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Growing Guamuchil: Pithecellobium dulce

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Summary

This tree has little to recommend it. It is thorny and unattractive. If the seed pods contain a filling without flavor, it is a waste of space.

Overview

The Pithecellobium genus is a group of 75 plant species, with curled bean pods, belonging to the Legume family. One of the better known species is Pithecellobium dulce, Guamuchil, with edible bean pod pulp. This plant is distantly related to other legume family plants with edible bean pods or filling, such as Carob, Ice Cream Bean, and Tamarind.

Description

Form: A tree with a spreading habit.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Semi-evergreen, with new leaves quickly replacing old ones as they drop, once a year.
Growth rate: Rapid.
Mature Size: 20-30' high with a spreading habit.
Flowers: White to cream, fragrant, frizzy puffballs, 1/2" across.
Bloom: Spring.
Self-fruitful: Yes.
Years before fruiting: 4-8.
Fruit: A curly, knobby bean pod with a thin, brittle shell that splits open and reddens when it is ripe. Some pods split early. The white to red popcorn-like filling, surrounding 5-12 shiny, black beans, has a sweet-tart taste. It is used to make a drink similar to lemonade.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-3.
Storage after harvest: Must be refrigerated immediately after pod splitting. then consumed or processed within 2 days.
Leaves: Green, oval, in groups of four leaflets, with thorns at base.
Stems: Thorny trunk and branches, especially when young, with irregular branching. The bark is initially gray to gray-brown, and over many years becomes rough, furrowed and eventually peeling.
Roots: Nitrogen fixing and aggressive. Injury to the roots results in suckering. After five years, the tree may regrow from its roots in severe freezes.
Wildlife: Attracts honeybees. A caterpillar food plant for some species of butterflies and moths. Birds are attracted to the reddened pods if the pulp is flavorful.
Toxic / Danger: Thorns. Sap and bark can cause severe eye irritation.
Origin: Coastal regions from Mexico through South America.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. May die in freezes when young.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Drought tolerant: Yes, when mature.
Water after becoming established: Weekly to monthly.
Soil: Tolerant of soil types, and moderately saline tolerant.
Fertilize: No. The roots of this plant are nitrogen-fixing.
Planting: First half of spring before high temperatures set in. This tree is best located in an area where it can grow to its natural size without pruning. It should have 12-15' clearance on all sides. A south-west exposure is best to minimize winter freezes.
First Year Care: Protect from freezing first three years. Water every 1-3 days in summer and twice a month in winter.
Prune: It can be pruned as a hedge by cutting close to the ground (coppicing), but it turns very thorny and becomes a livestock barrier.
Litter: Leaves at annual leaf changeover, bean pods.
Propagation: Seed, which germinates quickly. This tree self-seeds in wet conditions. Unless grafted cuttings are used, the quality of the fruit will vary between trees due to the natural genetic variation of the seeds. Some trees have bean pod pulp with no flavor.
Uses: Light shade, edible bean pod filling and beans, barrier hedge. Bean pods are used as animal feed. This tree has an unkempt appearance and is not ornamental.
To make guamuchil syrup, simmer the guamuchil pulp in one cup water plus one cup sugar for a few minutes and then allow to cool. Add to ice water for a refreshing drink. The guamuchil flavor dissolves better in hot water than alcohol, which can be later mixed with the syrup.

Comments

This plant is somewhat thorny and pruning substantially increases the thorniness. Older trees seem to have fewer thorns.
It does not tolerate freezes when young.
The botanical name means "sweet monkey earring". Other common names are Manila Tamarind and Madras Thorn.
Look carefully at the left side of the trunk in the bottom picture and you will see two small thorns. Four others are also visible.


Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
Email info@gardenoracle.com. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.

Pithecellobium dulce flowers

Pithecellobium dulce unripe fruit

Pithecellobium dulce ripe fruit

Pithecellobium dulce leaves

Pithecellobium dulce trunk


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