Calophyllum inophyllum

Calophyllum inophyllum

Calophyllum inophyllum is a large evergreen tree in the family Clusiaceae, native from East Africa, southern coastal India to Malesia and Australia. It is called Ballnut or, confusingly, "Alexandrian Laurel" (it is not a laurel nor native to Alexandria). Nowadays it is widely cultivated in all tropical regions of the world, including several Pacific Islands. Because of its decorative leaves, fragrant flowers and spreading crown, it is best known as an ornamental plant.

It is a low-branching and slow-growing tree with a broad and irregular crown. It usually reaches 8 to 20 m in height. The flower is 25 mm wide and occurs in racemose or paniculate inflorescences consisting of 4 to 15 flowers. Flowering can occur year-round, but usually two distinct flowering periods are observed, in late spring and in late autumn. The fruit (the ballnut) is a round, green drupe reaching 2 to 4 cm in diameter and having a single large seed. When ripe, the fruit is wrinkled and its color varies from yellow to brownish-red.

This tree often grows in coastal regions as well as nearby lowland forests. However it has also been cultivated successfully in inland areas at moderate altitudes. It tolerates varied kinds of soil, coastal sand, clay or even degraded soil.

In the Maldives this tree is known as "funa".

In Tahiti they call it the ati or tamanu tree. Several species of the tree grow wild in the tropical climes in the Pacific. In Hawaii, the tree and nuts are called kamani; in Fiji the name is dilo, while it is fetau in both Samoa and Niuē, and in Tonga it is fetau or tamanu. In Vanuatu, the natives call the oil nambagura. In Tamil, they call it pinnai and is often found on the coastal Tamil Nadu. In Malayalam, the tree is called as "Punna" and the fruit is called as Punnakka. Bats are known to feed on the fruits.


Besides being a popular ornamental plant, its wood is hard and strong and has been used in construction or boatbuilding. Traditional Pacific Islanders used Calophyllum wood to construct the keel of their canoes while the boat sides were made from Breadfruit wood. The seeds yield a thick, dark green oil for medicinal use or hair grease. Active ingredients in the oil are believed to regenerate tissue, so is sought after by cosmetic manufacturers as an ingredient in skin cremes. The nuts should be well dried before cracking, after which the oil-laden kernel should be further dried.

The fatty-acid methyl ester of Calophyllum inophyllum seed oil meets all of the major biodiesel requirements in the USA (ASTM D 6751-02, ASTM PS 121-99), Germany (DIN V 51606) and European Union (EN 14214). The average oil yield is 11.7 kg-oil/tree or 4680 kg-oil/hectare

The tree is regarded as sacred in some Pacific islands because of its excellent growth in sandy soil as shade tree, antibacterial/cosmetic oil and key role as traditional canoes' keel.


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