Hymenaea courbaril

Ian Crown of Panoramic Fruit, a western Puerto Rican fruit farm, again shares a story and photographs. Thank you, Ian!

When Ian first wrote and mentioned he had images of Hymenaea courbaril, he asked if the species had yet been featured on BPotD (it hasn’t). Even if it had, I think he was going to send some photos along in any case, as he (somewhat rhetorically) asked, “…can one have too many photos of stinky toes?” Stinky toe tree has an entire suite of common names in many languages, a reflection of the human (both indigenous and colonial) history of the tropical New World.

One of the many economic uses of Hymenaea courbaril is as a food; the seed pods (legumes) contain an edible pulp. Ian describes the pulp of the fruits as having “an odd resinous odor, a sweet flavor”, but in this instance, he was prevented from obtaining ripe fruit: “I was unable to harvest a pod that was less overripe than these because our killer bees are underneath this specimen. We had to move verrrry slowly and pick up pods from the ground. A bunch of different common names including turpentine tree. Makes one hungry…”

Ian also relates this story of a celebrity chef who tried it: “The stinky toe was also featured in an Andrew Zimmern episode when he was in Puerto Rico. But he did not know it was what he ate. While being ushered around, in one scene at a big farmer’s market, a local chef hands him a pod to try and identifies it as the alternative for chocolate, the carob bean Ceratonia siliqua. He takes one bite, makes a face and says something about it tasting like turpentine or paint… Fool that I am I thought they might care to know about the error and tried repeatedly to email or call them but apparently, the show must go on and facts are seconded to entertainment. And I was entertained!”

In addition to being edible, Hymenaea courbaril is an important timber tree. The species is used for furniture and flooring, in part due to its hardness (it measures 2350 lbf on the Janka hardness test — for comparisons to other woods, see link) and its colour (Wikipedia: tan/salmon color with black accent stripes, turning over time to a deep rich red color). Despite the hardness of the wood, trees of Hymenaea courbaril are also favoured by yellow-bellied sapsuckers during the winter (photo of sapsucker holes and overall excellent article about Hymenaea courbaril).

The fossilized wood resin of this genus and its relatives/predecessors are responsible for some of the amber found in the Americas and Africa, and more specifically Dominican amber. Dominican amber is not only very transparent, but it also often contains insect or vascular plant occlusions, permitting insight into some of the organisms of ancient tropical ecosystems.

Hymenaea courbaril
Hymenaea courbaril
Hymenaea courbaril

8 responses to “Hymenaea courbaril”

  1. phillip

    ….so That’s where they get corn-dogs from..!
    Ian, good writeup, thank you..!
    ps my daughter owns a store in Seattle named ‘Ian’

  2. C Upton

    Cool plant. Good pictures. Very well written post. A joy to read.

  3. Gabrielle

    Very nice entry with excellent links. Thank you.

  4. Delores

    Great pictures, great specimen, well written, informative and funny…thanks for the morning pleasure.

  5. Barbara Lamb

    My admiration goes out to the first human who took a bite of something that resembled a stinky toe.

  6. jay bost

    The seeds also make exceptionally beautiful beads and are used in artisania throughout its range in the Caribbean and Central America…

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    i wonder if it was adam or eve with the stinky toes my beliefs are crushed
    interesting fun write up thank you

  8. Shernor

    Fascinating! Fantastic post.

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