The monkeypod tree is native to Central and South America -- it's widespread from Mexico down through Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Because the tree drops seeds, birds and rodents naturally disseminate them. Today, it's found throughout the tropics, as well as in some parts of the United States and its possessions. Look for monkeypod trees in Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As you'll see, the monkeypod tree is quite adaptable and weather-tolerant.
The monkeypod tree accepts a wide variety of climates, but its natural preference is a tropical, seasonally dry one. The tree can survive a dry period of several months, but will also grow in areas with regular rainfall. Its preferred temperature ranges from 68 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 38 degrees Celsius), and the coldest temperature it will tolerate is about 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). And it can't tolerate frost or saltwater spray, either [source: Staples and Elevitch].
A monkeypod tree will grow moderately fast -- 2.5 to 5 feet (.7 to 1.5 meters) per year. How does that compare with other trees with which you might be familiar? A sugar maple tree grows at a rate of 1 to 2 feet (.3 to .6 meters) per year, and a white pine tree grows about 2 feet (.6 meters) or more per year [source: Arbor Day Foundation].
The leaves on a monkeypod tree are diamond-shaped and green. The tree is semi-deciduous, meaning the leaves will fall off, but only for a short time. This usually occurs during a dry season and the tree re-foliates once there is adequate moisture. Depending on the climate, some monkeypod trees re-foliate so quickly that the tree appears to keep its leaves year-round.
Monkeypod trees flower in a seasonal manner. Flowering usually starts at the end of the dry season, when leaves and any previous seed pods drop. New foliage appears and flowering begins at the same time. Flowering tends to peak in the spring, although a tree may have flowers in almost any month. In its native Central and South America, you'll see the flowering between January and May, while in areas like Hawaii flowering occurs in April and May. In Thailand, the monkeypod tree has two flowering seasons -- February to May and September to November [source: Staples and Elevitch].
The monkeypod flowers resemble powder puffs -- around two dozen tiny pink flowers gathered on a pinkish head. The flower heads are around 2 to 2.5 inches (5 to 6 centimeters) across, with long red and white stamens. A stamen is the pollen-producing part of a flower. The center of each flower head produces nectar to attract pollinators.
After pollination, the monkeypod tree forms its fruit -- the seed pods we mentioned earlier. Seed pods start out green and mature into a brownish-black color. They are ridged and lumpy and you can easily see the shape of the seeds inside the pods. Pods grow between 4 and 8 inches (10 and 20 centimeters) long, and are sometimes straight and sometimes curly on the ends. Crack open a pod to find the seeds and a sticky, sweet pulp. You can typically find 15 to 20 seeds per pod. Both the pulp and the seeds are edible, and possess a licorice-like flavor [source: Flores].
A monkeypod tree will live, on average, for about 80 to 100 years [source: Staples and Elevitch].
Continue reading to find out what the monkeypod tree provides us -- other than natural beauty, of course.