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How Monkeypod Trees Work


Uses for the Monkeypod Tree
A master wood carver creates a monkeypod wood tiki on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
A master wood carver creates a monkeypod wood tiki on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Jordan Ayan/iStockphoto

­The monkeypod tree isn't only beautiful to look at -- it also "gives back" by providing us with everything from shade to folk remedies and even monkeypod furniture. Let's take a look at some of the popular uses for the monkeypod tree.

Monkeypod trees are valued for their timber -- a durable hardwood. The wood has a straight grain and a coarse texture that makes it easy to carve an­d less likely to dry out and crack. As monkeypod trees tend to have large trunks, they're also a preferred wood for furniture. Because monkeypod trees grow easily and relatively fast, its wood is considered eco-friendly. In other words, trees harvested for timber can be quickly replaced. Hawaiian monkeypod bowls are also very popular among consumers and tourists -- just do a simple Internet search and you'll find hundreds, if not thousands, of hand-carved wooden bowls for sale. Monkeypod wood is also fibrous enough to make paper.

Another reason people plant monkeypod trees is for shade. Monkeypod trees need a lot of space in order to grow a wide, large canopy, so they're mostly unsuitable for home or urban landscapes. However, in their native environment, monkeypod trees are commonly used for shade along streets, in parks and other public areas. They're even planted as a shade tree for crops like coffee, cacao and vanilla.

The monkeypod tree is also useful for enriching its surrounding soil with nitrogen. Its foliage, flowers, and seed pods fall to the ground and decompose into nitrogen-rich matter. Botanists call this sort of tree "nitrogen fixing," as it nourishes and stabilizes the soil [source: Elevitch and Wilkinson].

The seed pods on the tree are also quite useful. Children like to eat the licorice-flavored fruit pulp inside the pods. In fact, in some parts of the Caribbean, the tree is actually known as the licorice tree [source: Staples and Elevitch]. People also make the pulp into a lemonade-like beverage -- similar to tamarind, another popular drink in the tropics. Artisans will often dry out the seeds and use them to make necklaces and other craft items.

­Monkeypod seeds also make a good livestock feed. This has the added bonus of spreading ­the seeds around, as they return to the ground after passing through the digestive system of th­e animal that eats them. Researchers believe this is partly how the monkeypod tree spread to so many different habitats.

There are also various folk remedies associated with monkeypod trees. In Venezuela, people use a root decoction in hot baths to treat stomach cancer. A decoction is where the root is mashed-up and placed in hot, or even boiling, water to release its compounds. Steeping the leaves in water (similar to tea) provides a laxative effect. The alcoholic extract of the monkeypod's leaves also inhibits Mycobacterium tuberculosis. And, some people will chew on the astringent-like seeds to soothe a sore throat [source: National Tropical Botanical Garden].

To find out more about the monkeypod tree, leaf through some of the links on the next page.