Paullinia cupana

Ian Crown took today's Botany Photo of the Day on his farm in Puerto Rico, where he planted the featured specimen almost a decade ago. He included a short write-up with the image, which we here include as the first section of the day's entry.

Ian writes:

"I planted the Paullinia cupana maybe 8 years ago, and I remember seeing references to it being either a vine or a shrub. In a sense, these references are correct, for years of selection by people wanting an easier harvest led to shorter and fuller growth; but the tendrils identify this "cultigen" as a vining shrub trying to reach for support. I rarely have enough time to make morning coffee when I am on the farm, so I frequently pop out a Paullinia seed (with its distinctive white powdery cup attached to the basal end) and crush it in my mouth just enough to release the caffeine and other alkaloids. Though rather bitter, it is a great pick-me-up. The flowers are also quite beautiful. But the plants? The fact that we did not provide support means that we have heaps of guaraná with tendrils reaching everywhere but with nothing to fasten on to; they therefore look like brush piles. My morning wake up plant".

Sapindaceae (soapberry family) consists of between 140 and 150 genera and between 1400 and 2000 flowering plant species that are distributed throughout the world's temperate and tropical regions. The genus that includes today's plant, Paullinia, is, along with the maples, one of the family's largest. It derives its name from its European discoverer, the 18th century German botanist Christian Franz Paullini, and counts liana (woody climbing plants), tree, and shrubby species among its ranks, the majority of which are native to Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America (Brazil, Venezuela, Peru).

Paullinia cupana can grow to a height of 12 metres in its native habitat, which is centered in Amazonian Brazil. The plant puts forth dense clusters of small round fruit, the shells of which range from red to orange in colour. When the fruit opens to reveal its shiny black seed, these clusters tend to resemble a collection of gazing eyeballs yoked together, a trait that has inspired several legends concerning the plant (See here for more information). It derives its common name, guaraná, from Satere-Mawe, the language of one of Brazil's native tribes. The Guarinis—the tribe that, historically, has most regularly treated the plant as an edible—dry and roast the seeds, subsequently including them in a paste that serves a wide variety of culinary and medicinal functions. That is to say that beyond its raw power as a stimulant—which makes it a quite lucrative crop in the South American beverage business—the plant has also served as a treatment for digestive problems and as a means by which to thin the blood.

Paullinia cupana

24 responses to “Paullinia cupana”

  1. Meg Bernstein

    Amazing that it’s in the same family as our maples.

  2. Linda T.

    NOW I know where guarana comes from! Great to put a “face” with a name. I’ve seen it as an ingredient in so many beverages in the U.S., and wondered what it was. When I first saw it on a label, my mind read “guano”, and I was worried the new “caffeine” was derived from bat droppings, but happy to see it’s not! 😉 😉

  3. Connie

    Is this closely related to ackee?

  4. Terry

    I love the photographs. I would really appreciate seeing an additional photo that would provide some sense of size/scale. Thanks@

  5. The Hollyberry Lady

    Oh wow!
    : O
    It looks like mini pumpkins! How pretty and unique.
    : )

  6. Jennifer Frazer

    I’m amazed a plant that’s native to Amazonian Brazil can survive in BC without special pampering. . .

  7. Michael F

    “Is this closely related to ackee?” – yes, same family.

    “I’m amazed a plant that’s native to Amazonian Brazil can survive in BC without special pampering. . .” – it can’t, the photo was taken in Puerto Rico.

  8. Stephen Coughlin (summer student 2009)

    Dear all,
    I would like to indicate here that I amended the day’s original post a few moments ago.
    A whirlwind of confusion surrounded the acronym ‘PR’, which I mistakenly decoded as Prince Rupert rather than the more likely and indeed more accurate Puerto Rico.
    Thank you to Quentin for originally bringing this to my attention.
    My apologies for the error.

  9. phillip

    ….beware the ides …..of august…?…lol…!

