Terminalia catappa

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Myrobalanus catappa;   Terminalia badamia;  Terminalia mauritiana; Terminalia moluccana; Terminalia myrobalana


Combretaceae (combretum)   According to the World Agroforestry Centre, the tree is native to Australia, Cambodia, India, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Common names:

Indian almond, Sea Almond, Beach Almond, Story Tree, Tropical Almond, Wild Almond

I grew up in Bowen, a small town on the Whitsunday coast. Indian Almonds or Sea Almonds as we called them, grew along the beaches, in the parks and in our yards. I have eaten the raw nuts since I was eight years old and for years thought they were the same nuts found commercially packaged at the supermarket as they look and taste the same. The fruits are almond-shaped and green turning brown to purple when ripe. The fruit surrounding the kernel is (apparently) also edible but I haven’t tried it, nor would I like to. About 18 years ago I found myself in Kuranda (north Queensland) without access to food. My friend (from Adelaide) and I had caught the train so were without transport. It was a public holiday and the shops were closed. We thought we were destined for starvation until we noticed an Indian Almond tree towering over the other trees in the rainforest, some distance from the road.  We made our way through the bush and found hundreds of nuts on the ground near the base of the tree. We used a large rock to remove the nuts from the husks (fruit) and we lived on those nuts (and water) for the next two days. The tree has since been a favourite of mine. My mother has (8) 32 year old Indian Almond Trees growing in her yard. When she first moved into the house they were the only plant that survived the beach conditions. They provided mulch which allowed other plants to survive. She now grows ferns, begonias and a magnolia underneath them. She had a sewerage line put in two years ago. The pipe was to pass one trunk no more than 4ft away. The workers told her they did not come across one root. She believes the trees have a very deep tap root and says they are very stable in a cyclone. About 7-8 years ago I asked her for three seedlings. She didn’t think they would survive well at my place in Brisbane as they normally grow in sand and I have shale.

Growing conditions

“The species grows in greatest concentration on sands and loamy sands”. They are “also found on silts, loam, and clays. Soil pH is usually neutral to moderately alkaline and rich in bases. However it will also grow in strongly acid soils. Good drainage is required on clay soils” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. I have seen them growing beside running creeks with their roots in the water. Most of the literature states that it does best in full sun, moist, well drained soil and that it is salt and drought tolerant.  It is not however frost tolerant. The trees biophysical limits are “Altitude: 0-800 m, Mean annual temperature: 15-35 deg. C, Mean annual rainfall: 750-3 000 mm” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. Two of the three trees I planted here in Brisbane survive to this day. They are known to be fast growers (in excess of 1 metre pa) however mine did not appear to grow until six years after being planted out.  Last year they trebled in size. The largest is now about two metres high, a far cry from the 15 – 30 metres they can grow to in ideal conditions. The good news is I have seen specimens that have been kept in pots for years looking beautiful and healthy. Recently my mother visited me and she brought with her eight seedlings and seven seeds. I mentioned to Sheryl that I planned to donate six of seedlings to the club and as a result she asked me to write this article.


Food: the kernel is eaten raw (apparently unlike commercial almonds) or roasted and used to “extractable edible oil used for cooking” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. Flavonoids present are “quercetin and kamferol.” [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]

Fodder: “The foliage is used as a feed for silkworms and other animal feeds” [www.worldagroforestry.org] including ornamental fish food [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]

Timber: “The tree provides a red, good-quality, elastic, cross-grained timber that seasons well and works easily.” “It is strong and pliable and is used for the construction of buildings, boats, bridges,floors, boxes, crates, planks, carts, wheelbarrows, barrels and water troughs” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Erosion control: “The tree’s vast root system binds together both sands and poor soils” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Soil improver: “A good provider of mulch for the protection of soil and young crops.” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Gum or resin: “The trunk is a source of gum” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Tannin: “Bark, leaves, roots and fruit are all important sources of tannin with the astringent bark containing 9-23% tannin. The outer shell is also rich in tannin.” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. “The tannins contained in the leaf are  s. a. punicalin, punicalagin and tercatein” [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html].

