Sterculia foetida

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© David Lee, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International Unive
© David Lee, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International Unive

Local names:
Bengali (jangli badam), Burmese (letpan-shaw), English (stinky sterculia,bastard poon tree,hazel sterculia,java olive,wild almond tree), Hindi (virhoi,asakshara,badam janjal,sembadam,goldaru,janglibadam), Indonesian (kalupat,kabu-kabu,kepoh), Javanese (k

Sterculia foetida is a large, straight, deciduous tree growing to 40 m in height and 3 m in girth, with the branches arranged in whorls and spreading horizontally. The bark is smooth and grey.

Leaves crowded at the ends of branchlets, digitate, with 7-9 leaflets; leaflets elliptical or elliptic-lanceolate, acuminate, 10-17 cm long, shortly petioluled, with unpleasant smell; petiole 12.5-23 cm long. 

Flowers in many panicles, subterminal, 10-15 cm long; rather large, green or dull purple; unisexual, with male and female flowers on separate trees; calyx dull, orange coloured, deeply 5-partite; lobes 1-1.3 cm long. Follicles scarlet, 7.6-9 x 5 cm, very stout, ultimately woody; seeds 10-15, slate-coloured, ellipsoid, oblong, 1.5-1.8 cm with rudimentary yellow aril.

The generic name is based on the Latin word ‘stercus’, meaning ‘manure’, which refers to the smell of the flowers and leaves of some species. The malodorous nature of the tree is emphasized in the species name, ‘foetida’, meaning ‘stinking’.


Originally from East Africa to north Australia, S. foetida grows freely in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Native range
Australia, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Yemen, Republic of, Zanzibar

Tree management

The rate of growth is fairly rapid in early stages but soon slows down. S. foetida demands light and needs a lot of space for proper development.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; there are no problems with long term storage. There are about 635 seeds/kg.

Originally from East Africa to north Australia, S. foetida grows freely in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

S. foetida is easily raised from seed, the seedling growing rapidly and forming long taproots. They can be planted out during the 1st rains without much difficulty. However, seedlings will not stand cold, for example in northern India.

  The seeds have a pleasant taste and are sometimes eaten. Edible oils are obtainable from the seed.

S. foetida leaves contain up to 2.66% calcium and are also a good source of protein and phosphorus, meeting nutritional requirements of ruminants. The kernel meal contains about 31% crude protein.

Fibre:  Cord is made from the bark fibre.

Timber:  The timber is greyish-white and soft but is harder than most other species of the genus. It weighs 449 kg/m³, is easy to saw and work, and finishes fairly well. It is very perishable when exposed to the weather or is in contact with the ground, although it is fairly durable for interior work. Used locally for doors of huts, dugout canoes, boat planking, guitars and carved toys.

Lipids:  An unusual feature of the seed is that oil is present in the testa as well as the kernel. The total oil content is about 34%.

Medicine:  Leaves and bark have considerable medicinal value; in Ghana, seeds are taken as a purgative. Oil from the seed is extracted on a local scale to be used in medicine.

Gum or resin:  A gum that resembles ‘gum tragacanth’, is obtained from the trunk and branches and is used for bookbinding and similar purposes.