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.
Form: A tree with a spreading habit.
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,
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. Some trees have bean pod pulp with no flavor.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-3.
Storage after harvest: After pod splitting, the pulp must be
consumed immediately or refrigerated and processed within 2 days.
Leaves: Green, oval, in groups of four leaflets, with thorns at their
base. Dense shade.
Stems: The trunk and branches are thorny, 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: Do not use a fertilizer containing nitrogen because
the roots of this plant are nitrogen-fixing. A citrus micronutrient solution might be used to
improve the flavor of the seed pod pulp.
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 in the 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), causing it to turn very thorny and becoming 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.
Uses: Light shade, edible bean pod filling and beans, barrier hedge.
The bean pods are used as animal feed.
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.
This plant is somewhat thorny and pruning substantially increases the thorniness. Older trees seem to have
It does not tolerate freezes when young.
The botanical name means "sweet monkey earring". Other common, but inaccurate, 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, one as a shadow.
Do you have additional information or a different
experience for this plant that you would like to share?
Email email@example.com. All contributions
are welcome and appreciated.