Monodora myristica (Gaertn.) Dunal

First published in Monogr. Anonac.: 80 (1817)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is W. Tropical Africa to SW. Kenya and NW. Angola. It is a tree and grows primarily in the wet tropical biome.

Descriptions

Extinction risk predictions for the world's flowering plants to support their conservation (2024). Bachman, S.P., Brown, M.J.M., Leão, T.C.C., Lughadha, E.N., Walker, B.E. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.19592

Conservation
Predicted extinction risk: not threatened. Confidence: confident
[AERP]

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/132683482/133046260

Conservation
LC - least concern
[IUCN]

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.

Description

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.

Uses

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.

Cultivation

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.

Distribution
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda
Ecology
Evergreen rainforest, deciduous forest, lowland river banks.
Conservation
Not Evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Hazards

None known.

[KSP]

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

Morphology General Habit
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.
Morphology Leaves
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Stamens subglobose, 0.5 mm. long.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Ovary
Ovary conical, 3–4 mm. long, glabrous.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
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.
Habitat
Evergreen forest, often of riverine or lakeside fringing type; 1140–1800 m.
Distribution
W. Africa to Angola including S. Tomé, Principe and Fernando Po, Central African Republic and Congoalso cultivated elsewhere, e.g. Gabon, Jamaica, Java (Bogor) and as a curiosity in England K5 T1 U2 U3 U4
[FTEA]

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

Morphology General Habit
A tree, up to 60 ft. with large fragrant flowers
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx red-spotted
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Petals yellow and red, the three inner spotted red outside and green inside
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruit spherical, green.
[FWTA]

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

Morphology General Habit
A tree.
[FWTA]

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/32700/9722596

Conservation
VU - vulnerable
[IUCN]

Uses

Use
Ornamental, culinary, medicinal, timber.
[KSP]

Common Names

English
Calabash nutmeg

Sources

  • Angiosperm Extinction Risk Predictions v1

    • Angiosperm Threat Predictions
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0
  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    • Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Flora of West Tropical Africa

    • Flora of West Tropical Africa
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • IUCN Categories

    • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Science Photographs

    • Copyright applied to individual images
  • Kew Species Profiles

    • Kew Species Profiles
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0