What's Blooming June 6-19: The Breadnut Tree

Breadnut tree, Maya Nut, Ramon (Fig Family)
Brosimum alicastrum (Moraceae)
Origin: Mexico through South America

There is a great deal of diversity in a rainforest -- the sheer number of insects, birds, mammals, and epiphytic plants that can be found living in just a single tree is staggering. Trees in the family Moraceae are often called the “backbone” of the rainforest because of their size and the abundance of their fruit. One of the true monsters of the moist forest is the breadnut, which can easily reach one hundred feet in height.

Every part of the tree is used by people, historically more so than today. The fruits are edible, but it is the seed that is used most, either boiled and eaten with honey, roasted and ground to make a coffee-like drink, or leached and pounded into a flour and used to make flatbread. The flour is superior in nutritional value to any other flour and gluten-free. Bats and other mammals are also fond of the fruits. It was a major food source for the classic Mayan civilization. The tree is medicinal as well, having been used as a lactation stimulant by indigenous people. The plant is so effective in this regard that the modern dairy industry in Central America uses the leaves as a forage supplement.

The Brosimum here at Selby Gardens was grown from seed collected by Selby staff during an expedition to Belize in 2001. It can be found growing by the ramp to the bathrooms just west of the historic Selby home. Still a baby under thirty feet tall, this is its first year to flower.