Small Cardamom or True Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a member of the Ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The seeds from the fruit capsules, which are harvested before they are fully ripe, constitute the spice known as cardamom. The Cardamom plant grows 2 to 5.5 m in height. It grows wild in the monsoon forests of South India and Sri Lanka. It is cultivated extensively in these countries, as well as in Guatemala and elsewhere.
Use of cardamom fruits for medicinal and culinary purposes dates back at least to the second century BCE. Cardamom is used in rice, vegetable, and meat dishes. In Arab countries and India, cardamom is often used to flavor coffee and tea. In Scandinavia, as well as in Germany and Russia, it is used to flavor cakes, pastries, and sausages. It is popular in Indian and South Asian cooking and used to make spice blends, such as curries and garam masala. The essential oil is used as a food flavoring, in perfumery, and for flavoring liqueurs. Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world, after saffron and vanilla. It still grows in scattered wild populations in the southern Indian forests of the Western Ghats. Because of the sensitivity of Cardamom to wind, drought, and water-logging, optimum yield is obtained on warm (10 to 35 C) and humid (with >1500 mm of well-distributed rainfall) mountain slopes at 600 to 1500 m elevation under a canopy of evergreen trees. Cardamom has been commercially cultivated in the Western Ghats for 150 years and India has had a virtual trade monopoly until recently. Facilitating trade in cardamom and black pepper was the primary motivation for establishing the sea route from Europe to the Far East. Today, the largest producers of true cardamom are Guatemala and India, but smaller producers include Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Laos, and Vietnam. Cheaper true cardamom substitutes (Amomum spp. and Aframomum spp.) are grown and used in some Asian countries. India and Saudi Arabia consume more than half of the world's total cardamom production.
Kuriakose et al. (2009) compared wild and cultivated populations of Cardamom in southern India. They found that the number of branches, number of inflorescences, total number of flowers per clump, number of flowers that open each day, duration of flowering, length of the flower, and amount of nectar per flower were significantly greater in cultivated Cardamom. The primary pollinators of wild Cardamom were solitary bees, Megachile sp. and two species of Amegilla. Cultivated Cardamom, however, was pollinated mainly by the social bees Apis dorsata, A. cerana and Trigona iridipennis (and, to a lesser extent, the bee Xylocopa verticalis and two birds, the Purple Sunbird [Cinnyris asiaticus] and Little Spiderhunter [Arachnothera longirostra]). Although plant domestication often results in a transition from self-incompatibility to self-compatibility, both wild and cultivated Cardamom plants were self-compatible and there was no evidence of reproductive barriers between wild and cultivated plants, although they are geographically isolated. Kuriakose et al. suggested that the observed shift in pollinators with domestication may be due to the availability of a large number of flowers for prolonged periods in cultivated Cardamom that can attract and sustain social bees rather than due to co-evolution of the flowers and pollinators.
The cultivation of Cardamom as an understory crop using current growing practices radically changes the forest ecosystem in ways that persist for many years even after Cardamom cultivation is abandoned, presenting significant conservation concerns and challenges, as has been seen in India, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, and Tanzania. (Reyes et al. 2006; Dhakal et al. 2012)
(Vaughan and Geissler 1997; Reyes et al. 2006; Dhakal et al. 2012)
- Allesh, S.P. and K.R. Shivanna. 2007. Pollination ecology of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) in the Western Ghats, India. Journal of Tropical Ecology 23: 493-496.
- Dhakal, B., M.A. Pinard, I.A.U.N. Gunatilleke, C.V.S. Gunatilleke, H.M.S.P.M. Weerasinghe, A.L.S. Dharmaparakrama, and D.F.R.P. Burslem. 2012. Impacts of cardamom cultivation on montane forest ecosystems in Sri Lanka. Forest Ecology and Management 274: 151-160.
- Kuriakose, G., P.A. Sinu, and K.R. Shivanna. 2009. Domestication of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) in Western Ghats, India: divergence in productive traits and a shift in major pollinators. Annals of Botany 103: 727–733.
- Reyes, T., O. Luukkanen, and R. Quiroz. 2006. Small Cardamom: Precious for People, Harmful for Mountain Forests: Possibilities for Sustainable Cultivation in the East Usambaras, Tanzania. Mountain Research and Development 26(2): 131-137.
- Vaughan, J.G. and C.A. Geissler. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (revised and updated edition). Oxford University Press, New York.
Indo-Malesia and China
State - Kerala, District/s: Palakkad, Idukki, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Malappuram, Kannur, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Wayanad"
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Colombia (South America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Molina Rosito, A. 1975. Enumeración de las plantas de Honduras. Ceiba 19(1): 1–118. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/866
- Idárraga-Piedrahita, A., R. D. C. Ortiz, R. Callejas Posada & M. Merello. 2011. Flora de Antioquia. Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares, vol. 2. Listado de las Plantas Vasculares del Departamento de Antioquia. Pp. 1-939. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100008595
Life History and Behavior
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Elettaria, common names green cardamom, true cardamom, and Ceylon cardamom (E. repens), is a genus of one or two species of cardamoms, native to southeastern Asia from India south to Sri Lanka and east to Malaysia and western Indonesia, where it grows in tropical rainforests.
It is a pungent aromatic herbaceous perennial plant growing to 2–4 m in height. The leaves are alternate in two ranks, linear-lanceolate, 40–60 cm long, with a long pointed tip. The flowers are white to lilac or pale violet, produced in a loose spike 30–60 cm long. The fruit is a three-sided yellow-green pod 1–2 cm long, containing several black seeds.
The green seed pods of the plant are dried and the seeds inside the pod are used in Indian and other Asian cuisines, either whole or in a ground form. It is the most widely cultivated species of cardamom; for other types and uses, see cardamom.
Ground cardamom is an ingredient in many Indian curries and is a primary contributor to the flavour of masala chai. In Iran, cardamom is used to flavour coffee and tea. In Turkey, it is used to flavour the black Turkish tea, kakakule in Turkish.
As well as in its native range, it is also grown in Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, and Central America. In India, the states of Sikkim and Kerala are the main producers of cardamom; they rank highest both in cultivated area and in production. It was first imported into Europe around 1300 BC.
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