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Hymenaea courbaril - L.

Common Name West Indian Locust
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Found in a wide range of habitats including tropical dry forest, transition to premontane moist forest, and tropical wet forest as well as subtropical moist forest[303 , 791 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas; C. America - Panama to southern Mexico; Caribbean.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Hymenaea courbaril West Indian Locust

Hymenaea courbaril West Indian Locust


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Hymenaea courbaril or commonly known as West Indian Locust, Brazilian copal, umami-gum, Brazilian Cherry, or South American Cherry is a legume in the Fabaceae family. It is an evergreen tree with massive spreading branches and a heavy, umbrella-shaped crown. It is slow growing but reaches up to 30 m in height. The bole is straight and cylindrical and can be up to 120 cm in diameter. The fruits are eaten raw or cooked. it has dry, whitish-yellow pulp with sweet flavor. It can be made into ice cream and custards or fermented into an alcoholic beverage. A tea can be made from the bark. The bark is used in local folk medicine as a cure-all. The leaves, sap, and fruits have medicinal uses as well particularly against coughs, cystitis, hepatitis, prostatitis, bronchitis, anemia, wounds, mouth ulcers, diabetes, etc. The wood is used as a fuel and to make charcoal. It is also used as a material for making high class furniture, cabinet, in construction, heavy duty flooring, ship building, etc.

Physical Characteristics

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Hymenaea courbaril is an evergreen Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 28 m (91ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Bee, Bats. The plant is not self-fertile.
It can fix Nitrogen.
Suitable for: medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Hymenaea altissima Ducke Hymenaea animifera Stokes Hymenaea candolleana Kunth Hymenaea multiflora Kl

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Inner bark
Edible Uses: Drink  Gum  Tea

Fruit - raw or cooked[301 ]. The dry, whitish-yellow pulp around the seed has a sweet flavour and is commonly eaten raw; used in making custards and ice cream; and fermented into an alcoholic beverage[301 ]. It is eaten like sweets by children in Jamaica[301 ]. The protein content is high for a fruit[301 ]. The pulp contains 3.2% sugar, 1.1% fat, and 35.8% crude fibre[303 ]. It has its own peculiar smell and sweet flavour, slightly reminiscent of bananas, and is generally considered pleasant but not very attractive[303 ]. The texture is that of dry flour turning to a paste in the mouth, and some people find this unpleasant[303 ]. It is very dry and largely starchy, so it is a good source of calories[303 ]. The fruit is an indehiscent oblong pod, 5 - 15cm long and 3-5cm wide, containing 3 - 4 large seeds[303 , 791 ]. A tea made from the bark is a quite popular drink for lumberjacks working in the forests in Brazil, because it is a natural energy tonic[303 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Analgesic  Antidiarrhoeal  Antifungal  Balsamic  Depurative  Febrifuge  Haemostatic  Laxative  
Mouthwash  Pectoral  Stomachic  Tonic  Urinary  Vermifuge

The bark is analgesic, astringent, balsamic, depurative, febrifuge, haemostatic, pectoral, stomachic, tonic and vermifuge[303 , 348 , 739 ]. It is commonly used in local folk medicine as a cure-all, being especially useful for coughs. Besides being used to give energy and stamina, a tea made from the bark has been used for centuries as a tonic for the respiratory and urinary systems by the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin. The tea is also used internally to treat stomach problems and back pains, as well as externally for athlete?s foot and foot fungus[303 , 348 ]. It is known for its ability to fight fungus and yeast infections such as Candida albicans[303 ]. The macerated bark is used as a treatment for diarrhoea[303 ]. The bark, sap or resin, and leaves are used medicinally for cystitis, hepatitis, prostatitis and cough[303 ]. The sap is used for treating coughs and bronchitis[303 ]. The resin and sap exuding from bore-holes in the bark is considered fortifying[739 ]. It is used for treating chronic cystitis, urine retention, anaemia, prostatitis, blennorrhagia and chronic bronchitis[739 ]. The resin and sap are used externally for treating fresh wounds[348 , 739 ]. The solid resin found at the base of the tree is balsamic, bechic, stomachic, tonic and vermifuge[739 ]. The fruit has a mild laxative effect[739 ]. It is also used to treat mouth ulcers[303 ]. The leaves and wood are used in the treatment of diabetes[303 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Charcoal  Furniture  Gum  Resin  Tannin  Varnish  Wood

Large shade tree. Public open space. Xerophytic. Other Uses: The roots and trunk yield a pale yellow or red resin-like gum known commercially as 'South American copal'[303 , 378 ]. The gum exudes and forms hard lumps that become buried in the soil at the base of a tree. Sometimes as much as a barrel of gum has been found around the roots of a large tree or at the site of a former tree. The gum is used mainly in varnish but also for incense and local medicines[303 , 378 ]. The copal is also used for patent leather and in stains for tin ware[303 ]. About 35 tonnes/year are collected in Brazil for local use[303 ]. The thick bark is a good source of tannin[303 ]. The bark was traditionally used by S. American tribes to make lightweight canoes[307 ]. The hard, durable, tough wood is one of the best from the region. The heartwood is salmon pink to orange-brown when fresh, becoming russet to reddish-brown when seasoned, often marked with dark streaks; it is clearly demarcated from the 3 - 12cm wide band of white, grey, or pinkish sapwood. Texture is medium to rather coarse; grain mostly interlocked; lustre is golden; it is without distinctive odour or taste. The wood is heavy to very heavy; hard to very hard; elastic; durable, even in contact with the soil, being resistant to fungi, dry wood borers and termites. It seasons normally, 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; except in planing, it can be machined to a smooth surface; nailing and screwing are good, but require pre-boring; gluing is correct for interior use only, but needs to be done with care because of the density of the wood. The wood has a wide range of applications, including for high class furniture, cabinet making, construction, heavy duty flooring, ship building, carving, turnery, tool handles etc[303 , 848 ]. The wood is used as a fuel and to make charcoal[791 ]

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Industrial Crop: Hydrocarbon  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

Grows well in lowland tropical and subtropical areas up to an altitude of 900 metres[303 ]. It prefers a mean annual temperature in the range 20 - 30°c, with a mean annual rainfall of 1,500 - 3,000mm, which can be evenly distributed through the year or monsoonal[303 ]. It can tolerate 4 months or more of drought[303 , 791 ]. Young plants can tolerate some shade but require more sun as they grow with mature plants requiring a position in full sun[303 , 791 ]. Tolerates and will grow on all textures of soil from sand to clay but develops best on deep, fertile, moist and well-drained sandy soils[303 , 791 ]. Tolerates poor fertility soils and waterlogging[303 ]. Established plants are drought tolerant[307 ]. Succeeds in a pH in the range 4.8 - 6.8[303 , 791 ]. The tree develops best when grown on ridges or slopes and high riverbanks[303 ]. Young plants usually grow at an angle with a drooping leader for their first 2 - 3 years, before straightening up and developing a straight bole[791 ]. Trees generally have a moderate rate of growth - in a good site they were up to 11 metres tall after 13 years, though in a poorer site that were only up to 9 metres after 20 years[791 ]. The plant commences fruiting when 8 - 12 years of age, so long as it is receiving full overhead light[303 , 791 ]. A few to more than 100 pods are produced each year, though only part of a tree produces fruit in any one year[791 ]. Planting in the open, for shade and ornamental purposes, produces attractive and spreading trees more rapidly[303 ]. Coppices well and thus maintains itself in frequently cut-over areas; however stumps of large trees do not coppice[303 , 791 ]. There are conflicting reports on whether or not this tree has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, so it is unclear as to whether this tree fixes atmospheric nitrogen[755 ]. Color Bloom: White/Near White.

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae.
  • Industrial Crop: Hydrocarbon  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, rubber, biomass products gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, butane, propane, biogas. Plants are usually resprouting plants and saps.
  • 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.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - freshly sown, still moist seed does not require pre-treatment, but if the seedcoat has dried and hardened then it will require some treatment to help it absorb moisture more rapidly. This can be done by soaking the seed for 12 hours in warm water - if it swells it can be sown, otherwise carefully nick the seedcoat, making sure not to damage the embryo, then soak for a few hours more before sowing[K ]. Sow the seed in light shade in individual containers or a nursery seedbed. Treated seed usually starts to sprout after 8 - 12 days at an optimal temperature of 30°c[325 ]. A germination rate of 40 - 90% can be expected[791 ]. Seedlings grow better in a sunny position than in shade and are ready to plant out within 60 days from germination[791 ]. Seed can be stored for a year or more at 2 - 4°c in a sealed container[791 ]. Softwood cuttings in misted beds with steam or electrically heated soil[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

West Indian Locust, Algarroba, Amami-gum, Begki, Brazilian copal, Buranda, Courbaril, Farinheira, Guapinol, Imbuiva, Itaiba, Jatai-amarelo, Jatai-peba, Jatai-vermelho, Jatai, Jataiba, Jatoba-da-catinga, Jatoba-miudo, Jatoba, Jitai, Kaurubali, Paquio, Simiri, Stinking toe, West Indian Locust Tree, Yata-i-bane, caroubier de la guyane, copal, copal, brazilian, courbaril, curbaril, farinheira, guapinol, heuschreckenbaum, jataí, jatoba, jatobá, jitaí, jutaí, laka, lawa, lowataya, lumberjack's tea, paquio, quapinol, south american-locust, tipi, tídibu chagágaru, west indian-locust,

Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Belize; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; El Salvador; French Guiana; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guatemala; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Malaysia; Martinique; Mexico; Montserrat; Nicaragua; Panama; Peru; Puerto Rico; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Brazil; Bolivia, Plurinational State of, Africa, Amazon, Antilles, Antigua and Barbuda, Asia, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil*, Central America, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, East Africa, El Salvador, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaii, Hispaniola, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North America, Pacific, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Puerto Rico, SE Asia, Singapore, South America, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, USA, Venezuela, West Indies, Zimbabwe,

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.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Least Concern

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Hymenaea martianaCopalTree13.0 10-12 SLMHNM204
Hymenaea verrucosaEast African Copal. Zanzibar copal treeTree15.0 10-12 SMHNDM002

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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