Characteristics of Courbaril Tree (Hymenaea courbaril) in the Wild

Hymenaea courbaril
Courbaril or West Indian locust (Hymenaea courbaril) is a tree species common in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The fruit has hard skin and dry flesh, which is edible. The sap, called animé, is used to make fragrances such as incense, perfumes, and varnishes.

Courbaril trees also have very hard, heavy, brown to salmon-colored wood with black accent stripes that turn dark, bright red over time. Courbaril wood is often used to make furniture, hardwood floors, carvings, picture frames, and buildings.

In some countries, Courbaril wood is referred to as Jatoba or Algarrobo.

There are several different varieties of Courbaril and can be distinguished by leaf size, flower color, fruit shape, and habitat.

  • Hymenaea courbaril var. courbaril
  • Hymenaea courbaril var. altissima
  • Hymenaea courbaril var. stilbocarpa
  • Hymenaea courbaril var. longifolia
  • Hymenaea courbaril var. subsessilis
  • Hymenaea courbaril var. villa

 

Characteristics of Courbaril Leaf

Hymenaea courbaril Leaf
Source: inaturalist.org/harold_pineda

The leaves are alternate and short-stemmed. The petioles are short, more or less hairy, about 2 cm long. The glandular leaflets are short, whole, leathery, ovate to ovate, and slightly sickle-shaped with often unequal blades. Leaflets that are more or less hairy are 4-10 cm long and 2-5 cm wide, round to pointed at the top, pointed or rounded to protruding. The stalks of the short leaflets are partially bent and up to 4 mm in length. Larger stipules are deciduous.

 

Characteristics of Courbaril Flower

Hymenaea courbaril Flower
Source: inaturalist.org/jamo

Hermaphrodite flowers are short-stemmed, relatively large, and glandular having a double perianth that sheds early. The flower stalk is thick and up to 6 mm long, divided by “joints”. The 4 sepals are leathery, thick, and ovate to elliptical, up to 1.8 cm long, downy hairs in a short cup-shaped flower cup. The 5 petals are about the same length as the sepals and are white to yellowish in color. There are 10 long stamens. The median, elongated, flattened ovary is laterally pedunculated, with a long, slightly conical style, slightly lateral to the capitate stigma.

 

Characteristics of Courbaril Fruit

Hymenaea courbaril Fruit
Source: inaturalist.org/anethprez

The fruit is about 8-20 cm long and 4-8 cm wide, cylindrical to narrow oval and dark brown in color, not open, relatively smooth, and hard. They often stay in trees for a long time. They contain up to 6-12 seeds in an unpleasant-smelling, yellowish, and sticky pulp. The seeds are brownish red, measuring 2-3 cm in shape, flat, smooth, and elliptical to rounded.

Courbaril fruit is the main food for indigenous peoples. Those who eat it don’t think it smells bad. The flesh of the fruit, despite the rather unpleasant smell, has a sweet taste, which can be consumed raw, dried, and processed into powders and soups.

The flesh of the fruit inside the hard shell looks like water-soluble fiber, which turns into curdled milk. Some add sugar to it to make it sweeter. If consumed raw, Courbaril fruit tends to stick in the mouth like dry dust. It is one of the richest plant foods known for its high concentration of starch and protein. This fruit is also an excellent concentrated feed for animals.

 

Characteristics of Courbaril Tree

Hymenaea courbaril Tree
Source: inaturalist.org/nationat

Courbaril grows as a large tree 30-40 meters high with a dense and wide crown. The diameter of the stem reaches 2 meters. The brown to gray bark is smooth and thick with age. The tree contains a yellowish to reddish resin.

 

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