Fruit Pod Brazil Nut Family


The Brazil Nut family (Lecythidaceae) is a fairly sizeable family and of great importance in some tropical regions. Described here are the varieties I have found sufficient detail on, but there are surely a number of similar varieties producing edible fruit and seeds.   Illustration of Paradise Nut Pod and Seed by William Rhind, copyright expired.


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Brazil Nut   -   [Bertholletia excelsa] Cut Fruit

The Brazil nut tree, found in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, is very large, growing to 160 feet tall and over 6-1/2 feet in diameter. The fruit may be from 4 to nearly 6 inches in diameter, and is very heavy, often weighing over 4 pounds. For this reason it is unwise to stand under a Brazil nut tree when the wind is blowing - getting hit by a 4 pound fruit falling more than 100 feet is not a pleasant experience, and may, in fact, be your last experience.

The Brazil nut has been much ballyhooed as a solution to rain forest clearing - people can just gather the very profitable fruits from the forest floor. Unfortunately this isn't working as a sustainable harvest. Too many fruits are being gathered in many areas, and there aren't enough young trees sprouting to sustain the forest.

The Brazil nut tree fruits only in undisturbed forest, because it depends on certain smelly wild orchids growing nearby to attract a particular variety of large bumble bee, the only insect strong enough to pry open the flowers and pollinate them. A single hard shelled fruit may contain from 8 to 24 hard shelled "nuts" arranged like orange wedges. The fruit matures in about 14 months after pollination. In nature large squirrel-like rodents gnaw the pods open, eat some seeds and bury others for future use - and just like our squirrels, they forget where they hid them. Some of these sprout, but the sprouts may have to wait many years for a large tree to fall so they have enough sunlight to grow big.

Brazil nut seeds are very nutritious, 18% protein, 13% carbohydrates and 69% fats, with a large selection of vitamins and minerals. There are also some downsides. Brazil nut seeds contain unusually high levels of the anti-nutrient phytic acid, which suppresses uptake of some minerals, particularly iron. Like other fruits in this family, it tends to concentrate heavy metals, particularly selenium, and in this case radium, in very small amounts, but about 1000 times more than in most foods. The amount of selenium can be a health hazard if you overindulge, resulting in hair loss and other symptoms. Europe has banned import of Brazil nuts in the shell, as many shells have been found to be contaminated with aflatoxins - so don't eat the shells. These seeds are also a cause of allergic reactions in people with nut allergies, even though they are technically not nuts.   Photo by Lior Golgher distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Anchovy Pear   -   [Grias cauliflora]
Drawing of Fruit

Native to Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean, this tree, often branchless, can grow to 50 feet tall, crowned with paddle shaped leaves up to 3 feet long. Flowers, 2 inches across, sprout directly from the trunk, as do the resulting fruit. The fruit, 2 to 3 inches long, looks much like a brown kiwi fruit, but more pear shaped, and has a single hard seed in the center. It is normally picked unripe, when it is quite sour from it's vitamin C content, and is most often sliced and pickled to be used as appetizers. The taste is similar to mango, which is similarly pickled when unripe. This may have been developed by East Indians who were brought in to work the plantations after all the native Indians had been worked to death.   Drawing 1830 copyright expired.

Paradise Nut   -   [Sapucaia; Lecythis zabucajo]
Fruit Pod

This large tree is native to Brazil, the Guianas, Suriname, Venezuela, Ecuador and Honduras in tropical South America, and has been successfully introduced to Trinidad. It's fruit pods are slightly flattened spheres and may measure up to nearly 7 inches across. The woody shell is up to 0.7 inches thick, and when the fruit is ripe, about a year after flowering, the lid blows off (see illustration at top of page), allowing access to the interior. Both the fruit arils (cream colored pulp) and the seeds are edible. The seeds are reddish brown, roughly elliptical and up to 1-1/2 inches long. They may be eaten raw or cooked, but in moderation. They tend to absorb heavy metals, particularly selenium, in amounts that could be harmful to health.   Photo by Nando cunha distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Cream Nut   -   [Monkey Pot; Sapucaia, Castanha-de-sapucaia (Brazil); Lecythis pisonis]
Fruit Pod

This tree is native to Brazil, the Guianas and Suriname in tropical Eastern South America. It's fruit pods are roughly spherical or ovoid, and may measure 3-1/2 inches to 11-1/2 across. The woody shell is up to 1-1/2 inches thick, and when the fruit is ripe, about a year after flowering, the lid blows off, allowing access to the interior. Both the fruit arils (cream colored pulp) and the seeds are edible. The seeds are reddish brown, roughly elliptical and up to 2 inches long. They may be eaten raw or cooked, but in moderation. They tend to absorb heavy metals, particularly selenium, in amounts that could be harmful to health.   Photo by Nando cunha distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

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