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Bombacaceae, Pachira (Bombacopsis) glabra, Saba nut, American chestnut

November 28, 2008

Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. Despite its origins in America, I took most of the photos above in Gabon where it appears to be valued as a foodcrop.

I have about fifteen trees growing from seed I collected from a few trees I found planted along the street in a middle class neighborhood in San Jose, Costa Rica. In addition to this tree there were tropical olives (Simarouba glauca), citrus and macadamia nuts planted as street trees in the same neighborhood.

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. A pod contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. Considered to be one of the more notable underappreciated tropical food crops.

Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.

In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2008 10:08:21 am

    Does this Saba have a decorative two-three foot long pod with seeds 3-4 inches in diameter? I have seen them for sale in the u.s.

  2. February 8, 2009 10:08:54 pm

    Family name is Bombacaceae – think bombaca rather than bomba. The point may be moot, though, since this species can be placed in either Bombacaceae or Malvaceae. Link here:
    http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?312590

    It’s hard to keep up, isn’t it?

  3. February 8, 2009 10:08:35 pm

    It is sometimes hard to keep up. Sometimes I even question the validity of the predominant classification system, seems too linear to me.

  4. February 8, 2009 10:08:21 pm

    Well, I think they’re doing the best they can. It’s either exciting to watch all the changes in classification going on, or it’s frustrating. I’m trying to be excited about it. The possibility of ending up with a classification system that truly reflects evolution is worthwhile. Probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but it’s nice to know the effort is being made.

  5. Marianne Akers permalink
    July 28, 2009 10:08:54 am

    Spencer–

    I would like to get in touch with you. I’ve seen your work in the local press recently. It looks as if you have some good projects!

    I am still working as a volunteer at Summit. We expect to have two guest garden designers from Conway School of Landscape Design in Connecticut. They are going to improve some areas in Summit.

    I have been asked to show them around Panama. I wonder if we could take a look at what you are doing in Casco Viejo.

    Marianne Akers, Cellular

  6. bruce permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:08:02 am

    This large tree had a label ‘bombacopsis glabra’ in the botanical gardens in Brisbane Australia where I collected the seed. My tree is about 5 metres high now and the flower is like a shaving brush with a lovely perfume. I didn’t know the nuts inside the pod were edible, but I will give them a try now I’ve read this

    Cheers

    Bruce from Brisbane

  7. Donna permalink
    July 5, 2010 10:08:19 am

    I am glad to find these photos and some info on this tree,
    which I purchased from a random vendor at a plant sale at
    Fairchild Botanical Gardens here in Miami.
    I only remembered that they called it a glabra nut and that it
    was edible, and now, 12 years later it has been difficult to find any info on it.
    It has grown from a sapling in a 3 gallon pot to 20 ft high in a
    partially shady site in our garden under some oak trees.
    It now has about about 20 of the nuts shown in the photos,
    and I have been wondering how to tell when they are ripe and what to do with them.
    The article above says that the nut is ripe even though they are still green. Do I need
    to pick them from the tree now that they are large but still green?
    If I wait till they fall, they will be hard to find in the bushes underneath. Also, do I wait till
    they open on their own — or force them open somehow? Thanks for any feedback!
    I am excited to finally have some nuts after all these years and hope to make
    the most of them!

  8. Anonymous permalink
    August 8, 2013 10:08:07 am

    i have a good luck money plant is that a saba plant

  9. Ken Kennedy permalink
    August 23, 2013 10:08:50 pm

    Recently saw a couple of Saba nut trees at a neighbor’s house here in Manila Philippines that are in fruit and decided to research … this tree would have been good for food security but a 2012 study:

    Chemical Characterization and Stability of the Bombacopsis glabra Nut Oil

    “Abstract
    The aim of this study was to characterize the
    Bombacopis glabra nut oil (Malvaceae-Bombacoideae) by the
    determination of its lipid content and fatty acid composition with emphasis on the cyclopropenoid fatt
    y acids (CPFA)…The high percentage of CPFA oil, determined…that the kernels of this species are not suitable for human consumption.”

    Full article at http://article.sapub.org/pdf/10.5923.j.fph.20120204.04.pdf

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