  10. Eric in SF

    To the recent rash of folks asking for scale shots – it’s been my understanding that this blog was to excite people about botany through beautiful photography. In many cases the most compelling, beautiful shot is *not* one that properly exhibits scale.
    For many of the plants featured here a quick Google search will lead you to more appropriate info for planning your use of the plant in a garden.

  11. Cambree

    This a completely interesting guaraná plant. It looks almost deadly to eat because of the “eyes”.
    Btw, if it’s related to the Soapberry family, does this mean we can do laundry with them?

  12. Carol Burton

    I’m confused – maples are Aceracea, not same family as Paulinia. I agree with the others – check Google images for full size photos.

  13. Michael F

    “I’m confused – maples are Aceraceae, not same family as Paulinia” – not any more; someone did a genetic study that showed that the family Aceraceae wasn’t distinct from Sapindaceae, so the two families were merged. The same study also merged the family Hippocastanaceae (horse-chestnuts and buckeyes) into Sapindaceae.

  14. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Now that this has come up in the posts, I must chime in on the topic of wanting more, or different, photos and/or information.
    I’ve seen requests for (just off the top of my head)… pictures showing both close-up and full plant, pictures showing the plant’s setting, lists of common names, photographic specifications, zone and growing information, where-can-I-get- this-plant questions, complaints about the photo (too abstract, too many grasses, too much fungus, not enough flowers, not up to some standard, etc.)… and there have probably been others.
    Although, on the one hand, it’s nice to see that people are interested, it also reminds me of looking the gift-horse in the mouth.
    First of all, I don’t think it would be practically possible to please everybody.
    Secondly and more importantly, please keep in mind that “Botany Photo of the Day”, along with the email subscription, is offered as a FREE SERVICE, for the joy and appreciation of botany. Anyone who comes here is using a computer. So, using the computer, it’s very easy to get more images and more information, or anything else you specifically want — on ANY of the featured plants — by simply doing a google search using the plant’s scientific name.
    If a person doesn’t know how to do a google search on the internet, then I most heartily encourage you to learn — it’s really easy once someone shows you how. Because I can pretty much guarantee you that you will be very glad you did — a whole world will open its doors to you, and that will be huge amounts of fun!
    And finally: thank you, BPotD, for providing us with such beauty every day.
    In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

  15. elizabeth a airhart

    is ian crown not the man who
    grows the mangosteen on his farm in pr
    i agree its easy to google you tube
    yes you tube the gardens are on you tube
    follow the links like the commenters
    eric and company follow the links
    if you belong to ahs use that
    all the kew gardens news letters
    its all there -this page is a joy
    look at the cluster map below 5,ooo hits
    just this day and the day is far from over

  16. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    . . . whaddya know, so it IS !!
    UBC Botanical Garden, on YouTube:
    I never would have thought to look there! Thanks, Elizabeth!

  17. aminu abubakar chiranchi

    what a lovely picture am very excited with it thanks for this great job

  18. AJ

    The “someone” who did the genetic study, which resulted in lumping Aceraceae and Hippocastanaceae within the Sapindaceae, is Harrington et al. 2005. Just thought I’d mention it for anyone interested.

  19. Er.We

    for some years now we buy a beverage named ‘Guaranito’ at a fair trade shop – nice to know the plant, thx a lot.

  20. Jacqueline

    Ackees, anyone? And to think that ackees are so deliciously poisonous (unless extreme care is taken in the picking and preparation processes), yet Ian Crown can casually ‘pop’ a guaraná … hmmm …

  21. Roula

    I am looking for the Guarana fruit, and how to plant it i live in the Middle East ( Lebanon).
    Kindly advice me
    Best Regards

  22. Michael Thomsen

    great photo!
    I am looking for a photo to illustrate my article on guarana at
    We don’t sell herbs but books on herbs. The books have no photos, it is for the website only.
    thank you

  23. O. Lugo

    I live in Puerto Rico and would like some seeds of the (Paullinia Cupana seeds) so I can plant them. Were can I find this seed to buy it localy, or would you sell them to me.


    I would like to grow some in south Texas. the seeds i have gotten are shrunk and do not sprout.

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