apor), bana torampi (Shipibo), biziaa (Zapotec), bizoya, cacahoaquiahuit, cacahoatl, cacahua, cacahuatl, cacao, cacaocuahuitl (Aztec).

The list of folk names goes on and on. Cacao has been a significant species for melenia. The tree was cultivated throughout areas of Central America 4,000 years ago where it was venerated as a divine substance, a food of the gods, and was primarily consumed during rituals and offered to the gods. Thus the plant genus is called Theobroma, meaning "gods" "food" in Latin. Cacao is a word borrowed from the Mayan language and refers to the tree, the fruit, and the drink that is prepared from the fruit. The word chocolate is derived from the Aztec word xocolatl.


Cacao beans were held in extremely high regard by the Aztecs who used them as food, stimulant, medicine and currency. Notably, as a currency, the cacao bean was typically used as standard fare to pay prostitutes. Perhaps this has something do to with the beans aphrodesiac properties.

The Aztec viewed the cacao tree as a gift form the god Quetzalcoatl. The following, extracted from an Aztec text, provides a precise description of the tree and of the drink:

Cacaoaquavitl - Cacao Tree

It has broad branches. It is simply a round tree. Its fruit is like the ears of dried maize, like an ear of green maize, some whitish brown. Its name is "cacao ear." Some are reddish brown, some whitish brown, some bluish brown. Its heart, that which is inside it, its filled insides, is like an ear of maize. The name of this when it grows is cacao. This is edible, is drinkable. This cacao, when much is drunk, when one consumes much of it, especially that which is green, which is tender, makes one drunk, has an effect upon one, makes on ill, makes one confused. If a normal amount is drunk, it makes one happy, refreshes one, comforts one, strengthens one. Thus it is said: "I take cacao, I moisten my lips. I refresh myself." (Sahagun, 11)

Initially, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Hernan Cortez it was used almost exclusively in the production of love drinks

Today, although the wild form of the plant (T. lacandonense) is found only in the jungles of southern Mexico, domesticated cacao can be found grown as a crop throughout many of the tropical rainforest regions of the world, throughout the Americas, in southeast Asia, and parts of Africa.

I have found wild cacao relative, Herrania purpurea, on an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The pod is smaller than T. cacao. When opened the pod contains a similar white pulp surrounding smaller seeds.

Interestingly, in ancient Nicaragua, cacao farmers were required to abstain from sex for thirteen days prior to planting cacao seeds so they would not make the chocolate god (moon god) angry.

Generally speaking, cacao served (and still serves) the important function as a vehicle for administering other psychoactive plants and fungi (Ott 1985). The Aztecs ingested cacao together with entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) Associated rituals are still practiced amongst numerous tribes today.

In ancient America, cacao was esteemed as a tonic and aphrodisiac. Cacao is also used in indian fold medicine to treat diarrhea and scorpion stings. Kuna women (Panama) drink a decoction of the fruit pulp as a pregnancy tonic. Fresh young leaves are applied externally as an antiseptic agent. In Peru, cacao is drunk primarily as a diuretic and in cases of kidney infection.

Cacao beans contain 18% protein, 56% lipids, 13.5% carbohydrates, 1.45% theobromine, .05% caffeine, and 5% tannin.

The following cacao recipe was said to have been brought by conquistador Hernan Cortez to Spain in 1528:

700 g cacao

750 g sugar

56 g cinnamon (probably Canella winterana)

14 Mexican peppercorns (Capsicum spp.)

14 g spice cloves (Pimenta dioica)

3 vanilla pods

1 handful of anise (probably Tagetes lucida)

1 hazelnut

musk, grey amber, and orange blossom water

Pachira aquatica - Guinea Chestnut, Apompo

Pachira aquatica is a medium size tree native to tropical wetlands of Central and South America. Its native habitat tends to be seasonally flooded lowlands or swamps, however it is adaptable to a wide range of tropical environments. The large, oblong fruit is full of large seeds which taste reminiscent of peanuts, and can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour to make bread. The leaves and flowers are also edible.

