Combretaceae (Indian almond family)

The ripe, corky fruits float in water, stay viable in seawater, and are dispersed over great distances by ocean currents. Description. Medium-sized, fast-growing, deciduous tree with whorls of horizontal branches, 15-25 m (50-80 ft) tall. This pagoda-like growth is very characteristic of young trees. Alternate, obovate leaves clustered at tips of branches. Blades 15-35 cm (614 in) long by 8-25 cm (3-10 in) wide, leathery, glossy. Senescent leaves turn dark red, scarlet, or yellow. Greenish-white flowers in slender spikes appearing in leaf axils. Fruits egg-shaped, flattened, 5-7 cm (2-2.8 in) long, with 2 longitudinal ridges.


Ripe fruits turn yellow or reddish. Fruits contain 1 cylindrical seed encased in a fibrous husk within a fleshy mesocarp.

Origin and Distribution. Native to coastal areas of Southeast Asia. Widely grown as an ornamental and shade tree throughout the humid tropics. Naturalized and very common in many tropical regions, especially along coasts.

Food uses. The edible seed kernels have an almondlike taste and are eaten raw or roasted. Seeds contain 35-55% of a bland, yellow oil that is used for cooking.

Comments. The tree has a far-reaching root system and is often planted for erosion control. The bark provides yellow and black dyes used in the leather industry. Leaves are rich in flavonoids and tannins. They are commonly used in folk medicine to treat diarrhea and dysentery. The hard red wood is of good quality and used for construction, boat building, and floors.

Ripe, corky fruits float in water, stay viable in seawater, and are dispersed over great distances by ocean currents.

Description. Evergreen tree with horizontally spreading branches, 20-35 m (66-115 ft) tall, with leaves whorled at the tips of branches. Obovate leaves 16-30 cm (6.3-12 in) long by 8-15 cm (3-6 in) wide, tapering at base. Underside of leaves pubescent with short reddish-brown hairs. Small yellowish flowers are produced in erect spikes. Fruits are ellipsoid, laterally compressed drupes, 8-12 cm (3-5 in) long, turning from green to dark red when fully ripe. Each fruit contains a hard stone with an edible seed within.

Origin and Distribution. Wild populations are known from West Papua, the Aru Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where it also is widely cultivated. The Okari nut grows in humid tropical rainforests from sea level to about 1,100 m (3,600 ft). The tree was introduced into Queensland but is very little known in Southeast

Asia and in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.

Food uses. The kernel of the ripe fruit, a high-quality nutlike seed that tastes similar to almonds, is eaten raw or roasted and salted. In the plant’s native region, the seeds are used to make sweets and as an ingredient in bakery goods.

Comments. The seeds are the largest known in the Combretaceae family. They are common in markets during harvest season. The tree produces a hard wood used occasionally in construction and in the manufacture of tools and furniture.

The genus Terminalia comprises more than 100 species of trees native to tropical regions around the world. The name is derived from the Latin word terminus, referring to the whorled leaves at the tips of the branches, which are typical for the genus.

Description. Large, evergreen tree, 20-40 m (66144 ft) tall, with a dense crown and buttressed trunk. All plant parts contain white, sticky latex. Alternate, simple leaves 30-45 cm (12-18 in) long by 15-20 cm (6-8 in) wide. Flower head brown-yellow, rounded, 2.5-10 cm (1-4 in) across, male and female flowers usually separate, growing beside leaves or on older wood down the trunk. Spherical, woody, roughskinned, compound fruits reach 30-40 cm (1216 in) in diameter and can weigh up 15 kg (33 lbs). The spongy, fibrous pulp contains numerous orange seeds, 1 cm (0.4 in) long.

Origin and Distribution. Native to tropical Africa, where the tree grows naturally in riverine habitats and seasonally inundated forests. The tree is rarely cultivated outside its natural range.

Food uses. The starchy, nutritious seeds are ground and the protein-rich flour is used for making bread, bakery goods, and pasta. Whole seeds are roasted, salted, and eaten as snacks. In Nigeria, a nonalcoholic drink called almond milk is made from the powdered seeds. Oil extracted from the seeds is used as cooking oil and for producing margarine.

Comments. The seeds contain about 23% protein and 11% oil and are a good source of phosphorous and potassium. The yellow, dense heartwood is used for making furniture and in general construction.

Description. Annual, herbaceous, trailing or climbing plant with rough, 5-angled stems. Alternate, cordate leaves with 5-9 pointed lobes covered in short, soft hairs. Leaf blades 10-20 cm (4-8 in) long and wide with toothed margins. Male flowers are produced in axillary racemes whereas female flowers are borne singly. Both produce 5 white petals with conspicuous, lacelike appendices. Light green cylindrical, pointed fruits up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long by 10 cm (4 in) wide, with longitudinal dark green stripes and a firm, somewhat mucilaginous flesh. Fully ripe fruits, which have a bitter taste, turn orange and contain numerous flat, light brown seeds.

Origin and Distribution. Probably native to India and Sri Lanka. Widely cultivated in South and

Southeast Asia. Uncommon elsewhere. The plant grows in humid tropical and warm subtropical climates and is often cultivated as a dooryard plant.

Food uses. Immature fruits are boiled or fried and eaten as a vegetable. Very young and tender fruits are used raw in salads. Young leaves and shoots are also used as a vegetable. In Southeast Asia, cooked snake gourds are often found in curries and stir-fries.

Comments. Several other species of the genus Trichosanthes are cultivated as vegetables, potherbs, or medicinal plants. T. dioica (pointed gourd) is widely cultivated as a perennial plant in India and the green fruits are used in soups, stews, and curries. T. kirilowii is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Description. Small evergreen tree with several trunks and spreading branches, 4-6 m (13-20 ft) tall. Opposite, light green, elliptic leaves 20-25 cm (8-10 in) long by 10-14 cm (4-5.5 in) wide. Small greenish-white flowers are borne in the axils of leaves. Spherical to oblate, large green fruits with greenish pulp, 3-4 cm (1.2- 1.6 in) across. When fully ripe, the skin and the flesh, which has an aromatic, subacid taste, turn dark brown. Fruits contain 4-6 brown seeds. Origin and Distribution. Native to tropical Africa from Cameroon and Angola to Ethiopia and Madagascar. The tree grows in evergreen lowland and montane rainforests and in seasonally dry forests. Food uses. Slightly underripe fruits, which have the consistency and taste of green apples, are eaten out of hand. When fully ripe the fruits develop a sweet-sour flavor with an aroma similar to tamarind (Tamarindus indica, p. 230). The pulp is blended with ice, sugar, and water to make refreshing drinks.

Comments. The genus Vangueria comprises more than 50 species, all native to tropical Africa. The species is known by many synonyms, including V. edulis, V. floribunda, and V. edulis.

The durable wood of V. madagascariensis is used in construction and as firewood.

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