Versatile Brosimum alicastrum Overcomes an Identity Crisis
Over thousands of years, Brosimum alicastrum has attracted common names as easily as sugar water attracts hummingbirds. In Mexico alone, it is said to have more than 68 names in various local languages. Among the more common monikers are Maya nut, ramón, ojoche, ojite, ujuxte and masico/masica. Breadnut is yet another name for this species, but that term is also used to describe Artocarpus camansi, an Asian tree in the same family.
The wealth of names is a tribute to the value of the Maya nut across its large native range and beyond; people simply ignore what isn’t useful to them. B. alicastrum is native from central Mexico south into parts of Central and South America and east into the Caribbean. Over that range, annual average rainfall runs from 24 in. to nearly 80 in. That means that the Maya nut is capable of handling both dry and wet conditions. Its drought tolerance cannot be overstated. During the lengthy dry season in the Yucatán, when much of the vegetation turns a crisp yellow, B. alicastrum remains green, and its leaves and thinner stems become an invaluable source of forage for livestock.
The Maya nut is not only economically significant, but it also is a very stately ornamental tree. It has fairly narrow, leathery, dark green leaves, and a rounded crown. The species grows well in limestone soils, so it is at home in southern Florida. However, the lack of deep soil here works as a governor on the ultimate height of the tree. While it matures to over 100 ft. in native areas, it is more likely to top out around 40 ft. in our region. As B. alicastrum ages, it develops an attractive buttressed base. It is known for its strong root system, a boon in hurricane-prone places.
The fruit of the ramón is also fairly ornamental. When ripe, its skin turns orange. Ripening to between a half inch and one inch in diameter, the fruit has a smell and taste reminiscent of citrus. Underneath the thin fruit is a large seed which adds to the versatility of the plant. The nuts can be eaten raw, roasted or boiled. When boiled and then ground into powder, they give rise to a tasty coffee. There is some disagreement over whether the Maya nut was a major food source for the ancient Mayans, but what is certain is that the seeds have food value for modern consumers. They are also said to possess qualities beneficial to human health. They are high in antioxidants and are a source of fiber, protein, potassium, iron, folic acid, calcium, zinc and B vitamins.
Because of the ramón’s great drought tolerance, homeowners can plant it in the driest reaches of their property. Once established, the tree does not need supplemental irrigation. B. alicastrum is available – under any name you may wish to use – at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-gal. containers.