Interestingly Pachira aquatica and close relative Pachira glabra are both used and sold with braided trunks as the "money tree", an indoor plant that is supposed to bring monetary wealth. Personally I prefer to plant them in the ground outside. 

Pachira glabra - Saba nut, Guinea peanut, French peanut


Bombacopsis glabra leaf.jpg

Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao. Today this species is distributed throughout the tropical world, used both as an ornamental tree and a food crop. 

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.


The tree produces a fruit/pod which contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. The seeds contain 16% protein and 40-50% fat. P. glabra along with P. aquitaca are both considered to be among the more notable under appreciated tropical food crops.

The young leaves and flowers of P. glabra (and P. aquatica) are also edible. 

Bombocopsis glabra fruit.jpg

Mature trees will produce between 50 - 80 fruits per year.


The tree can be propagated from seed, cuttings, and air layers. Trees are resilient to both droughts and flooding. 


P. glabra makes a fantastic full sun / deep shade tolerant, medium size, understory seed/nut crop. Trees are resilient to pests, they drop a thick leaf biomass year round and produce abundant fruit. The trees are relatively maintenance free aside from irrigation upon initial establishment. 

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).


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. 


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.


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

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..

Canarium ovatum - Pili nut

Canarium ovatum tree.jpg

Pili nut is one of the best tasting nuts in the world in my opinion. I encountered my first mature tree at Summit botanic garden, boarding Soberania National Park outside Panama City. The tree has strong structure, very attractive, producing an abundance of nuts. The nuts have a very strong shell containing one elongated kernal.


The Pili nut originates in the Philippines and is widely cultivated both there and in neighboring islands. It can be found in cultivation in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Pili nut has also been introduced into the American tropics where it is produced at a commercial level.


The nut is edible raw or cooked and has a flavor comparable to Mediterranean almond. It can be eaten raw or toasted and can be used to extract an edible oil.


Pili nut is a species from the humid tropics, and is best planted from sea level up to 500 meters. The tree prefers deep well drained soils.

Canarium ovatum fruit close.jpg

Pili nut is a fast growing tree, producing nuts year round. An adult tree can produce around 35 kilos of nuts a year.

The pili tree is excellent for landscaping, as a windbreak, and for agroforestation. The young shoot is edible and the resin-rich wood makes excellent firewood. The green pulp can be made into pickle, while the ripe pulp is edible after boil-ing.  It also contains an oil that may be used for lighting, cooking and in the manufacture of soap and other industrial products.  The shell makes an excellent cooking fuel and can be made into attractive ornaments.  The kernel is edible raw, roasted, fried or sugar-coated, and is also used in making cakes, puddings and ice cream.  It is rich in oil, which is suitable for culinary use.

Canarium ovatum ripe fruit.jpg

The kernel contains 12-16% protein, 69-77% fats and 3- 4% carbohydrates.  It is also rich in minerals, but poor in vitamins.  The kernel oil has 60% oleic glycerides and 38% palmitic glycerides.

Pilinut pulp is also edible, containing 8% protein, 37% fats, 46% carbohydrates, 3% crude fibre and 9% ash.  The pulp oil contains 57% oleic glycerides, 14% linoleic glycerides and 29% saturated fats.

Anacardium occidentale - Cashew


The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple. It can grow as high as 14 m (46 ft), but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 m (20 ft), has proved more profitable, with earlier maturity and higher yields.

The species is originally native to northeastern Brazil. Portuguese colonists in Brazil began exporting cashew nuts as early as the 1550s. Major production of cashews occurs in Vietnam, Nigeria, India, and Ivory Coast.

The cashew nut, often simply called a cashew, is widely consumed. It is eaten on its own, used in recipes, or processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. The shell of the cashew seed yields derivatives that can be used in many applications including lubricants, waterproofing, paints, and arms production, starting in World War II. The cashew apple is a light reddish to yellow fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.

Commercial growers in the 21st century cultivate cashews in warm, humid climates across the globe, with Vietnam, Nigeria, India, Brazil and Indonesia among the top producers of 23 cashew countries. Cashews are harvested by hand.


