Gustavia superba – A tropical beauty

I was recently introduced to a tree called Gustavia superba by a colleague. The specimen that he showed me was a relatively young specimen and was in flower. The blossoms each measures about 10 cm across. Petals are pinkish in colour and in the center of each flower, there is a dense ring pink coloured stamens that are each tipped in gold.

The flowers of this tree reminded me of the tropical equivalent of peonies because I received a Chinese New Year greeting card before which featured the flowers of this tree. Although Gustavia superba is well-adapted to the climate of Singapore, it does not flower readily. This tree, which belongs to a rather obscure family of plants, Lecythidaceae, will do best in a location with well-draining soil and exposed to full sunlight. One can see several mature trees in Malcolm Road Park in Singapore.

Commonly called embrillo, sachamango and the heaven lotus, Gustavia superba is native to tropical lowlands from Ecuador to Panama and Venezuela. It is a medium-sized tree that can attain a height of 5 to 10 m and has a relatively straight trunk. It usually adopts an unbranched growth habit according to various sources and features a cluster of leaves at the growing tip which makes the tree look like a palm. In larger and more mature trees, a few large branches can sometimes be seen and each will bear a cluster of leaves at the end. The leaves of this tree are lanceolate in shape and have toothed margins. When they first appear, they take on an attractive, coppery colour before they turn green when they approach maturity.

After the flowers fade, fruits that are round or pear-shaped with a hard rind form. Take a look at this blog post to see how the fruits look like. From the same blog, the fruits were reportedly said to be edible and inside contained one to four large smooth seeds surrounded by a yellowish orange pulp that is rich in vitamins A, B, and C. In its native habitat, it is said that agoutis (rodent species that inhabit areas of Central America, the West Indies and northern South America) forage for the fallen ripe fruits where they consume the seeds but may also bury some for later use. Those that were buried but forgotten will then have a chance to grow into new plants. As such, these rodents also help to disperse the seeds of this beautiful tree.

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4 responses to “Gustavia superba – A tropical beauty

  1. Hi Wilson,
    I wonder if you can help. I have a tiny garden, and am wondering what sort of a tree I can plant in it. Do you know of any species with a fairly straight trunk and a spreading crown that doesn’t grow too tall. Also, do you know where I can get dwarf varieties of fruit trees? Many thanks!!

    BTW, I read all your responses to planting queries in the ST :)

    Best,
    Pearlie

  2. G. superba is a close relative of Brazil Nut and Sapucaia nut. It can be grown from large cuttings.

  3. hi i was wondering will the heaven lotus survive in Arkansas, north america because of the winters. i would like to hear from someone.

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