Monday, 21 January 2013

Couroupita guianensis

Couroupita guianensis, commonly known as the Cannonball tree is from the family Lecythidaceae. It is native to Costa Rica, Panama, French Guiana and Tropical South America.

It is a medium sized deciduous tree reaching a height of 35m.

Its leaves are smooth to slightly velvety with serrate margins. It is simple and arranged spirally at the ends of branches. As the species is semi-deciduous, it shed its leaves around once to twice a year, usually in response to dry weather. The leaves grow up to 15 cm long.

Measuring 7.5cm to 12cm in length, the flowers that grow directly on the bark of the trunk are pollinated by bees and bats. The complex nectarless structures each consist of 6 large and fleshy-waxy petals that are red to orange on the inside and yellow on the outside. Flowers last only a day, but several are produced at any one time throughout the year.

The tree bears fruits directly on the trunk and main branches, large globose woody fruits which look like big rusty cannonballs hangs in clusters, like balls on a string. Some can grow up to 24 cm in diameter. The long dangling fruity branches give the tree an unkempt appearance. Some fruits take 18 months to attain maturity. Upper part of fruits crack open upon dropping to the ground, exposing 200-300 hairy seeds embedded in 6-segmented jelly-like pulp that oxidizes from white to bluish-green and emits an unpleasant fermented-like scent when exposed to air. In native range, fruit pulp eaten by wild animals like pecaries. The fruit contains small seeds in a white, unpleasant smelling edible jelly, which are exposed when the upper half of the fruit goes off like a cover. The hard shells are used to make containers and utensils.

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