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Simarouba amara - Aubl.

Common Name Paradise tree, bitterwood
Family Simaroubaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The residual cake left after processing the crude fat from the seed contains a toxin[418 ].
Habitats An understorey tree in moist thickets or wet forests at elevations up to 850 metres[331 , 418 ]. Rain and savannah forests[422 ]. Found in both dense, primary forest and also in the more open and secondary growth areas[419 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyanas; C. America - Panama to Guatemala; Caribbean - Trinidad - Leeward Islands.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Simarouba amara Paradise tree, bitterwood

Simarouba amara Paradise tree, bitterwood
Tarciso Leão from Saint Paul, MN


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Found in the rainforests and savannas of South and Central America and the Caribbean, Simarouba amara or also known as Paradise Tree is a fast-growing, monoecious, evergreen tree growing up to 35 m in height and 125 cm in trunk diameter. It has small yellow flowers which occur on a staminate panicle. The leaves are compound; each leaf is comprised of 9-16 leaflets each. The fruits are green to purplish black containing large seeds which are dispersed by large birds and mammals. The crown of this species is broad and its bole is not buttressed, straight, and cylindrical. The seeds contain edible oil used in the preparation of bakery product and in the manufacture of vanaspati, vegetable oil and/or margarine. Seed oil can also be used for industrial purposes, in soap making, cosmetics, lubricants, varnishes, pharmaceutical, etc. Fruit pulp is rich in sugars and can be used in preparation of beverages. The bark is used against dysentery and diarrhea among other diseases. The leaves are also used as an herbal medicine. S. amara is used locally for paper production, furniture, plywood, matches, and construction.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Simarouba amara is an evergreen Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 20 m (65ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Quassia simaruba L.f. Simarouba opaca (Engl.) Radlk. ex Engl. Zwingera amara (Aubl.) Willd.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil  Seed
Edible Uses: Drink  Oil

The seeds contain 60 - 75% edible oil that can be extracted by conventional methods. Each well-grown tree yields 15 to 30 Kg nutlets equivalent to 2.5-5 kg oil and about the same quantity of oilcake. This amounts to 1000-2000 kg oil/ha/year and about the same quantity of oilcake. The oil is largely used in the preparation of bakery products in Central America. In India too it can be used in the manufacture of vanaspati, vegetable oil and/or margarine. The oil is free from bad cholesterol[418 ]. The fruit pulp, rich in sugars (about 11%) can be used in the preparation of beverages[418 ].

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.
Antidiarrhoeal  Antirheumatic  Antiviral  Astringent  Bitter  Cancer  Digestive  Dysentery  
Emmenagogue  Febrifuge  Malaria  Parasiticide  Tonic

