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Terminalia catappa L. 1767
pronounced: ter-min-AH-lee-uh kuh-TAP-uh
(Combretaceae — the false almond family)
common names: Beach Almond, Sea Almond
This is a large tropical tree (up to about 30 m) that has been spread widely by humans, and its native range is uncertain. It has long been naturalized in a broad belt extending from northern Australia and New Guinea, through south-east Asia and the Indian sub-continent. More recently it has been introduced into parts of Africa and the Americas. It has a characteristic pagoda shape because it sends out a single stem from the top centre. When this single stem reaches a good height, it sends out horizontal branches. It is a fast-growing tree, and thrives on sandy shores. The bark is grey, fissured, flaky but not ridged. The top photograph shows one of the young trees planted on the Picnic Bay foreshore only a few years ago, its shape assisted by a little judicious pruning.
The leaves form a rosette and are found only at the end of a branch. They are large, simple, up to 25 cm long and 14 cm broad, obovate, the tips of the leaves acute to obtuse, glossy dark green, and leathery. The tree is deciduous, and sheds its leaves twice a year, the leaves first turning to ‘autumn colours’. It first drops its leaves when aged about 3 or 4 years. The tree is monoecious, with both male and female flowers only about 1 cm in diameter, white to greenish, inconspicuous with no petals, produced on axillary or terminal spikes. Both flowers are produced on the same spike: from 1 to 9 flowers at the tip of the inflorescence are female, and the rest male. Sometimes a whole inflorescence will have only male flowers. The green almond-shaped fruits are drupes up to about 7 cm long and 5 cm broad, turn red to purple when ripe, and then the outer fibrous shell dries out to brown after the fruits have dropped from the tree. They are dispersed by water, the shell helping the fruit to float. Inside is an edible nut which, unlike the commercial almond, can be eaten raw. It tastes very much like the commercial almond, but can be a challenge to extract from the shell. As a boy, I often gathered the fruits in the Anzac Park in Townsville, but took them home so that hammer and chisel were available for the nut extraction. In South America, in particular, oil is extracted from the nuts and used for cooking.
The wood of the tree is red, solid, and has high water resistance. In Polynesia it is sometimes used for making canoes. Tannin and a black dye can be extracted from the bark, leaves and fruit.
Terminalia catappa is a provider of natural medicines. In south-east Asia the leaves, fruit and bark are used for treating dysentery, and in India and Indonesia for the dressing of rheumatic joints. In Samoa an extract from the fruit and bark is used to treat coughs, and in Mexico for asthma. The fruits are used in India to treat leprosy and headaches. Young leaves are used in South America to treat colic, in the Philippines green leaves are used for internal parasites, eye problems, and rheumatism, and in Mexico for stopping bleeding during tooth extraction. In Taiwan fallen leaves are used to treat liver diseases. In India and Pakistan the juice of the leaves is used to treat scabies and leprosy, and in Samoa the bark produces treatment for throat and mouth problems, stomach upsets and diarrhoea.
The tree is a food plant for the caterpillars of a number of Lepidoptera species, including:
• the moth Ophiusa coronata;
• the moth Maurilia iconica;
• the Brown Awl Badamia exclamationis;
• the Bright Oakblue Arhopala madytus;
• the Mauve Line Blue Petrelaea tombugensis;
• the moth Nagia linteola; and
• the Narcissus Jewel Hypochrysops narcissus.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2008, 2010
Page last updated 8th March 2018