23 responses to “Lecythis pisonis”

  1. Wendy Cutler

    This was interesting for so many reasons. From the additional images page, I thought the flowers looked like Couroupita guianensis, and was excited to realize it’s the same family, and this is the Lecythis of the Lecythidaceae family. Something is finally sinking in.
    I was looking to see if the flower is fragrant like Couroupita, and haven’t yet found the answer, but Wikipedia did mention that it has 370-510 stamens. That’s pretty amazing. Also interesting on the additional images page was the comment that the nuts are superior in flavour to the Brazil Nut. With so many other animals depending on the fruits, I suppose it’s a good thing we haven’t figured out how to make a world-wide food crop of it.

  2. Scott A. Mori

    The images in this blog are of Lecythis pisonis from the várzea forests of Amazonian Brazil and not Lecythis zabucajo. These two species are easy to mistake and plants of L. pisonis grown in botanical gardens are often misidentified as L. zabucajo.
    The entire fruit is never carried away by bats; it would be physically impossible for a bat to remove the fruits (the pedicel is too thick and woody), let alone carry them away to eat under their roosts. Even the largest fruit bats in the world are not strong enough to do this!
    There is more detailed information about this species on our website entitled Lecythidaceae Pages. There you can see paintings by Michael Rothman showing how the bat removes the seeds from the fruit and another showing how the species is pollinated.
    This blog demonstrates how easy it is to make mistakes when secondary sources are used for obtaining information. When possible, it is best to ask specialists to review blogs before they are posted.
    Wendy Cutler, if you wish to read a popular account of the cannon ball tree, click on The cannon ball tree.

  3. Stuart

    Fantastic post! I always found these seeds and their capsule washed up slightly degraded along river shores in Brazil. So cool to ID this!!

  4. Celso Lago-Paiva

    Lecythis zabucajo Aubl. is closely allied to Lecythis pisonis Camb, an species endemic to the “mata atlantica” of Eastern Brazil, from São Paulo to Northeastern Brazil, that grows in two apparently opposite environments: wet forests that faces the sea, as well as in deciduous forests associated to lime occurrences (“matas secas”, common in Minas Gerais State).
    Fruit-eating bats are the primary disperser of the seeds of the “sapucaia” species, but they only eats the aril. Many frugivorous mammals are fond of the seeds, when fallen to the ground, as agouties (Dasyprocta), spiny rats (Echimyidae), deers, tapirs, wild dogs, and tayassus (Tayassuidae), all of them predating the starchy, soft seeds. Monkeys collect the seeds directly from the fruit shell, eating the aril, and, the larger ones, the seeds.
    The culture of those plants, that are very handsome when they achieve new leaves, is very easy, but the trees are slow growers, taking more than ten years for the first blooming event.
    They thrive weel only in rich soils, plenty of clays.
    Some species, as Lecythis pisonis, are among the taller trees in the forests, but some species are trees of moderate height.
    The “sapucaya nuts” are good in taste for humans, but the trees are not planted in Brazil as economic plants, what would contribute to the economic health of land proprietors, and to agro-forestry social enterprises.
    Sometimes we see large, old trees growing in Southeastern Brazil
    as ornamental trees, but the large, heavy empty fruits are dangerous for persons and vehicles. For that reason, the trees must be planted far from ways, parking areas, and houses.
    The trees looks very like the “jequitibás” of the genus Cariniana, whose seeds are wind-dispersed.
    Celso Lago-Paiva
    Researcher of invasive plants in natural ecosystems
    Instituto Pró-Endêmicas

  5. Carita Bergman

    I find it very difficult to believe that an 80-g vertebrate (the spear-nosed bat) can carry a 2-5 lb fruit. In fact I think that’s impossible. Can anyone verify this incredible observation???

  6. Daniel Mosquin

    Great point, Carita — I’ll ask Bryant to dig up his sources for that info.

  7. Scott A. Mori

    The bats do not carry the fruit away. They take the seeds out of the fruit, eat the fleshy arils, and drop the seeds, either in flight or under their night roosts.
    The name of this species is Lecythis pisonis, not L. zabucajo.
    Care should be taken not to publish information without first checking primary sources!

  8. Daniel Mosquin

    Scott — excellent point re: primary sources. I generally trust the names of plants in photographs that are submitted, and there’s the occasional error. One of the great things about having comments is that people point out errors and we can correct, so much appreciated.
    Bryant also sends along his apologies re: his slip-up on terminology. I’ll fix that too.

  9. Daniel Mosquin

    I also have to express my surprise that no one has quoted Monty Python yet, so I’ll take the opportunity:

    “1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Where’d you get the coconuts?
    King Arthur: We found them.
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Found them? In Mercia? The coconut’s tropical!
    King Arthur: What do you mean?
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Well, this is a temperate zone
    King Arthur: The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
    King Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: What? A swallow carrying a coconut?
    King Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.
    King Arthur: Well, it doesn’t matter. Will you go and tell your master that Arthur from the Court of Camelot is here?
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?
    King Arthur: Please!
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Am I right?”

  10. Alice

    Monty Python quote – fabulous – of course, you are right.
    What is so very nice about this site is that people can send in additions, corrections, comments, all in good faith, and things are updated as appropriate, with appreciative thank yous.
    Thanks for the great site; thanks for the great work, and the quotes, of course, you are right.

  11. Eric Simpson

    When I read that the “operculum of the capsule is discharged upon maturity”, I imagined salvos of the lids being fired off with a bang (there’s a shrub in my local chaparral (I forget which one at the moment) that has explosively dehiscent fruit, so the image just popped into my head).