The leaves and bark have a long history of medicinal use in the tropics, particularly in the treatment of malaria, fevers and dysentery; as an astringent to stop bleeding; and as a tonic[318 ]. They are also used as a digestive, emmenagogue and to treat parasites both within and on the body[318 ]. Research has discovered a range of medically active compounds in the plant. The main active compounds are a group of triterpenes called quassinoids. The antiprotozoal and antimalarial properties of these chemicals have been documented for many years. Several of the quassinoids found in simarouba, such as ailanthinone, glaucarubinone, and holacanthone, are considered the plant's main therapeutic constituents and are the ones documented to be antiprotozoal, anti-amoebic, antimalarial, and even toxic to cancer and leukaemia cells. Studies have shown that the plant is over 90% effective against amoebic dysentery[318 ] The bark, and/or its three main quassinoids, have been shown to be an effective treatment against malaria, including strains that have become resistant to drug treatment[318 ]. Research has also shown that the bark has good antiviral properties, effective against herpes, influenza, polio, and vaccinia viruses[318 ]. The quassinoids responsible for the anti-amoebic and antimalarial properties have also been shown to possess active cancer-killing properties[318 ]. The bark is used as a bitter tonic[46 ]. It is known as 'Jamaica Bark' or 'Orinoco Simaruba Oil'[46 ]. A decoction is taken internally in the treatment of anaemia, diarrhoea, dysentery, malaria, fevers, haemorrhages, intestinal parasites and colitis[318 , 739 ]. The leaves are used in the treatment of rheumatism, or are applied in the form of a lotion for body pain, bruises or skin itch[418 ]. The fruit is a strong stimulant with a pleasantly bitter taste, it is an effective treatment for dysentery[348 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Charcoal  Compost  Containers  Cosmetic  Fertilizer  Fuel  Furniture  Oil  Parasiticide  Soap making  Soil conditioner  Soil stabilization  Varnish  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: A fast-growing tree that tolerates full sun; provides food for the native fauna; supplies a range of commodities for humans; and has various soil improving actions - it is an excellent choice as part of a mixed planting when restoring native woodland and also for establishing woodland gardens[419 , K ]. The tree has a well-developed root system and an evergreen, dense canopy - it efficiently checks soil erosion, supports soil microbial life, and improves groundwater availability[418 ]. It is shade tolerant and occurs as an under-storey tree, particularly under the canopy of large fruit trees where birds perch and deposit the seeds. It is found as an associated species of the subtropical moist forest, sharing a position with other common trees of the home and humid perennial gardens, such as mango (Mangifera indica), royal palm (Roystonea borinquena), avocado (Persea americana) and plantain (Musa x paridisiaca)[418 ]. The oilcake being rich in nitrogen (8%), phosphorus (1.1%) and potash (1.2%), is good organic manure[418 ]. The pulp and leaf litter can be economically used in the manufacture of vermicompost (about 8 tons/ha/year)[418 ]. Other Uses An oil obtained from the seed can be used for industrial purposes in the manufacture of bio-fuels, soaps, detergents, lubricants, varnishes, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals etc[418 ]. The seed shells can be used in the manufacture of particleboard, activated charcoal or as fuel[418 ]. Freshly cut, the heartwood is whitish or cream coloured with occasionally a yellow or greenish cast - when dry it becomes a uniform cream colour with occasional oily streaks; it is not differentiated from the sapwood. The texture is medium to coarse, and uniform; the grain usually straight; lustre is rather high; there is no odour but there is a bitter quinine-like taste. The wood is very light in weight; very soft; not very strong; somewhat brittle; not durable outdoors and is very susceptible to dry-wood termite attack and prone to blue stain. It seasons rapidly, with little chance of distortion or checking; once dry it is stable in service. It works easily and machines to a smooth clean surface; it is easy to finish, though filling is recommended in order to obtain a good surface; nailing and screwing are poor; gluing is correct. The wood is used as the sounding board for string instruments, for interior construction, turnery, boxes and crates, matches, furniture components, veneer and plywood, pattern making, millwork, particleboard and fibreboard[316 , 378 , 848 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Experimental Crop  Industrial Crop: Oil  Management: Standard

A plant of the moist, lowland tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 800 metres[418 ]. It grows best in areas where the mean annual temperature ranges between 22 - 29°c, but can tolerate a range of 18 - 34°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 2,000 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 1,200 - 4,000mm, growing in areas with a distinct dry season and where there is no dry season[418 ]. Shade tolerant[418 ]. Prefers sandy soils in the wild[341 , 378 ]. In the wild, it is found on rocky, shallow calcareous soils of mountain slopes and ridges, as well as on the deeper soils of the ravines and alluvial plains[418 ]. The plant develops a shallow root system, often suitable to mountain soils[418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 8, tolerating 5.5 - 8.5[418 ]. A fast-growing tree[419 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Experimental Crop  Plant breeders are testing these plants to see if they could be domesticated for cultivation, but they are still in an experimental phase. Examples include milkweed and leafy spurge.
  • Industrial Crop: Oil  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, biomass, glycerin, soaps, lubricants, paints, biodiesel. Oilseed crop types.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a partially shaded position in a nursery seedbed or in individual containers. A moderate rate of germination can usually be expected, with the seed sprouting within 20 - 40 days[419 ]. When the seedbed-sown seedlings are 4 - 6cm tall, pot them up into individual containers and they should be ready to plant out 4 - 5 months later[419 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

bois blanc - French, arubá - Portuguese (Brazil), caixeta - Portuguese (Brazil), marupá - Portuguese (Brazil), marupá-verdadeiro - Portuguese (Brazil), simaruba - Portuguese (Brazil), maruba - Spanish, marupa - Spanish. Aceituno, Ruga, arubá, bitterwood, bois blanc, caixeta, leskuéla, maruba, marupa, marupá, marupá-verdadeiro, paradise tree, simaruba.

Brazil; Colombia; Bolivia, Plurinational State of; Belize; Honduras; Costa Rica; Panama; Peru; Ecuador; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Guyana; French Guiana; Suriname; Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Martinique; Montserrat; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinidad and Tobago; Mexico, Africa, Antilles, Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Martinique, Nicaragua, North America, Puerto Rico, South America, St Lucia, Trinidad, USA,

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 : This taxon has not yet been assessed

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Picrasma quassioidesNigakiTree10.0 5-9  LMHSNM123
Quassia amaraBitterwood, Amargo BarkShrub5.0 10-12 SMHSNM242
Simarouba glaucaParadise Tree, Bitterwood, Dysentery-barkTree15.0 9-12 FLMHSNMWe342

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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