Both the apple and the nut can be eaten. The apple is sweet, juicy and highly perishable. The quality and edibility of the apple varies from variety to variety. Although the apple can be eaten out of hand, it has a somewhat astringent quality and is best utilized in juice, wine, or preserves.


Parts of the nut are highly toxic when raw and are typically treated with heat, either boiling or baking, before used for human consumption. The nut in itself is not toxic, but the double shell surrounding the nut contains a dermatogenic phenolic resin, urushiol, a powerful irritant also found in poison ivy, another member of the Anacardiaceae clan. A few word of advice: don’t try to shell the raw seed with your teeth. One should take the cautionary measure to process cashews (especially if baking) in a well ventilated area as it could prove hazardous to to breath accumulating fumes associated with baking the seeds.


The Cashew is a relatively fast growing tree, suitable for pioneer and erosion control planting. Although the tree can reach heights of forty feet, they can begin fruiting at fifteen feet, within a few years of seed germination. Closely related to Mangifera sp., Cashew thrives in similar climates. Although it grows fast and has fairly prolific in fruit production in the humid tropic, it produces much more in a region with a marked dry season.

Cashew grows easily from seed. Seed can be washed, air dried and stored for up to a year, maybe more. It is beneficial to avoid transplanting the Cashew as it has a delicate taproot which can be easily upset. Best results are achieved by planting the seed directly in the ground, ideally above a large pit backfilled with organic compost.

When ripe, the seed (or nut) appears at the end of an engorged stalk, shaped like a pear, which is referred to as the Cashew Apple, or Maranoncriollo. The stalk swells fairly rapidly, in hot weather, when the cashew nut reaches maturity.

The cashew is very tolerant of poor soils and fairly resistant to wind and salt spray, thus is an excellent species to be cultivated in coastal areas. Due to its soil adaptability, shallow root system, fast growth rate, and useful fruit and nut production, the Cahsew is an good candidate as a pioneer species for agroforestry systems, interplanted at high densities with nitrogen fixing trees, especially in situation where erosion control and soil improvement is needed.When established the tree proves to be very drought tolerant, which can be trimmed as needed to accommodate for longer lived, superior tree crops.

Pistacia vera, Pistachio, Pistache

Pistachio is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and a close relative of Cashew, Mango, and  Spondias spp., among others. Pistachio is native to the Middle East where, not long ago, there were extensive forest populations of pistachio trees on hills and mountains from Lebanon to Northern Iraq and Iran, some of these stands may still persist. Local tribespeople are said to collect from wild trees in Afghanistan and Iran.

The tree is suited to a hot, dry climate and require a long hot summer for fruits to mature. Additionally they have a high chilling requirement.

Pistachio have been used as long ago as 7000 BC. In the first century AD the pistachio was introduced by Syria to Italy as a food crop, its cultivation subsequently spread throughout Mediterranean countries. Today, major Pistachio producing countries of the world include Greece, California, Lebanon, Syria, India, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, and Australia.

Pistachio trees have a long life-span, 700 year old trees have been recorded, they are slow growing and prefer a full sun environment and deep, well-drained soil. They are fairly tolerant of wind. Pistachios have the unique ability among commercial tree crops to grow in a wide variety of soil conditions ( stony calcareous, highly alkaline, acidic, saline, etc. ). This being the case, however, they cannot tolerate wet or damp climates. Wind and rain during pollination can reduce fruit-set.


Bombacaceae, Pachira (Bombacopsis) glabra, Saba nut, American chestnut

Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. Despite its origins in America, I took most of the photos above in Gabon where it appears to be valued as a foodcrop.

I have about fifteen trees growing from seed I collected from a few trees I found planted along the street in a middle class neighborhood in San Jose, Costa Rica. In addition to this tree there were tropical olives (Simarouba glauca), citrus and macadamia nuts planted as street trees in the same neighborhood.

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. A pod contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. Considered to be one of the more notable underappreciated tropical food crops.

Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.

In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao.