An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Gustavia superba

Gustavia superba

The heaven lotus or monkey fruit (Gustavia superba (Kunth) O.Berg 1856) is an arboreal species belonging to the Lecythidaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Dilleniidae,
Order Lecythidales,
Lecythidaceae family,
Gustavia genus,
Species G. superba.
The term is basiconym:
– Pirigara superba Kunth.
The terms are synonymous:
– Gustavia superba var. salviniae Hemsl.;
– Japarandiba superba (Kunth) Kuntze;
– Pirigara insignis Kunth;
– Pirigara insignis Kunth ex Hemsl..

Etymology –
The term Gustavia was given by Linnaeus in honor of King Gustav III of Sweden (1746-1792), his patron.
The specific epithet superba comes from the Latin “superbus, a, um”, that is, superb, magnificent, with obvious reference.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Gustavia superba is a tree native to central and northwestern South America (Panama, Colombia and Ecuador). It is a plant not widely known outside its native range, but has been planted in tropical botanical gardens, including Singapore (where it is called “pungol”) and Australia.
Its habitat is that of the undergrowth of humid forests, representing in some areas the dominant species, at low altitudes and up to 1300 m above sea level.

Description –
Gustavia superba is an evergreen tree 5 to 10 meters tall with a trunk diameter of 20 to 35 cm.
The leaves are alternate and large, reaching a meter in length and 25 cm in width, they have a short petiole and radiate from above as in palm trees.
The flowers grow in inflorescences, have a double perianth with 6-10 unequal obovate petals, 5-6 cm long and 3.5 cm wide, white to creamy white in color sometimes with purple-pink shades, and numerous stamens , pink on top, about 4 cm long, fused for a third of their length to form a yellowish fleshy ring; the flowers are pollinated by bees and bats.
The fruit is a globose-depressed pyx (dry fruit in which when ripe a sort of cap called operculum comes off at the top) with a prominent ring at the apex, about 8 cm long and up to 10 cm wide, green tending towards yellow and orange , often with a rather unpleasant smell when ripe, containing on average 7 seeds of brown color and irregular shape, 1-4 cm long, with edible orange fleshy aril.
The seeds measure from 3 to 6 cm, are brown, angular, irregularly shaped and smooth, covered with an edible orange pulp, rich in vitamins A, B and C, which is usually the food of the agouti which help to distribute their seeds, while iguanas feed on their leaves.

Cultivation –
Gustavia superba is a small evergreen tree that can live about 60 years.
It is a plant that appreciates abundant humidity, sun and well-drained soil. It branches little until maturity, and has a bunch of leaves at the top, so much so that it resembles a palm tree.
It is suitable for cultivation in the humid and lowland tropics, where it is mainly found at altitudes lower than 600 metres, but also extends above 1,000 metres. It is intolerant to temperatures below 5 °C.
Prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil in light shade.
It is a species of great ornamental value, for its foliage and above all for its large flowers, widespread in its areas of origin, where it is often grown in family gardens for its fruit, but little known elsewhere.
Where the climate does not allow it to be outdoors during the winter months, it can be grown in large containers, where it can also flower, to be sheltered in spacious and bright greenhouses or winter gardens, using organic soil with the addition of silica sand or 30% agri-perlite to improve drainage; both environmental humidity and temperatures must be high on average, with minimum values for these not lower than 15 °C.
The plant reproduces easily by seed, previously kept in water for a day, in organic soil with the addition of silica sand or agri-perlite for 30% kept humid at a temperature of 24-26 °C, with germination times of 7-9 weeks , and by cutting.

Customs and Traditions –
Gustavia superba is a plant known by various common names, including: heaven lotus, monkey fruit (English); Unitillo, Unitillo hembra, pacó, pacora, sachamango (Spanish).
The edible fruit is harvested from the wild and used locally. The tree is often grown for its large, showy and fragrant waxy flowers while, conversely, its cut wood has a predominantly fetid odor.
The fruits are a food for primates, in particular Cebus capucinus (Linnaeus, 1758), rabbits, rodents, squirrels and other small animals which contribute to the dispersal of the seeds.
The aril surrounding the seeds, nutritious and with a high content of fat, phosphorus and vitamin A, is consumed raw or more frequently added to various dishes (soups, rice, meat, etc.), to which it gives a particular color and flavour. Wood has moderate characteristics of hardness, resistance and workability and has limited use in construction.
The heartwood is reddish-brown; the sapwood is often almost white with darker or almost black streaks. The wood is straight and fine-grained, hard, heavy, strong and tough. It divides and works rather easily; takes a great polish.

Preparation Mode –
Gustavia superba is a plant used in nature both for its fruit and wood.
The pulp of the fruit is rich in vitamins A, B and C and is considered a delicacy in Colombia.
There are no known medicinal uses.

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 d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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

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