A Brief Overview

This is a brief overview of Maya Nut ecology and reproductive ecology. More information can be found in our library. Maya Nut’s scientific name is Brosimum alicastrum. It is one of 13 species in the genus Brosimum, in the fig family (Moraceae). It is naturally distributed in tropical dry and tropical humid forests from Mexico to Brazil at altitudes between 0 to 1,500 meters above sea level. Maya Nut is more commonly found in forests, secondary or old growth, that have had a history of disturbance at some point in the last 200-300 years. Despite its preference for shade during establishment under natural conditions, we have had great success establishing Maya Nut seedlings in full sun and recommend doing so when appropriate for your site, because planting in full sun and controlling competition from weeds can result in earlier fruiting (at 4 years). Maya Nut has an enormous range, from Northern Mexico (Sonora State) to northern Brazil and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad, Cuba, and Jamaica. It tolerates a wide range of soil types, rainfall regimes, and topography. It seems to prefer limestone, lateritic and volcanic soils and will thrive on very rocky, thin, dry, and marginal soils where other species won’t grow. Morphologically it is also extremely variable, and trees can have fluted or buttressed trunks, smooth or flaking bark, grey, red, or white bark, spreading or hanging branches, red, green, yellow, or orange fruits, green, purple, or black seeds, and be monoecious, dioecious or hermaphroditic. Maya Nut is often mistakenly said to prefer steep hillsides, ravines, and riparian areas. This is only because humans have destroyed Maya Nut forests on flat land to make room for crops. Today throughout its range the only Maya Nut forests remaining (outside protected areas) are along creeks and rivers, in ravines, and in the steepest and remotest terrain. Historically Maya Nut forests were commonly found on flat sites far from rivers and creeks.

Reproductive Ecology

The reproductive strategy of Maya Nut is rare among tree species. 

Maya Nut trees can be monoecious (having male and female flowers on the same tree), dioecious (having separate male and female trees), or hermaphroditic (changing sex from female to male as they age). In hermaphroditic populations the male trees are enormous, emerging above the forest canopy. This strategy permits them to cast their pollen farther to reach more female trees. Maya Nut is wind-pollinated (anemophilous), though it is common to see a lot of bees around male trees during flowering, presumably because Maya Nut pollen is an important source of food for bees.

Male Brosimum alicastrum flower. Erika Vohman photo
Male Brosimum alicastrum flower. Erika Vohman photo
Female Brosimum flower showing stigma. Alex Monro photo

It is important to understand which reproductive strategy the trees in your area use so that you can accurately estimate the production potential of your forest. Additionally, the reproductive strategy of any given population of Maya Nut trees is important when reforesting a site because if you reforest an isolated area (or an island) with seed from hermaphroditic trees, you will be waiting more than 50 years for those trees to start transitioning to male and producing pollen for your female trees! This would be fine if you are managing your plantation for fodder, but if you want seed, you need to know your source population’s reproductive strategy and source your seed accordingly, but always within the recommended Seed Transfer Zones.

Phenology (fruiting) and Reproductive Strategy information is available here: Phenology of Brosimum alicastrum

Maya Nut fruits can take up to 2 months to mature. To follow the phenology of your trees, you should start to look for male flowers on the ground (they look like tiny pale yellow pom-poms. Once you start to see male flowers on the ground, you know that within a few months, you should start to see ripening fruits in the trees.

Maya Nut Fruits

Maya Nut produces a fleshy sweet fruit which contains a single large (1cm diameter) seed. Fruits can be yellow, green, orange or red. The fruit is the preferred food for frugivorous bats and many species of birds and arboreal mammals. Fresh seeds have a high moisture content (57%) and release a milky latex when cut. The seeds are recalcitrant, meaning that they have no dormancy mechanism and must germinate within a certain period of time or the embryo will die.  To protect the embryo from dehydration while the seed is germinating, the seed has evolved an incredible resistance to desiccation.  This is what helps the seeds survive extreme drought and still germinate and establish successfully. It is also what creates such problems for Maya Nut producers, who have to work for up to 20 days to sun-dry the seeds for processing or storage.

Maya Nut tree populations can exhibit big fluctuations in fruiting behavior. The trees will produce huge crops of seed (up to 700lb of seed per tree) in one or a few subsequent years, and then produce very little or no seed for up to 3 subsequent years. This is probably an adaptation to predation, as Maya Nut seeds are extremely appetizing to a wide variety of avian and mammalian predators. In a mass-fruiting population, trees produce hundreds of pounds of seeds in a short time in an effort to satiate the predators while still ensuring plenty of seeds survive predation.  This is an interesting phenomenon in Maya Nut forests and has important implications for birds and wildlife, which must migrate long distances during low production years to find food. This highlights the importance of creating biological corridors to connect Maya Nut forests in areas important to wildlife. Maya Nut Institute is committed to focusing reforestation efforts in areas of high biological importance and areas where forest connectivity is an issue.

The variation in fruiting also has implications for Maya Nut producers who must plan for the low production years to prevent breaks in the supply chain.  Maya Nut Institute is working to address this issue by integrating new producer groups in new sites to our supply chain to ensure consistency of supplies.

Chart showing months of fruit production

Erika Vohman, 2014

Maya Nut is known by more than 75 indigenous names, including:

  • Mexico: Huje, Capomo, Mojo, Mojote, Ramon, Ax, Ojite, Kukxapu
  • El Salvador: Ojushte
  • Nicaragua: Ojoche, Pisba-waihka
  • Costa Rica: Ojoche
  • Panama: Berba
  • Peru: Manchinga, Serpanchine, Capoma, Marometiqui, Urpay, Congona
  • Guatemala: Ujuxte, Ax, Masica, Ramon
  • Haiti: Chokogou
  • Trinidad: Moussara
  • Colombia: Guaimaro, Charo, Sande, Manta, Mondongo, Pasita
  • Venezuela: Charo Amarillo, Barimiso, Guaimaro, Sande
  • Honduras: Masica, Ojoche, Pisba-waihka
  • Brazil: Taju, Muiratinga, Murure
  • Jamaica: Breadnut
  • Cuba: Ramon Blanco
  • Ecuador: Sande, Tillo
  • Bolivia: Sande