1. Family: Annonaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Monodora Dunal
      1. Monodora myristica (Gaertn.) Dunal

        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.


    Kew Species Profiles

    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 myristica are 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.

    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.

    None known.


    Annonaceae, B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1971

    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.

    Annonaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:1. 1954

    A tree, up to 60 ft. with large fragrant flowers
    Calyx red-spotted
    Petals yellow and red, the three inner spotted red outside and green inside
    Fruit spherical, green.
    Ornamental, culinary, medicinal, timber.



    Found In:

    Angola, Benin, Cabinda, Cameroon, Central African Repu, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zaïre

    Introduced Into:


    Common Names

    Calabash nutmeg

    Monodora myristica (Gaertn.) Dunal appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jun 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [1576], Cameroon K000108040
    Jun 1, 2001 Cable, S. [3507], Cameroon K000108041
    Jun 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [2516], Cameroon K000108042
    Jun 1, 2001 Cable, S. [1215], Cameroon K000108043
    Jun 1, 2001 Cable, S. [653], Cameroon K000108044
    Jun 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [1497], Cameroon K000108045
    Jun 1, 2001 Cheek, M. [10228], Cameroon K000108046
    Jun 1, 2001 Cable, S. [3285], Cameroon K000108047
    Jun 1, 2001 Cable, S. [2789], Cameroon K000108048
    Jun 1, 2001 Ghogue, J.-P. [494], Cameroon K000108049
    Jun 1, 2001 Etuge, M. [2017], Cameroon K000108050
    Jun 1, 2001 Cheek, M. [10357], Cameroon K000108051
    Jun 1, 2001 Cheek, M. [7519], Cameroon K000108052
    Mar 1, 1997 Cable, S. [2544], Cameroon K000008130
    Jan 1, 1958 Keay, R.W.J. [37410], Cameroon K000105567
    Jan 1, 1958 Keay, R.W.J. [37410], Cameroon K000105568
    Drummond, R.B. [4717], Uganda 22676.000
    Prenner, G. [58], Cameroon 76498.000
    Keay, R.W.G. [37410], Cameroon 28116.000
    Onochie, C.F.A. [9105], Nigeria 17622.000
    Preuss, P.R. [1303a], Cameroon K000105562
    Staudt, A. [583], Cameroon K000105563
    Mann, G. [27], Cameroon K000105564 holotype
    Forman, L.L. [71] 14654.000
    Mann, G. [27], Cameroon K000105565 isotype
    Mann, G. [27], Cameroon K000105566 isotype
    Styles, B.T. [211], Uganda 7373.000
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000880418 Unknown type material
    s.coll. [s.n.] K000880419

    First published in Monogr. Anonac.: 80 (1817)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [3] Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012) Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda . Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [4] (2010) Journal of East African Natural History 99: 129-226
    • [5] (2010) Taxonomania 30: 1-307
    • [7] (2009) Englera 29-1: 1-438
    • [8] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [10] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    • [11] Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (eds.) (2006) Flore Analytique du Bénin . Backhuys Publishers
    • [12] Catarino, L., Sampaio Martins, E., Pinto-Basto, M.F. & Diniz, M.A. (2006) Plantas Vasculares e Briófitos da Guiné-Bissau . Instituto de investigação científica tropical, Instituto Português de apoio ao desenvolvimento
    • [13] Sita, P. & Moutsambote, J.-M. (2005) Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Congo , ed. sept. 2005: 1-158. ORSTOM, Centre de Brazzaville
    • [17] Boulvert, Y. (1977) Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 1: 1-114. ORSTROM, Bangui
    • [18] (1971) Flora of Tropical East Africa , Annonaceae: 1-131
    • [23] (1954-1958) Flora of West Tropical Africa , ed. 2, 1: 1-828
    • [27] (1948-1963) Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi 1-10: null


    • [6] The Plant List (2010). Monodora myristica.
    • [9] Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [14] Barwick, M. (2004). Tropical and Subtropical Trees: a Worldwide Encyclopaedic Guide. Thames & Hudson, London.
    • [15] Brummitt, R.K. & Powell, C.E. (1996). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [16] Burkill, H.M. (1985). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. Edition 2. Vol. 1. Families A-D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [19] Le Thomas in Fl. Gabon 16, Annonacées: 342, t. 63 (1969).
    • [20] Paiva in Mem. Soc. Brot. 19: 122 (1966).
    • [21] Dale & Greenway, Kenya Trees and Shrubs p. 36 (1961).
    • [22] R. E. Fries in A. Engler & K. Prantl, Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, ed. 2, 17a (2): 168 (1959).
    • [24] Keay, Flora of West Tropical Africa, ed. 2, 1: 54 (1954).
    • [25] W.J. Eggeling, Indigenous Trees of the Uganda Protectorate, ed. 2: 19 (1952).
    • [26] Boutique in Flore du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi, 2: 268 (1951).
    • [28] Chev. Bot. 11.
    • [29] Engl. & Diels in Monographieen Afrikanischer Pflanzen-Familien und Gattungen 6: 86, t. 30/A (1901).
    • [30] —F.T.A. 1: 37
    • [31] Hooker, W.J. (1831). Monodora myristica. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 58: t. 3059.
    • [32] Dunal, Mon. Anon.: 80 (1817).


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