Bertholletia excelsa

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Related Links
Emergent tree (55m) in Tapajos forest, Brazil.
© Anthony Simons
© Mori S.A.
Open fruit (southern Peru)
© Wilson H. (Vascular Plant Images)
Open fruits. (Peru, Madre de Dios)
© Gentry A. (MBG)
Bee visiting flower
© Mori S.A.
Immature fruit containing 20-30 nuts.
© Anthony Simons

Local names:
Chinese (pahsi li), English (Brazil nut,para nut,cream nut,butter nut), French (chatáigne du brésil,noix du pará,noix du brésil), German (paranuss,Paranußaum,Brasilnußbaum), Italian (noce del brasilie), Japanese (burajiru nattsu), Portuguese (castahna-do

Bertholletia excelsa is a large tree, 40-60 m tall; trunk very straight for 20 m or more; diameter ranges from 2 to 4 m; bark grey-brown, 1.5 cm thick, resinous, with deep, narrow, longitudinal fissures that are reddish internally; crown 10-20 m in diameter and round or umbrella shaped; seedlings and adult trees develop strong taproots that may penetrate up to 3 m or more in heavy clays.

Leaves simple, alternate, lack stipules and have petioles 2-6 cm long; blade oblong to elliptic, 17-45 cm long, 6.5-15.5 cm wide; apex rounded and acuminate; base rounded; leathery, coppery to bright green; margins wavy; veins prominent, especially on the leaf underside.

Inflorescence terminal or in axillary panicles, 10-20 cm in length, with 10-40 subsessile, bisexual, globose flowers, 2-3 cm in diameter; calyx 15 mm long with subcircular concave lobes, enveloping the flower except for a narrow slit at the apex; 6 oblong, yellow-cream petals curve over a thick receptacle; stamens short and numerous; inferior ovary that contains 4 or more locular ovules with short styles.

Fruit a large, indehiscent, globose, woody capsule (pixidium), 8-15 cm in diameter, weighing 500-1500 g; pericarp 1 cm thick and barklike. Seeds 15-25, 3-4 cm long, angular, with hard, woody coat and thin, adhering testa; tightly packed within the fruit; they have a white kernel and a nutty texture.

The generic name commemorates Claude-Louis Berthollet (1748-1822), a French chemist. The specific epithet alludes to its lofty height.


B. excelsa is found in the warm, wet lowland rainforest but is also common in the drier regions of transitional forests. Trees normally occupy well-drained sites, but some populations occur on seasonally flooded alluvial soils along the Amazon near Alenquer, Pará, in Brazil.

Native range

Tree management

Grafted trees are planted in clay soils at a spacing of 10 x 15 m or 20 x 20 m. Small fires may be set at the base of trees during the dry season to clear away debris so that capsules can be easily collected later; heat or smoke from the fire also stimulates flowering and increases yield. Trees 16 years old produce 30-50 fruits, mature trees usually 200-400, and a yield of 1000 fruits has been reported. Fruits are collected beneath the trees within a few weeks of falling. If nuts are stored and transported under precarious conditions for many weeks before they are dried, they may become infected with aflatoxins.

Storage behaviour is intermediate: 3% germination after 18 months in open storage at room temperature. Viability is maintained better in storage with intact seeds than those with no pericarp and is reduced from 60 to 2% on desiccation from 14.2 to 4.2% mc. The lowest safe moisture content is 12%. There are about 65 seeds/kg.

B. excelsa is found in the warm, wet lowland rainforest but is also common in the drier regions of transitional forests. Trees normally occupy well-drained sites, but some populations occur on seasonally flooded alluvial soils along the Amazon near Alenquer, Pará, in Brazil.

Propagation is mainly by seed, which may take 0.5-3 years to germinate; natural regeneration is poor. Seed shells can be scarified or removed to reduce germination time to as little as 20 days, and light is probably important for further growth. If the conditions are right, some of the seeds buried by rodents may germinate. Trees appear to depend on natural or artificial disturbance to reproduce. For example, they will be found in clearings in the forest created by humans, forest gaps created by tree fall, or sproutings from damaged mother roots. Trees take about 10 years to start reproducing; grafted material may begin to bear nuts within 4 years. Other than using a single clone, several selections are cloned and grafted onto stock to encourage cross-fertilization, which increases yield.

There are some attempts to use the species in poor pasture, initially as a shade tree and eventually as a revegetation material.

  Dry nuts contain 63-69% oil, 14-17% protein and 4% fibre, so they are a good source of calories and protein. Kernels are eaten raw, toasted or used in confectionery, often as a substitute for other nuts or grated coconut.

The oil in the nut is expressed and used as livestock feed.

Dried fruit capsules are useful as fuel; the nut, which has an elevated oil content of 63-69%, burns with a candlelike flame when lit.

Fibre:  The bark has been used in remote regions for fibre production.

Timber: B. excelsa is a source of fine timber, and the durable wood is sought by boat builders. Fruit pericarps are sometimes used to make carvings.

Medicine:  Folk medicine for liver problems is obtained from the bark of the tree.

Soil improver:  A mixture of B. exelsa shells and manure is used in Brazil to fertilize Brachiaria humidicola pasture.

Intercropping:  B. excelsa is an excellent candidate for an overstorey species in mixed cropping systems, and Brazilian farmers are interplanting it with cacao in the vicinity of Tomé Açu, Pará, in eastern Amazonia.