  12. Corrie

    I must say, as soon as I read Carita’s comment about the size of the bat and the weight of the fruit, my mind went instantly to Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail”. My teenage daughter and son quote from that movie all the time! I needed a chuckle. Thanks!

  13. Wendy Cutler

    What is the relationship between the originally posted name and the corrected name? Do they both exist and this plant was mis-identified, or has the name been changed, or is the zabucajo name one that was never accepted as proper, though there are many references to it?

  14. Daniel Mosquin

    First line in the entry: “Edited by Daniel on February 13, 2013: updated name after reidentification below by Scott Mori”

  15. elizabeth a airhart

    roses are red maybe
    violets are blue maybe
    giveing valentine flowers
    to this page is a bit hard
    the bats would just fly
    off with my flowers
    and daniel and bryant
    would have hire a drone
    to find them becuse
    google has’nt the foggest
    happy valentines day anyway please

  16. Scott A. Mori

    This is in answer to your question about the relationship of L. pisonis and L. zabucajo. Both names are valid and used for different species. You can see the species pages for both on the Lecythidaceae Pages, and from there see images and the distribution maps of the two species as follows:
    1. Go to the Lecythidaceae Pages at http://sweetgum.nybg.org/lp/
    2. Click on the “Taxonomy” tab on the menu bar and then add the names of the species in the search box.
    Yes, the flowers of Lecythis pisonis are pleasant smelling but not nearly as spectacular as the aroma of Couroupita guianensis. You can see the species page of the cannon ball tree in the same way as instructed above. I also wrote a recent blog about this amazing plant on the blog site of The New York Botanical Garden. Click on the following URL to see it: http://www.nybg.org/plant-talk/2013/01/science/the-cannon-ball-tree/.
    As far as I know, the seeds of the cannon ball are not eaten. Even if they are edible, it would be hard to get past the malodorous pulp surrounding the seeds. Animals eat the pulp and pass the seeds through their digestive tracts, thereby dispersing them. The pulp is fed to chickens and pigs in the Amazon. The flowers are pollinated by bees, and not bats as erroneously reported in the literature because. This error is based on a painting of a bat visiting the flowers in a children’s book. The flowers are diurnal and bats are nocturnal!
    Let me know if you have further questions.

  17. Wendy Cutler

    Daniel, thanks – I’m sorry for not reading that carefully enough.
    I’m in awe that anyone can distinguish the two species from this photograph, though I see, Scott, that you’re knowledgeable about this genus and are responsible for naming some of the species, and I’m still trying to learn how to see. Now I’m looking at these two species on the Illustrated Guide to the Fruits and Seeds of the Amazonian Flora, which has detailed descriptions and photos. I’d be interested to know what were the distinguishing features that made you able to identify the fruit in this photo.

  18. Scott A. Mori

    Usually it is difficult to identify species in this group based on fruits alone. At the current time we consider Lecythis pisonis to be disjunct between the coastal forests of Brazil and eastern Amazonian Brazil. The Amazonian population, and only that population have an irregular, raised ridge around the fruit at the point where the calyx-lobes used to be. I also know that most of plants found in cultivation have been misidentified as L. zabucajo instead of L. pisonis.
    The fruits shown in this picture are from flooded forest along the Amazon and they differ from the fruits of the population that grows in non-flooded in eastern Brazil, i.e., the latter do not have the woody outgrowth around the fruit. We are studying the relationship between the Amazonian and eastern Brazilian populations and may decide to recognize them as separate species. This time we are using both molecular and morphological data in our studies.

  19. Ian

    A tempest in a monkey pot
    You know, I sent this photo in after my trip to the farm in December. I happened to go back to this post to see if there were any comments and found quite a controversy. Exploding lids, tiny bats flying off with the whole capsule, Latin amendments…I met Scott years ago at the NYBG and he is the go-to guy when it comes to Lecythidaceae; he has a nut job, he is not a nut job. I know, I left with his monograph. He is also honored with an award from Fairchild. But it was a simple submission and I never expected the subsequent Inquisition much less Monty Python quotations. Neither professor works out of a comfy chair, I would add. This nut is known as L. pisonis in PR. Only small kids are seen flying off with this delicious nut and, I would add, one working definition for a nut would disqualify this one as it has more than one in the capsule. Monty Python, indeed.

  20. Daniel Mosquin

    I’ve found the whole conversation light-hearted and enjoyable. Misidentifications happen, it’s not the end of the world (well, unless we misidentified something poisonous and people started to ingest it…)

  21. Daniel Mosquin

    Apologies to Scott and Celso — 2 of Scott’s comments and 1 of Celso’s were caught in the spam filter for comments, and I only noticed today. Very strange. Not sure if the conversation of comments will read properly now, so please keep this in mind.

  22. Spencer Woodard

    Here are photos of L. elliptica, which has a smaller pod and smaller seeds then L. zabucajo and L. pinsonis. I have propagated all three successfully from seed.
    Lecythis elliptica: https://anthrome.wordpress.com/2008/03/03/lecythis-spp-mini-bra/lecythis-spp-mini-brazilnut/

  23. Tim Springer

    This tree has evolved to expend a great deal of productive capacity creating its extraordinary large seed capsules and (one could assume) to protect the seeds until they are mature. I wonder what unique challenge pushed evolution to this extreme. Has there been any speculation on the reason?

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