An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Lecythis ollaria

Lecythis ollaria

The monkey nut or monkey pot tree, paradise nut, pot tree (Lecythis ollaria Loefl. 1758) is an arboreal species belonging to the Lecythidaceae family.

Systematic –
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Dilleniidae,
Order Lecythidales,
Lecythidaceae family,
Subfamily Lecythidoideae,
Genus Lecythis,
Species L. ollaria.
The terms are synonymous:
– Lecythis ollaria L. (1759);
– Lecythis cordata O.Berg (1856);
– Eschweilera cordata (O.Berg) Miers (1874).

Etymology –
The term Lecythis comes from the Greek “lekythos” which indicated a vessel to contain oil, with reference to the shape of the fruits.
The specific epithet ollaria is derived from the Latin “olla”, meaning vase, with similar reference to the generic name.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Lecythis ollaria is a plant native to Venezuela and also present in Brazil and Guyana.
Its habitat is that of dry and humid tropical forests on soils particularly rich in selenium which the species accumulates in its tissues.

Description –
Lecythis ollaria is a deciduous tree that grows up to 20-35 m in height.
The bark is reddish yellow in color.
The leaves are simple, entire, alternate, sessile or subsessile, ovate to oblong in shape, 5-9 cm long and 3-5 cm wide.
The inflorescences are terminal spikes bearing numerous flowers with 6 oblong, concave sepals and 6 spatulate, slightly unequal, concave petals with curved margins, white in colour.
The fruit is a pyx (dry fruit in which when ripe a sort of cap called operculum detaches from the top) dehiscent with 6 lobes, woody, brown in colour, rounded, 3.5-6 cm long and 5-10 cm wide diameter.
Inside there are oily brown seeds rich in selenium (up to 5-10 g/kg of dry weight in plants grown on seleniferous soils); they are approximately 5 cm long and 2.5 cm thick.

Cultivation –
Lecythis ollaria is a large tree whose edible seeds are often collected from the wild for local use and also sold in markets.
Some attempts to cultivate the plant have proven promising and it is grown in northern South America and tropical Central America, and also in Southeast Asia in some trials.
This plant grows both naturally and cultivated. In general it is a plant that is rarely cultivated outside its areas of origin, it requires exposure to full sun, except in the very first years of life, deep well-drained soils and average temperatures of 25 °C or more, therefore suitable for areas with a tropical climate or subtropical.
It favors warm, humid, tropical lowlands and prefers deep, fertile soil although the plants are probably not very fussy about soil type.
Trees are known to produce their first crop in less than ten years from seed.
The seeds take 18 months to mature after flowering.
It has been estimated that individual trees could produce around 80 kilos of seeds per year.
The fruits, suspended from the ends of the branches, develop a perfectly tight “lid”, which falls off as the nuts ripen, thus dispersing the seeds.
These fruits have been used as monkey traps. A bait is placed inside the empty fruit, the monkey reaches in to grab it and then finds that he cannot withdraw his hand (unless he releases the bait, of course).
The plant propagates easily by seed, which has a short-term germination rate, with germination times varying from one to four months and the first flowering around the tenth year of age.

Customs and Traditions –
Lecythis ollaria is a plant known by various names; among these are: monkey nut, monkey pot tree, paradise nut, pot tree (English); coco de mono, olla del mono, olleto or ollato (Spanish).
The seeds of this plant, with an excellent flavour, are collected and consumed locally or used to extract the oil, pale yellow in colour, with a taste and smell similar to that of almond oil, used for lighting and soap production.
However, the seeds can be toxic when they come from plants growing on soils very rich in selenium, as they accumulate it.
Selenium is a fundamental element of the human diet, but at high levels it is toxic, the seeds of Lecythis ollaria contain the highest concentration of this element ever in a plant material, their excessive consumption can cause accumulation intoxication, with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea followed by alopecia, hair removal and loss or damage to nails.
Cases of acute toxicity have been reported; this is particularly the case of two previously healthy women in South America who developed nausea, vomiting and unexplained neurological symptoms, followed two weeks later by severe hair loss, initially no cause could be found. It was later determined that they were suffering from acute selenium toxicity caused by consuming paradise nuts. They still had elevated levels of selenium in their blood eight weeks after eating the walnuts. Further investigation of the tree found that the bark, leaf, capsule and seed tissues all contained selenium, but that the highest concentration was in the nuts which contained around five grams per kilogram, around half of which was soluble in waterfall. The tree is therefore considered a selenium accumulator and part of the element is linked to proteins very rich in selenium.
The wood, ranging in color from reddish yellow to dark brown, has excellent characteristics of hardness, durability and resistance to insects and is used in civil constructions, for pylons and submerged structures. Woody pyx is often used to make various craft items.
The wood is easy to split, polishes well, and is resistant to teredo and barnacles. It is used for docks, stilts, locks, house frames, etc.
The wood is hard and difficult to work with, so it is not widely used.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the paradise nut as least concern. This is because it has a widespread geographic distribution in tropical rainforest.

Preparation Method –
Lecythis ollaria is a plant that is consumed in nature or cultivated mainly for its raw or toasted seeds.
These are rich in oil, are similar in size and shape to the Brazil nut.
When ripe, the ivory white beans have a delicious flavor with a soft, almost creamy consistency.
The seeds are said to be sweeter than Brazil nuts, with superior flavor and easier to digest.
It is a very nutritious seed, containing about 63% oil or fat and 20% protein.
The shell is thin and breaks easily when it is cool enough.
From the seed you can obtain an edible straw-yellow oil, which resembles almond oil in both taste and smell.
In the medicinal field, the fruits are sold by medicinal herb sellers in Caracas, presumably for their depilatory effect.
An oil obtained from the seed is used to make soap and as a highlighter.
The bark is a source of tannins.

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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