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Canarium ovatum - Engl.

Common Name Pili Nut
Family Burseraceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Forests where rainfall is abundant[ 63 ]. Low to medium elevations in primary and secondary forests[ 303 ].
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Canarium ovatum Pili Nut

Lance Catedral wikimedia.org
Canarium ovatum Pili Nut
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Commercially cultivated in the Philippines for its edible nuts and various other uses, Pili nut or Canarium ovatum is a tropical, evergreen tree that grows up to 25 m tall and bole diameter up to 50 cm. It is a symmetrically shaped dioecious species. It flowers frequently and is resistant to strong winds but cannot withstand low temperature. Its fruit is a drupe. It is also cultivated in other tropical countries as an ornamental tree but it is only in the Philippines where it is cultivated commercially for its nuts. The young shoots and the fruit pulp are edible as well. The former are used in salads while the latter is consumed when boiled and seasoned. Pulp oil can be extracted and used in cooking or is soap making. The soft, odorous resin is used for ointment for wounds and as a plaster. The bark is used against malaria and the leaves against vertigo.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Canarium ovatum is an evergreen Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 18 m (59ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Insects. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid and very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Canarium melioides Elmer. Canarium pachyphyllum Perkins

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil  Seed  Shoots
Edible Uses: Oil

Seed - raw or cooked. A popular nut. The sweet nuts have a delicious flavour. When raw, their flavour resembles roasted pumpkin seed, when roasted their mild, nutty flavour and tender, crispy texture are superior to the almond[ 301 , 303 ]. They can also be used in confections, ice cream, nut milks etc, and as an adulterant to chocolate[ 301 , 303 ]. The coat surrounding the kernel should be removed since it can cause diarrhoea[ 63 ]. The shell is very thick and difficult to crack, though some thinner shelled forms have been found[ 63 ]. Nutritionally, the kernel contains 71.1% fat, 11.4% protein and 8.4% carbohydrates; it is high in calcium, phosphorus and potassium[ 303 ]. The kernel is a major ingredient in a famous Chinese festive dessert known as the 'moon cake'. However, kernels from some trees may be bitter, fibrous or have a turpentine odour[ 303 ]. The seed keeps very well in storage[ 307 ]. A sweet, light-yellow oil obtained from the seed is used for cooking purposes[ 301 , 303 ]. It is comparable in quality to that of olive oil, containing up to 59% oleic glycerides and 32-59% of palmitic glycerides[ 303 , 310 ]. An oil can be extracted from the fruit pulp[ 301 ]. It has a tangy, resin-like flavour[ 301 ] and can be used for cooking[ 303 ]. The fruit pulp is boiled, seasoned and eaten[ 301 , 303 , 310 ]. Rather tasteless[ 63 ]. It resembles the sweet potato in texture, it is oily (about 12%) and is considered to have food value similar to the avocado[ 303 ]. Young shoots - raw[ 301 ]. Eaten in salads[ 301 , 303 , 310 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Malaria  Purgative  Skin

The resin is soft, odorous and has the texture of honey. It was formerly exported for the European pharmaceutical trade as Manila or Philippine gum elemi for use as an ointment for healing wounds and as a plaster[ 303 ]. The bark is used in the treatment of malaria[ 307 ]. The leaves are used in the treatment of vertigo[ 307 ]. Raw nuts are a purgative[ 303 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Charcoal  Containers  Fuel  Fuel  Furniture  Ink  Oil  Shelterbelt  Soap making  Waterproofing  Wood

Other uses rating: Medium (3/5). Shade tree, Street tree, Nut tree, Public open space. Agroforestry Uses: The tree makes an excellent windbreak as it resists strong winds and even typhoons[ 303 , 310 ]. Other Uses: The hard and thick shell that encloses the kernel makes an excellent fuel for cooking[ 303 , 310. The possibility of using the shell as a source for making charcoal and activated carbon for industry has yet to be explored[ 310 ]. Polished and varnished, the stony thick shell becomes an attractive ornament[ 303 , 310 ]. The stony shells are excellent as a porous, inert growth medium for orchids and anthuriums[ 303 ]. A valuable resin, called Manila elemi or 'breabianca', is used as an ingredient in the manufacture of plastics, printing inks and perfumes[ 303 ]. It is also is used by the Spaniards for ship repairs[ 303 ]. The plant contains two different oils. That obtained from the seed is of similar quality to olive oil[ 310 ]. An oil contained in the fruit pulp can be extracted and used as a substitute for cottonseed oil in the manufacture of soap and edible products[ 303 ]. It is used in making suntan lotions and cosmetics[ 307 ]. The reddish wood is hard and considered to be similar to mahogany[ 307 ]. The resin-rich wood makes good firewood[ 303 , 310 ]. This species is one of the sources of kedondong timber, which is obtained from several species in the family Burseraceae[ 884 ]. We do not have a specific description of the wood for this species, but the general description of kedondong wood is as follows:- The heartwood is generally a light brown; it is not sharply demarcated from the 3 - 5cm wide band of lighter-coloured sapwood. The texture is moderately fine and even; the grain is interlocked to wavy; the surface is lustrous. The wood is light in weight; moderately hard; not very durable, being susceptible to fungi, dry wood borers and termites. It seasons somewhat slowly with only a slight risk of checking and distortion; once dry it is moderately stable to stable in service. The wood has a fairly high blunting effect, stellite-tipped and tungsten carbide tools are recommended; it is moderately easy to slightly difficult to plane; finishes smooth to rough; can be easy to very difficult to bore; slightly difficult to difficult to turn; nailing and screwing properties are good; gluing is correct. The wood is suitable for internal use as a general utility timber for planking, cladding, plywood, flooring, furniture, packing cases, pallets and general carpentry work[ 316 , 848 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Management: Standard  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Oil

Pili is a tree of the hot, wet tropical lowlands, where it is usually found at elevations below 400 metres[ 303 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 22 - 34°c, but can tolerate 12 - 40°c[ 418 ]. It cannot withstand low temperatures or even the slightest frost[ 303 ]. It prefers a rainfall that is distributed throughout the year with a mean annual rainfall in the range 2,000 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 1,000 - 4,000mm[ 303 , 418 ]. Succeeds in both light and heavy soils[ 310 ]. Prefers a well-drained soil[ 418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 6, tolerating 4.5 - 6.5[ 418 ]. Mature trees can resist strong winds[ 303 ]. Trees flower all year round[ 307 ]. Young seedling trees can grow to a height of 2 metres or more in about 3 - 4 years, and do not usually produce side branches until this stage[ 310 ]. Seedling trees can produce their first flowers when about 4 years old[ 310 ]. On average, seedling trees start producing fruit 5 - 6 years after planting. Clonal trees bear fruit 3 - 4 years after planting[ 303 ]. Full production commences at around the age of 12 - 15 years[ 324 ] Yields of 140 kilos or more per tree have been obtained[ 63 ]. Wild forms usually have three, sometimes two kernels present in the nut, each in its own compartment[ 63 ]. In the case of cultivated trees, however, only one kernel is sometimes found in each nut[ 63 ]. When this is so, the kernel is proportionately larger and the nut easier to crack[ 63 ]. The tree is cultivated more or less by accident, having appeared as self-sown seedlings in hemp and coconut plantations[ 63 ]. Trees are dioecious - both male and female forms would normally need to be grown in order to produce fruit and seed. Functional hermaphrodites, however, exist within the species[ 303 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • Staple Crop: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - most kernels tend to stick to their shell when fresh but come off easily after being dried to 3 - 5% mc, which takes 27 - 28 hours at 30°c[ 303 ]. The pericarp is also removed prior to sowing by dipping the fruits in hot water[ 303 ]. Sow the seeds in light shade in individual containers or in a nursery seedbed. The seedlings take 40 - 50 days to emerge, and should be potted into individual containers as soon as they are large enough to handle. The transplanted seedling initially grows slowly, but soon the growth rate picks up, stem height and girth increasing rapidly and new leaves unfolding continuously. Plant out when 25 - 30cm tall. One year-old seedlings can be used for rootstock[ 303 ]. Asexual propagation is best through patch budding, which has a claimed success rate of 85 - 90% in the Philippines. Cleft grafting is also successful[ 303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Pili nut or Canarium ovatum. Other Names: Noz-pili.

Native Range

TROPICAL ASIA: Philippines,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

None Known

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Vulnerable A1cd

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Canarium albumChinese White OliveTree15.0 10-13  LMHSNM221
Canarium indicumCanarium Nut, Ngali, Galip nut, kenari nutTree35.0 10-12 FMHSNM423
Canarium luzonicumManila ElemiTree30.0 10-12  LMHNM434
Canarium schweinfurtiiAfrican elemiTree30.0 10-12 MLMHNM333
Canarium vulgareJava Almond, Kenari NutTree45.0 10-12 FLMHNM413

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References

Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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