An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Pterygota alata

Pterygota alata

Buddha’s coconut or tropical chestnut (Pterygota alata (Roxb.) R.Br. 1844) is an arboreal species belonging to the Malvaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta division,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Dilleniidae,
Malvales Order,
Malvaceae family,
Subfamily Sterculioideae,
Genus Pterygota,
Species P. alata.
The term is basionym:
– Sterculia alata Roxb..
The terms are synonyms:
– Clompanus alata (Roxb.) Kuntze;
– Pterygota alata var. irregularis (W.W.Sm.) Deb & S.K.Basu;
– Pterygota roxburghii Schott & Endl.;
– Sterculia alata Roxb.;
– Sterculia alata var. irregularis W.W.Sm.;
– Sterculia coccinea Wall.;
– Sterculia heynei Bedd..

Etymology –
The term name Pterygota comes from the combination of the Greek substantives “πτερύγιον”, pterygion, that is wing and “οὖς, ὠτός”, ous, otόs, that is ear.
The specific epithet comes from the Latin alatus, a, um, i.e. equipped with wings, in reference to the seeds provided with wings.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Pterygota alata is a plant native to tropical regions of Asia, where it is common in the Indian subcontinent and is planted along roadways as an avenue tree.
In detail, it is present in the following countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China (Yunnan and Hainan), the Philippines, India, the Andaman Islands, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
Its habitat is that of open forests up to hilly altitudes.

Description –
The Pterygota alata is a plant, which grows in an arboreal, evergreen or semi-deciduous form, very branched; it grows up to 30-35 m, with an erect, cylindrical trunk, up to over 1 m in diameter.
The bark is grayish in color, provided at the base with tabular roots (flattened roots similar to buttresses).
The leaves are located on a 3-12 cm long petiole; they are large, about 12-30 cm long, ovate-cordate in shape, with wavy margins. The texture is smooth and the petioles are about 7-15 cm long. The leaves are rather clustered towards the ends of the branches.
The flowers are grouped in small axillary panicles, on the one year old branches without leaves, carrying unisexual flowers, due to partial abortion of the organs of the other sex, present at the same time on the same inflorescence.
The flowers have no petals and have a bell-shaped calyx, 1,5-2 cm long, divided up almost to the base in 5 linear-lanceolate segments with retroflexed apex, about 0,4 cm broad, fleshy, covered by a rust colored tomentum externally , internally streaked with red and yellow, with an odor considered by some to be rather unpleasant.
The male flowers have anthers grouped at the apex of the androgynophore, about 0,5 cm long.
The female flowers have an extremely short androgynophore, a globular super ovary with staminoids at the base, pubescent, 5 free carpels and short, curved styles, with a bilobed stigma.
The fruits are follicles present on a long stem; they are globular in shape, slightly compressed laterally, woody and covered by a brown tomentum, 10-12 cm long and about 9 cm in diameter.
Inside there are numerous flattened seeds provided with a long and wide wing, overall 5-8 cm long, of brown colour.

Cultivation –
Pterygota alata is an evergreen tree that is harvested from the wild for local use as food and medicine and also as a source of oil and wood.
It is a beautiful tree, excellent for planting in avenues, due to the luxuriant foliage and showy fruits almost as large as a coconut and usable as a shade tree also in parks and gardens, in tropical, subtropical and marginally warm temperate regions, where temperatures just below 0 °C are short-lived exceptions.
This tree requires full sun to be grown and adapts to different types of soil, provided it is draining.
The plant propagates by seed, which has a germinability duration of a few months.
The propagation is to be done in a sandy and draining substratum kept humid at the temperature of 24-26 °C, with germination times of 1-3 months.
In nature the numerous seeds, each with a long “wing”, are then dispersed by the wind.

Customs and Traditions –
Pterygota alata is a tree known by various names, such as: Buddha’s coconut tree, tropical chestnut (English); Buddha narikella, tula (Bengali); haron, letkok, sin-kadet, taung-letkok (Burmese); chi ping po (Chinese); pahari (Hindi); po dêng (Lao); kolugida, daddele (Kannada); anathondi, kavalam, kudatthanni, poola (malayalam); kangsar (Malay); anathondi, kodaittondi (Tamil); huaka, mabin, tongching (Thai); bandha narikella (urdu); cước mộc, chọc mọc, sảng cánh, trôm nước (Vietnamese).
The seeds of this plant are roasted by some indigenous populations and seem to have narcotic properties; moreover they are also part of the diet of several species of monkeys.
The oil obtained from the seeds is used for lighting and could be advantageously used as a biofuel.
The wood, whitish in color, light and not very durable, is used for furniture, boxes, sticks, toys, handicraft objects and in the manufacture of plywood.
The dried follicles are variously used for decorative purposes and robust fibers for ropes are obtained from the bark.
The leaves are rich in antioxidants. Laboratory studies have highlighted in the extracts of the leaves the presence of compounds with high antioxidant activity which are susceptible of further investigations.

Method of Preparation –
Pterygota alata is a plant used both for ornamental purposes but also for food and medicine.
The fruits are follicles containing some winged seeds, edible when cooked.
According to some reports, the seed also seems to cause drowsiness and is therefore used as a substitute for opium.
The oil obtained from the seeds is nutritious.
Also, the oil made from the seed is used for lighting.
In the medicinal field, the extracts of the leaves can be used for their antioxidant properties.
Whitewood is light, soft, and not very durable, with a nice silvery grain; however it is a low grade lumber that can be used to make boxes and toys.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Photo source:

Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *