Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) other names : Alexandrian Laurel , Beauty Leaf , Dilo Oil Tree , Oil Nut Tree.

The tamanu nut tree (botanical name Calophyllum inophyllum) is an average-sized tree that usually grows up to a height of 25 meters, while a few of them may be found to be taller growing up to 35 meters in height. This species produces muggy latex whose color varies from being clear/ transparent to opaque. Often the latex of the tamanu nut tree is also white, yellow or creamy colored. The bole or stump of tamanu nut tree is generally entwined or tilted and its diameter may be up to 150 cm having no support whatsoever. Usually, the external bark of the tamanu nut tree is distinctive having diamond or boat-shaped crevices that connect with one another as the tree matures. In addition, as the tamanu nut tree ages, its external bark also becomes smooth frequently having a burnished color (ochre) or having yellowish hue. On the other hand, the internal bark of the tree is typically chunky, supple, firm, fibrous and coated. The color of the inner bark varies from pink to red and becomes brown when exposed.

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) fruit

The top of the tamanu nut tree has a consistently conical shape that may at times also be hemispherical. The branches of tamanu nut tree are four-angles and smoothed having plum terminal buds, each of which varies in length between 4 mm and 9 mm. The tree produces elliptical leaves that are broad, even and laminated. In fact, the shape of the tamanu nut tree leaves may be ovate, oblong or even obovate and their length varies from 8 cm to 20 cm. The leaves of the tamanu nut tree are either smoothed or triangular (cuneate) at the base, while they are either rounded, obtuse with a hollow notch (retuse) or (somewhat acute) subacute at the tip having latex canals which are typically not so protruding. These leaves do not have any stipules. The tree has an arrangement of flowers (inflorescence) at the axils having the form of a raceme. Generally, the inflorescences of tamanu nut tree are not branched; however, at times the trees of this species may have three flowered branches each bearing five to 15 flowers, but never more than 30 flowers.

Flowers of the tamanu nut trees are generally bisexual, but occasionally structurally unisexual. The flowers of tamanu nut tree are also sweet scented having perianth comprising anything between eight to 13 petals in numerous whorls that are typically whitish. A typical flower has several stamens that are yellowish in color and cluster in four bundles. The color of the anthers changes from vivid yellow through khaki to brown. Incidentally only the bisexual (hermaphroditic) flowers possess ovaries - a brilliant pink ball found at the end of the stem after the petals whither away. The tamanu nut trees bear fruits whose shape vary from round to ovoid drupe (a fruit with an outer skin) and grows up to a length of 25 mm to 50 mm. The fruits have a slender and compacted outer layer (epicarp) that is greyish-green in color and soft skinned. The nut or stone of the fruit has a hard layer and frequently has a spongy layer generally enclosing a solitary seed. The seeds of tamanu nut tree have large cotyledons and radicle or the lower part of the axis of an embryo directed to the fruit's base.

The tamanu nut tree has derived its generic name from the Greek terms ‘kalos' denoting beautiful and ‘phullon' meaning leaf. In other words, the generic name of this species means the beautiful-leafed tree in Greek. Similarly, the precise nickname (epithet) of this tree also has its origin in two Greek words - ‘is' meaning fiber and ‘phullon' denoting leaf that refers to the prominent veins on the underside of the leaves of the tamanu nut tree.

The tamanu nut tree is also cultivated for providing shade as well as reforestation and afforestation - an initiative to reclaim soil. In many places, tamanu nut tree is also planted along the shores because tamanu nut tree has proved to be effective in preventing soil erosion by the sea. While the growth of the tamanu nut tree is very sluggish, tamanu nut tree is very popular as a roadside plantation in India. In addition, tamanu nut tree is also an attractive ornamental plant, as it has young foliage that is crimson in color. Even the flowers of the tamanu nut tree are very aromatic.

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) flower

The tamanu nut tree is a plant that is necessarily found growing beside a water body, especially sea shores, in the tropical climatic regions. In northern Australia, this species of trees is usually found growing higher than the high-tide level down the sea coasts. Tamanu nut trees grow in an extensive area experiencing tropical climatic conditions and its habitat extends from northern Australia to all over south-east Asia and the entire south India. As mentioned above, although it is very common to find Calophyllum inophyllum along the sea shores, this species is also found growing naturally in upcountry areas on sandy soils. Generally, this variety of tree grows and thrives well on the debris and waste (detritus) carried down by the rivers as well as on the sand and gravels deposited by the waves and wind. Tamanu nut tree grows well on soils which are usually waterless on the exterior, but the ground water table may be just a few decimetres below. Nevertheless, the water drawn by this tree is brackish or briny.

In addition to growing along the sea shores and inland sandy soils,  tamanu nut tree is also found thriving at river upstream, usually along the length of the river banks. The tamanu nut tree requires sufficient sunlight for growth. In addition,  tamanu nut tree grows well in places where the temperatures are controlled or toned down by their closeness to the sea as well as the sea breezes. The exposed conditions, sandy soils, heat radiation from the sand as well as the winds carrying salts make this habitat noticeably xerophytic. However, it may be noted that the trees belonging to the Calophyllum species are very susceptible to fire as well as frost.

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Health Benefits

The seeds of the tamanu nut tree produce a dense oil that is deep green in color and used for therapeutic purposes or greasing the hair. The oil's active elements are considered to renew the tissues and, hence, it is in much demand by industries manufacturing cosmetics as a valuable element in crèmes meant for skin treatment. However, it is important to note that the nuts ought to be dehydrated properly prior to cracking them. Once the nuts of tamanu nut tree are cracked, the kernel that is full of oil needs to be dried further. In fact, the first neoflavone segregated by scientists in 1951 from natural reserves was calophyllolide obtained from the seeds of Calophyllum inophyllum (tamanu nut tree).

The natural oil extracted from the seeds of the tamanu nut tree was used for burning night lamps in the coastal areas of Luzon Island, located in northwest Philippines. When burnt, this oil produces a soothing scent. However, the extensive use of this oil for night lamps in these regions began to decline with the availability of kerosene and afterwards when electricity was easily available. In addition, during the World War II, the oil extracted from the nuts of tamanu nut trees was also used to generate electricity to supply power to radios.

Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Tamanu Nut Tree (Calophyllum Inophyllum) picture

The fruit of the tamanu nut tree can be consumed and generally it is pickled. However, one needs to exercise caution while pickling this fruit, which is known to enclose toxic substances. The timber of the tamanu nut tree is somewhat heavier, tougher and comparatively more enduring than the other species of Calophyllum. The surface of the wood of the tamanu nut tree is very smooth and the grain is additionally compact. The sapwood or the wood on the outer trunk of the tree has a yellowish-brown color with a pink shade. In fact, the sapwood of tamanu nut tree is quite distinct from the heartwood or the central wood of the tree that is reddish-brown in color having an orange-brown or pinkish-brown shade. The wood of Calophyllum inophyllum (tamanu nut tree) is considered to be a good timber for all general purposes. In many parts of the world, the wood of tamanu nut tree is in high demand for making spars, masts as well as bridges and scaffoldings as they are available in the shape of slender tall poles. As the wood is close-grained and durable, it is also used for building boats, veneer, railway sleepers and for making plywood. In addition, the timber of the tamanu nut tree is brilliant for making cabinets as it possesses a vivid reddish-brown color.

Inhabitants of different islands in the Pacific traditionally used the wood of the tamanu nut tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) to make the keel of their canoes and used the wood from breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) to construct the sides of the boats. At the same time, this wood is widely used for light constructions, moulding (making wooden frames), joinery (woodwork) and flooring. The timber of tamanu nut tree is also used to make wooden pallets, cartwheels and axles, and diving boards. In addition, this wood is also excellent for making blowpipes and musical instruments.

The natural oil obtained from the fruit of tamanu nut tree is also used for therapeutic purposes, especially to treat conditions like ulcers, rheumatism and skin complaints. The bark of tamanu nut tree is known to be astringent and a decoction prepared with the bark and latex of tamanu nut tree is also used for medicinal purposes. This decoction taken internally is especially effective for treating diarrhea and beneficial after childbirth. Externally, the decoction is used to treat skin disorders, rheumatism as well as eye ailments. Local people also use the leaves, flowers and seeds of the tree for medicinal purposes.