According to Flora of Tropical East Africa[FTEA]
- Tree or shrub 3.6–30 m. tall, with trunk up to 1 m. in diameter, fissured at the base; bark grey, vertically corrugated with rounded ridges; branchlets glabrous.
- Leaf-blades obovate-elliptic, obovate-oblong or elliptic, 5.5–60 cm. long, 2.5–20 cm. wide, shortly acuminate at the apex, rounded or cordate at the base, thin to coriaceous, glabrous, glaucous with a purplish bloom on the upper surface and often glaucous beneath; midrib often red beneath; lateral nerves 10–23, prominent on both surfaces; venation reticulate, prominent; petiole channelled, 0.5–1.5 cm. long.
- Flowers solitary, extra-axillary or rarely axillary, hanging, fragrant; pedicels (modified branches fide Dale & Eggeling) 5–25 cm. long, glabrous, at first reddish-white, then yellowish; bracteoles green, ovate-lanceolate or broadly ovate, 1.8–4 cm. long, 0.9–3.7 cm. wide, acuminate at the apex, attenuate and subcordate at the base, glabrous or sometimes ciliate at the margins.
- Sepals green or reddish or green with reddish spots, oblong-lanceolate, 2–3.5 cm. long, 0.5–1 cm. wide,obtuse, the margins reflexed, crispate-undulate, glabrous.
- Outer petals white, yellow or greenish-yellow spotted with dark red or carmine, ovate-lanceolate, 4–10.5 cm. long, 2.5–3 cm. wide, attenuate at the apex, spreading at the base, curved, with crispate undulate margins, glabrous; inner petals white, greenish-white or cream with dark red, purplish-brown or carmine spots, broadly ovate, 3–5 cm. long, 2.5–3 cm. wide, attenuated at the apex, subcordate or auriculate at the base, subsessile or with claw 3–8 mm. long, margins and auricles with pale ferruginous hairs, sometimes lightly adhering at the tips to form a cone.
- Stamens subglobose, 0.5 mm. long.
- Ovary conical, 3–4 mm. long, glabrous.
- Fruiting pedicels up to 25(–60) cm. long, 1–3.5 cm. thick; fruit green then blackish-brown, globose, 10–22.5(–30 fide Machin) cm. in diameter, or ovoid, 14–22.5 cm. long, 10–15 cm. wide, longitudinally striate-rugose, glabrous, the pericarp thick and woody.
- Seeds brown, ovoid, ellipsoid or oblong-ellipsoid, (1.2–)2–3 cm. long, 0.8–1.5 cm. wide, 6–10 mm. thick, rugose, embedded in a fragrant pulp.
According to Kew Species Profiles[KSP]
- General Description
Calabash nutmeg is a large tropical tree with huge leaves and exotic, scented flowers that hang down on cord-like twigs.
There are around 14 species of Monodora (meaning one gift, alluding to its solitary fruit) in tropical Africa. Monodora myristica is a large deciduous tree (up to 35 m) and has a wide canopy of green leaves and stunning flowers.
In the wild, this species is pollinated by beetles and produces large fruits filled with pulp and aromatic, brown seeds. The seeds are used in Africa as a substitute for nutmeg, hence the name calabash nutmeg. Monodora myristica was introduced to the Caribbean in the 18th century and is known there as Jamaican nutmeg.
- Species Profile
Geography and distribution
Monodora myristica is native to tropical West Africa and further east to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It is introduced to Jamaica, other parts of the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Calabash nutmeg forms a large branching tree with a grey-barked trunk and can reach 35 m high in nature. It has large leaves (35 cm long and 18 cm wide) at the end of its branches. The leaves are purple at first but turn a smooth deep green on the upper side with paler green underneath. They are prominently veined and the petiole (leaf stem) is purplish.
The scented, waxy flowers are suspended on long stalks and have three calyx lobes (parts that remain free in a fused calyx) and three petals arranged in two whorls (circular attachment of sepals and petals at a single point). The yellowish calyx lobes, frilled at the edges, are splashed with red. The petals are paler with purplish red spots. The flowers are followed by large woody fruits filled with brown seeds embedded in aromatic pulp.<
Describing and naming the calabash nutmeg
Writing in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1831, W.J. Hooker noted that: ‘We are much indebted to Dr. Bancroft of Jamaica for a drawing, and specimens both dried and in spirits, and for an accurate description of this rare and little-known plant. The fruit alone was described by Gaertner, under the name of Anona myristica, from Sir Joseph Banks’s Museum.’ Edward Nathaniel Bancroft (1772–1842) was an English physician who was appointed as a doctor in the army and served abroad for many years, latterly in Jamaica where he remained until his death. He was particularly interested in yellow fever, malaria and other tropical diseases. It was Michel Félix Dunal (1789-1856), Professor of Medicine and Botany and Director of the Jardin des Plantes at Montpellier, who gave the tree its present name in 1817.
The seeds are the most economically important part of this tree. They are widely used in West Africa as a substitute for nutmeg in soups, stews and cakes. In traditional medicine, the seeds are used as a stimulant, stomachic and treatment for headaches. They are also used as rosary beads and are considered by some to have magical properties. The timber is easy to work and used for carpentry, turnery and walking sticks. Monodora myristica is cultivated as an ornamental.
Calabash nutmeg a ‘difficult’ seed?
The seeds of Monodora myristicaare being investigated as part of Kew’s ‘Difficult’ seeds project. The seeds of this species may become dormant and to overcome this seeds may need to experience several 'seasons' to allow the embryo to grow and develop before germination will occur.
Propagation of Monodora myristica is by seeds, suckers or layers.
This species at Kew
Monodora myristica can be found in the Palm House.
Pressed and dried, and alcohol-preserved specimens of Monodora myristica are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
View details and images of specimens
Kew’s Economic Botany Collection includes samples of wood, fruits and seeds of Monodora myristica, which are available to researchers from around the world by appointment.
- Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda
- Evergreen rainforest, deciduous forest, lowland river banks.
- Not Evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Angola, Benin, Cabinda, Cameroon, Cameroon, Central African Repu, Central African Repu, Congo, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gabon, Ghana, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Ivory Coast, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kenya, Liberia, Liberia, Madagascar, Madagascar, Nigeria, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Togo, Uganda, Zaïre
- Calabash nutmeg
Monodora myristica (Gaertn.) Dunal appears in other Kew resources:
Herbarium Catalogue (29 records)
|Date Identified||Reference||Herbarium Specimen||Type Status|
|Jun 1, 2001||Etuge, M. , Cameroon||K000108040|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000108041|
|Jun 1, 2001||Etuge, M. , Cameroon||K000108042|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000108043|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000108044|
|Jun 1, 2001||Etuge, M. , Cameroon||K000108045|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cheek, M. , Cameroon||K000108046|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000108047|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000108048|
|Jun 1, 2001||Ghogue, J.-P. , Cameroon||K000108049|
|Jun 1, 2001||Etuge, M. , Cameroon||K000108050|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cheek, M. , Cameroon||K000108051|
|Jun 1, 2001||Cheek, M. , Cameroon||K000108052|
|Mar 1, 1997||Cable, S. , Cameroon||K000008130|
|Jan 1, 1958||Keay, R.W.J. , Cameroon||K000105567|
|Jan 1, 1958||Keay, R.W.J. , Cameroon||K000105568|
|Drummond, R.B. , Uganda||22676.000|
|Prenner, G. , Cameroon||76498.000|
|Keay, R.W.G. , Cameroon||28116.000|
|Onochie, C.F.A. , Nigeria||17622.000|
|Forman, L.L. ||14654.000|
|Preuss, P.R. [1303a], Cameroon||K000105562|
|Staudt, A. , Cameroon||K000105563|
|Mann, G. , Cameroon||K000105564||holotype|
|Mann, G. , Cameroon||K000105565||isotype|
|Mann, G. , Cameroon||K000105566||isotype|
|Styles, B.T. , Uganda||7373.000|
|s.coll. [s.n.]||K000880418||Unknown type material|
First published in Monogr. Anonac.: 80 (1817)
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-  —F.T.A. 1: 37
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Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of West Tropical Africa
International Plant Names Index
The International Plant Names Index (2016). Published on the Internet http://www.ipni.org
[C] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
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