What is Byrsonima?

Deborah Walker

Byrsonima is a genus of over 100 different species of trees, shrubs, and perennial flowering plants in the Barbados cherry, or Malpighiaceae, family. Plants in this genus are found in subtropical and tropical areas of North and South America and the Caribbean. Two of the best known species are Byrsonima crassifolia, also called the nance tree, and Byrsonima lucida, known as the Long Key locustberry. Both species of Byrsonima will grow in either dry or hot conditions, prefer full sunlight, and sandy, somewhat alkaline soil.

Fruit from a Nance tree may be used to make a rum-like liquor.
Fruit from a Nance tree may be used to make a rum-like liquor.

Also known as the Nance tree or golden spoon, B. crassifolia is native to Central and South America. It is a tall, hardy tree that produces yellow flowers and a thin-skinned, yellow-orange colored edible fruit known as nance. The tree is used to make a variety of products, has been used in traditional medicine, and is used in land management projects.

Byrsonima crassifolia flowers between spring and fall, depending upon the climate in which the tree is located. During flowering, this tall 30-foot (10 m) tree bears tiny clusters of yellow flowers with petals resembling tiny spoons. These flowers turn to small, cherry-sized fruit that grows in clusters. Ripe fruit is yellow or orange, with white, oily flesh. The fruit can be sweet or sour, depending on the particular tree from which it grew.

The Nance tree's fruit may be eaten raw or cooked. It is used to make carbonated beverages, beer-like drinks, and a rum-like liquor known as Crema de Nance. The fruit may also be made into preserves, added to soup or stuffing, or pressed into juice. The skin may be used to dye cotton light brown. Nance tree bark is used to make fiber, in construction, and to tan leather a light yellow color.

The tree's ability to grow in sandy, alkaline soil makes it a good choice for use in land management projects. It is especially useful in areas where the land has gone through a fire. The tree is also suitable for use in over-planted, nutrient-deprived soil to help in restoration.

Byrsonima lucida, or Long Key locustberry, is indigenous to Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and southern Brazil. It flowers year-round, depending on the plant's location. This tree stands 12 to 20 feet tall (3.6 to 7.6 m) tall, and has blooms that are red, white and pink. The flowers become darker as they age. The tree produces small, berry-like fruit that most people find unpalatable.

The tree is listed as a threatened species in Florida. Loss of habitat is largely due to development projects. This is particularly troublesome because the Tehuantepec jackrabbit, the most endangered hare species in the world, lives in and around this tree. In addition, locustberry fruits and leaves are important feeding areas for various butterflies, larvae, and bird species.

Byrsonima lucida grows best in areas that have full sunlight. It prefers well-drained, sandy soil. It grows best in soil that has an acidic to mildly alkaline pH level. Like the Byrsonima crassifolia, it will grow in either wet or dry conditions.

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Discussion Comments


Well, "well drained, sandy soil" as a requirement sort of knocks this tree out of contention for planting, since red clay doesn't exactly match the specs. Oh, well.

I have heard of locustberry, although I can't remember where right now. Maybe I ran across it mentioned in a book.

If I could find a B. lucida tree at a nursery, I still might give it a go for planting, since it has pretty blooms. Anything beats the chestnut trees in the neighbor's yard! I’d like something pretty and unique that would add some color to the yard in the spring.

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