Dyes: “The trunk is a source of yellow and black dye; it is used in leather preparation and as a base for inks; sometimes the roots and fruits are used for the same purposes” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Medicinal: I don’t recommend you treat yourself with the tree products for the following disorders or afflictions, rather I feel it is better for you to see your doctor.

a) Liver related diseases: “In Taiwan the fallen leaves of [the] tropical almond are used as a herbal drug in the treatment of liver related diseases” [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine [An International Journal of Comparative Medicine East and West], Vol. 25, No. 2 (1997) 153-161 describes experiments carried out in relation to the trees efficacy in treating liver problems in rats. “The results apparently indicated that T. catappa possesses

good antihepatotoxic activity and superoxide radical scavenger activity” [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]

The following medicinal uses have been taken from the following sites: [www.worldagroforestry.org] [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]

b) Astringent: the leaves and fruit

c) Dysentery: Suriname’s traditional medicine used against dysentery and diarrhoea is a tea from the leaves.

d) Vermifuge: red leaves

e) Leprosy: young leaves, cooked with oil from the kernel

f) Bilious fever, diarrhoea, thrush, and as a remedy for sores and abscesses: bark and roots

g) Headaches: young leaves

h) Colic: young leaves

i) Chemo-prevention of cancer: (this in my mind is always suspect as it may indicate it is cytotoxic. Cancer cells and hair follicle cells etc can be more readily killed by poisons because being fast growing they have high metabolism and therefore take in more toxin than normal cells).

j) Anticlastogenic effect: (i.e. reduces chromosome breakage)


Some sources describe the tree as “pagoda-like” in that it has tiers of several horizontal branches. The bark is grey-brown. The trunk can be up to 1.5 m in diameter. The trees I have seen in rainforests are often buttressed at the base however those I’ve seen growing on the beaches don’t seem to be. I could be wrong about this though. The leaves are obovate, approximately 30 cm long and turn hot pink- red to orange and yellow before falling. The leaves can fall off a number of times in a year. I’ve noticed mine defoliate during dry spells. Regeneration occurs after being watered. The male and female flowers are inconspicuous, found on the same tree and are greenish white in colour.

Propagation Methods

“The ratio of male to hermaphroditic (female) florets is 16:1.” “Various insects (Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera) pollinate the flowers” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. “Pollination is not [however] required” [www.tropilab.com/terminalia-cat.html]. The fruit are eaten and the seeds distributed by fruit bats and birds. The seeds float and can be carried considerable distances on the oceans and still remain viable” [www.worldagroforestry.org]. “Seeds for planting are generally gathered beneath mature trees. A suggested pre-treatment is soaking seed in cold water for 24 hours. Germination of the seeds is epigeous. About 70% of ripe seed germinate in about 20 days.”

“Seeds should be set 25 x 25 cm apart in nursery beds. Transplanting to the field is done during the next rainy season.” [www.worldagroforestry.org].

Pests and diseases

Terminalia catappa is said to be susceptible to defoliating insects, especially when young. Grasshoppers and beetles are apparently especially troublesome in Malaysia. Thrips and the West Indian termite Cryptotermes brevis are known problems and the thermophilic fungus Paecilomyces varioti is said to cause die-back of T. catappa seedlings. [www.worldagroforestry.org/Sites/TreeDBS/Botanic] My Terminalias have not had any of the above mentioned problems. Recently, when my other plants were being eaten to bits, my Terminalias remained untouched.

Tree management

Before planting, fertilizer should be applied to poor soils. Although the seedlings develop slowly at first, growth soon accelerates. Weeding is necessary for a few months after planting, but there is soon sufficient cover to shade out competition. It will coppice as a seedling or sapling, but the species is not a strong sprouter. The species is known to form natural root grafts and has natural pruning characteristics. [www.worldagroforestry.org/Sites/TreeDBS/Botanic]

Related readings

Available on request as there are too many to mention or refer to the www.

“Bush Tucker Field Guide” by Les Hidden