Couroupita guianensis

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Couroupita guianensis
CanonBall treebark.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Lecythidaceae
Genus: Couroupita
Species: C. guianensis
Binomial name
Couroupita guianensis
  • Couratari pedicellaris Rizzini
  • Couroupita acreensis R.Knuth
  • Couroupita antillana Miers
  • Couroupita froesii R.Knuth
  • Couroupita guianensis var. surinamensis (Mart. ex Berg) Eyma
  • Couroupita idolica Dwyer
  • Couroupita membranacea Miers
  • Couroupita peruviana O.Berg
  • Couroupita saintcroixiana R.Knuth
  • Couroupita surinamensis Mart. ex Berg
  • Couroupita surinamensis Mart. ex O. Berg
  • Couroupita venezuelensis R.Knuth
  • Lecythis bracteata Willd.
  • Pekea couroupita Juss. ex DC. [Invalid] [1]

Couroupita guianensis, known by several common names, including cannonball tree,[2] is a deciduous tree in the family Lecythidaceae, which also contains the Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) and Paradise nut Lecythis zabucajo. It is native to the rainforests of Central and South America.[3] It is cultivated in many other places.[4]

Cultural Recognition in Sri Lanka[edit]

The " Sal " tree commonly grown in Sri Lanka is not the variety of " Sal " trees on which Queen Maya, the mother of Gautama Lord Buddha had held onto when the Buddha was born while she was wending her way through a forest of Sal Trees. Queen Maya is believed to have held a blossoming Sal tree when the Buddha was born.

Since then the ' Sal Tree ' had been revered by most people in Sri Lanka and most Buddhist temples in the country planted these trees, thinking that this tree was ' Sal '; but it was not so. The so-called ' Sal tree 'in Sri Lanka, is in reality the Cannon Ball Tree and had its origin in Guyana. It was introduced to the Botanical Gardens in 1881 and from here it spread around the country.

The real "Sal Tree" is Shorea robusta is a handsome tree providing very high quality timber quite unlike the Cannon Ball tree. It is a tree within the family Dipterocarpaceae, where are Cannonball tree is under the family Lecythidaceae. Shorea robusta is also referred to as ' salwa’, ‘sakhu’,’shal’ and also ‘kander’ in Asian countries. It is native to Burma, Assam, Bengal and Nepal, lives up to a period of 100 years. It reaches a height of around 35m and has a girth of around 2 to 3m. [5]


Inflorescence of Cannonball tree, Coimbatore

Couroupita guianensis grows up to 35 m (meters) in height. The clustered leaves vary in length, generally from 8 to 31 centimeters, but reaching up to 57.[6] The flowers are born in large bunches up to 80 m(meters) long. Some trees flower profusely, until the entire trunk is buried in flowers. One tree can bear 1000 flowers per day. They are strongly scented, especially at night,[7] and in the early morning.[6] They are large, up to 6 centimeters wide, and often brightly colored, the six petals in shades of pink and red near the bases and yellowish toward the tips. There is a ring of stamens at the center, and an arrangement to stamens that have been modified into a hood.[6] The large fruit, which is woody and very spherical, measuring up to 25 centimeters wide, gives the species the common name "cannonball tree". A smaller fruit contains perhaps 65 seeds, while a large one can have 550.[6] One tree can bear 150 fruits. The fruit takes up to a year to mature in most areas, sometimes as long as 18 months.[6]

Scientific and common names[edit]

The tree was named Couroupita guianensis by the French botanist Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet in 1755. Common names in other languages include many translations of the English cannonball tree. Common names include macacarecuia (Portuguese), coco sachapura (Colombia, Panama), bala de cañón (Costa Rica, Panama), kanonskogelboom (Dutch), arbre à boulet de canon (French), kouroupitoumou (French Guiana), nagkeshar (Bengali), Nagalinga Pushpa (Kannada), Nagalingam or Lingam (Tamil), Nagamalli (Telugu), sala (Indonesia), granadillo de las huacas (Panama), ayahuma (Peru), and boskalebas (Suriname).[8]called also Naaga danthee in Malayalam and Nagakeshara ନାଗକେଶର (Odia).


The flowers lack nectar, but are very attractive to bees coming for the pollen. The carpenter bee Xylocopa brasilianorum is a common pollinator of cultivated trees in Rio de Janeiro, just outside the tree's native range. Other carpenter bees such as Xylocopa frontalis, as well as wasps, flower flies, and bumblebees visit the flowers. The flowers produce two types of pollen, fertile pollen from the ring stamens and sterile pollen from the hood structure.[6]


The fruit falls from the tree and often cracks open when it hits the ground. Sometimes they remain whole until an animal such as a peccary breaks it open. Many animals feed on the fruit pulp and the seeds, such as the paca and domestic chickens and pigs. The seeds are coated with trichomes which may help them pass through animal intestines.[6]

Human uses[edit]

This tree is planted as an ornamental for its showy, scented flowers, and as a botanical specimen for its interesting fruit.[6]

The fruit is fed to livestock such as pigs and domestic fowl.[6]

The fruit is edible, but not usually eaten by people because it can have an unpleasant smell.[8]

In India the tree is sacred to Hindus, who believe its hooded flowers look like the nāga, and it is grown at Shiva temples.[9]

There are many medicinal uses for the plant. Native Amazonians use extracts of several parts of the tree to treat hypertension, tumors, pain, and inflammation. It has been used to treat the common cold, stomachache, skin conditions and wounds, malaria, and toothache. Laboratory tests show that extracts of the plant have some antimicrobial activity and inhibit the formation of biofilms.[9]

The fruit pulp is rubbed on sick dogs to cure them of mange.[10]



  1. ^
  2. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cannon-ball Tree". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  3. ^ Mitré, M. 1998. Couroupita guianensis. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. Downloaded on 30 May 2013.
  4. ^ Couroupita guianensis. Germplasm Resources Information Network.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prance, G. T. & S. A. Mori. Couroupita guianensis Aubl. New York Botanical Garden. 2013.
  7. ^ Brown, S. H. Couroupita guianensis. University of Florida IFAS Extension.
  8. ^ a b Lim, T. K. Couroupita guianensis. In: Edible Medicinal and Nonmedicinal Plants. Volume 3: Fruits. Springer. 2012.
  9. ^ a b Al-Dhabi, N. A., et al. (2012). Antimicrobial, antimycobacterial and antibiofilm properties of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. fruit extract. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 12 242–50.
  10. ^ Elumalai, A., et al. (2012). Evaluation of antiulcer activity of Couroupita guianensis Aubl leaves. Asian J. Pharm. Tech. 2(2) 64-66.