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Hymenaea courbaril L.

Coubaril, Kerosene tree, West Indian locust

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Important timber tree, used for furniture, (sometimes compared with mahogany), carpentry, general construction, wheels and cogs, dugouts, shipbuilding, crossties, posts, looms, cartwheels, etc. The wood should be attractive for cabinet work, interior trim, plywood, turnery, and veneer. Indians made canoes from the smooth, hard, thick bark by stripping in one piece the bark of a large tree, sewing the ends together, waterproofing the seams with gum or resin, and inserting wooden crosspieces. The roots and trunk yield a pale yellow or reddish resinlike gum known commercially as South American copal. The gum exudes and forms hard lumps which become buried in the soil at the base of a tree. Sometimes as much as a barrel of gum has been found around the roots of a large tree or at the site of a former tree. The gum is used mainly in varnish but also for incense and local medicines (Little and Wadsworth, 1964). The copal is also used for patent leather and in stains for tin ware (Uphof, 1968).

Folk Medicine

Reported to be anodyne, antiseptic, astringent, expectorant, laxative, pectoral, purgative, sedative, stomachic, stimulant, tonic, and vermifuge, coubaril is a folk remedy for arthritis, asthma, beriberi, blenorrhagia, bronchitis, bruises, catarrh, cystitis, diarrhea, dyspepsia, emphysema, fractures., headache, laryngitis, lungs, malaria, nephritis, rheumatism, sore, spasms, stomatitis, ulcers, and venereal disease (Duke and Wain, 1981). According to Ayensu (1981), the bark infusion is used as a depurative stomachic in exanthema; smoke from rosin used for headaches and rheumatism.


Per 100 g, the dry fruit pulp is reported to contain 309 calories, 14.6 g H2O, 5.9 g protein, 2.2 g fat, 75.3 g total carbohydrate, 13.4 g fiber, 2.0 g ash, 28 mg Ca, 143 mg P, 3.2 mg Fe, trace of b-carotene equivalent, 0.23 mg thiamine, 0.14 mg riboflavin, 4.1 mg niacin, and 11 mg ascorbic acid. Langenheim (1981) compares the sesquiterpenes of Hymenaea the tongue-in-cheek "kerosene tree" and Copaifera, Calvin's "diesel tree".

Sesquiterpene hydrocarbons Hymenaea Copaifera
Allo-arodendrene -- wood
a-Bergamotene -- wood
b-Bisabolene wood wood
D-Cadinene leaf-pod-stem cortex wood, leaf
g-Cadinene leaf-stem cortex leaf
Calamenene -- wood
Calarene pod --
Caryophyllene leaf, pod-stem cortex wood, leaf
a-Copaene leaf-stem cortex wood, leaf
b-Copaene leaf-stem cortex wood*, leaf*
a-Cubebene leaf-stem cortex wood, leaf*
b-Cubebene -- wood
Curcumene -- wood
Cyclosativene pod --
Cyperene leaf wood, leaf
b-, D- and g-Elemene -- wood
b-Farnesene -- wood
a-Himachalene pod --
b-Humulene leaf-stem cortex leaf*
a-Muurolene pod --
b-Muurolene -- wood
g-Muurolene leaf-stem cortex wood, leaf*
a-Seliene leaf-stem cortex wood, leaf*
b-Seliene leaf-stem cortex wood, leaf*
Selina-4(14), 7(1l)-diene pod --
Selina-4(14), 7-diene pod --
*probably present

Wood contains the diterpene copalic acid. The wood and copal may cause dermatitis.


Tree to 20 (30) m tall and 50 (200) cm DBH; outer bark brown, closely lenticellate, bitter tasting; wood reddish-brown, hard. Leaves bifoliolate; petioles 1–2 cm long; leaflets narrowly oblong to elliptic-lanceolate, asymmetri- cal, short-acuminate, unequally rounded at base, 4–10 cm long, 2–5 cm wide, coriaceous, punctate, the midrib conspicuous below. Inflorscences terminal, sub-corymbose, to ca 8 (12) cm long, the branches puberulent, jointed and articulate;flowers white or purplish, soon falling, probably opening at night; bracts caducous; pedicels thick, ca 7 mm long; calyx tube ca 8 mm long, 4-lobed, the lobes ovate to oblong, expanding to ca 15 mm long, coriaceous, densely tomentose inside, easily caducous; petals 5, white, sometimes tinged with purple, rounded, 1.5–2 cm long, ca 9 mm wide, clawed below, the claw ca 1.5 mm long; stamens 10, alternately short and long, the long ones to 2 cm long; style attached laterally at apex of ovary, directed somewhat to one side of the flower; stigma held above the lower anthers and at some distance from the divergent longer set. Legumes oblong, flattened, to 17 cm long and 6.5 cm wide, turgid, hard, reddish-brown; seeds (2) 4–6, embedded in sticky pulp (Croat, 1978).


Reported from the South American (Amazonian) Center of Diversity, the courbaril, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate shade and slope (Duke, 1978). (2n = 24)


Throughout West Indies from Cuba and Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago. Also from central Mexico to Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and French Guiana. Rarely planted in southern Florida (Little and Wadsworth, 1964).


Ranging from Tropical Dry to Wet through Subtropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones (Duke, 1978). Coubaril is estimated to tolerate annual precipitation of 6–42 dm, annual temperature of 22 to 28°C, and pH of 5.5–7.5. Rare in the young forest. Flowers during the dry season and the early rainy season (December to May) in Panama. The fruits mature chiefly during the rainy season, especially late in the rainy season (Croat, 1978).


Shade is required at first if the tree is to produce a straight trunk.


No data available.

Yields and Economics

Trees underplanted in a forest near Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico attained heights ranging up to 6.5 m in 13 years. Plantings in the open, for shade and ornamental purposes, pruduce attractive and spreading trees more rapidly.


I presume the wood can be used as firewood (density 750–1050 kg/m3) the pods for alcohol generation, but there is some question as to whether this is an important nitrogen-fixing tree. Isolated from nodules on a large Hawaian specimen reacted like a typical cowpea rhizobium. Large rough-surfaced nodules were observed on 10 of 15 Philippine specimens. In Trinidad, nodulated specimens were not found (Allen and Allen, 1981). I am surprised this has not yet been labelled the "kerosene tree." According to Pereira (1929), this species, closely related to the "diesel tree" Copaifera, contains a medicinal oil (the resin) which burns like kerosene. I doubt that it would produce significantly more or less resin than the Copaifera, but would not write either of them off without an examination of the facts.

Biotic Factors

Flowers are believed to be bat pollinated. Browne (1968) lists: Isoptera. Coptotermes curvignathus.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw