Overview

Brief Summary

The Brazil Nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is the only species in the genus Bertholletia. It is native to South America and is among the largest trees in the Amazonian rainforest, occurring in non-flooded (terra firme) forests of the Amazon Basin and Guiana Shield. Because of the structure of the flowers, pollen is accessible only to larger bees such as Xylocopa species and female euglossines. The flowers are essentially self-sterile. The slow-developing fruit is a large, round woody capsule, 0.5 to 2.5 kg, which contains the seeds (i.e., the "brazil nuts" of commerce). Most brazil nuts in commerce are collected from wild trees, the fallen fruits being split open with an axe to reach the 10 to 25 seeds packed within like the sections of an orange. There is some risk to collectors of injury or even death from being hit on the head by falling fruit. Brazil nuts contain up to 17% protein and 65 to 70% of a monounsaturated (almost 50% aflatoxins that may be produced by certain fungi infecting brazil nuts.

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Distribution

Range Description

Large natural stands still exist in northern Bolivia and the species is locally abundant in Suriname.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
A widely occurring emergent of the Amazonian forest.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Seeds survive extreme falls: Brazil nut tree
 

The seeds of a Brazil nut tree can survive long falls without damage due to the reinforced triple layer pod encasing them.

     
  "To coddle fragile items, we might consider the strategies of seed helmets--nuts. The Brazil nuts in your holiday bowl were once packed in a 3-layer, highly reinforced pod that survived an 80-meter fall from the canopy. On the ground, the pod defies opening from all but its ally, the agouti, a caching rodent with strong, angled teeth." (Biomimicry Guild unpublished report)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
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Functional adaptation

Relationships essential to pollination: Brazil nut tree
 

The Brazil nut tree relies on the orchid bee for pollination, which in turn relies on certain species of orchids for reproduction.

       
  "Efforts intended to create habitats are often unsuccessful. When farmers tried to grow Brazil nuts commercially, they cut down tropical rainforest and planted Brazil nut trees in rows, plantation-style. But these trees depend on orchid bees for pollination, and without the natural orchids of the rainforest, there were not enough orchid bees in the plantations. Hence no nuts were produced." (Forsyth 1992:41)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Bertholletia excelsa

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bertholletia excelsa

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A1acd+2cd

Version
2.3

Year Assessed
1998
  • Needs updating

Assessor/s
Americas Regional Workshop (Conservation & Sustainable Management of Trees, Costa Rica, November 1996)

Reviewer/s

Contributor/s
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Threats

Major Threats
The Brazil nut tree has experienced major declines in its population because of deforestation. One of the greatest concentrations of trees exists in Tocantins valley where various activities, from the construction of the trans-amazon railway to the building of a reservoir, have brought about a shrinking in the gene pool. An area of 200,000 ha in south Pará has been purchased by the government with the aim of settling landless farmers. Trees remaining in the vast cattle ranches of Pará and Acre are neglected and dying. The production of Brazil nuts more than halved between 1970 and 1980, apparently because of deforestation. Almost all Brazil nuts consumed around the world still come from wild trees. Little is known about the impact of seed gathering on regeneration, but it clearly can be detrimental under some regimes where agoutis, the natural disperser of the Brazil nut, are hunted or chased away.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
There are various subpopulations in protected areas and on protected corporate properties. There have been relatively few successes at establishing plantations. The sustainable harvesting of nuts by indigenous people in extractive forest reserves offers the most promising protection for the remaining natural stands.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Seed: In French Guiana, the sweet oil expressed from the seed is applied to burns.

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Wikipedia

Brazil nut

The Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) is a South American tree in the family Lecythidaceae, and also the name of the tree's commercially harvested edible seed.

Order[edit]

The Brazil nut family is in the order Ericales, as are other well-known plants such as blueberries, cranberries, sapote, gutta-percha, tea, gooseberries, phlox and persimmons.

Brazil nut tree[edit]

Tree branch

The Brazil nut tree is the only species in the monotypic genus Bertholletia. It is native to the Guianas, Venezuela, Brazil, eastern Colombia, eastern Peru, and eastern Bolivia. It occurs as scattered trees in large forests on the banks of the Amazon River, Rio Negro, Tapajós, and the Orinoco. The genus is named after the French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet.

The Brazil nut is a large tree, reaching 50 m (160 ft) tall and with a trunk 1 to 2 m (3.3 to 6.6 ft) in diameter, making it among the largest of trees in the Amazon rainforests. It may live for 500 years or more, and according to some authorities often reaches an age of 1,000 years.[1] The stem is straight and commonly without branches for well over half the tree's height, with a large emergent crown of long branches above the surrounding canopy of other trees.

The bark is grayish and smooth. The leaves are dry-season deciduous, alternate, simple, entire or crenate, oblong, 20–35 cm (7.9–13.8 in) long and 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) broad. The flowers are small, greenish-white, in panicles 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) long; each flower has a two-parted, deciduous calyx, six unequal cream-colored petals, and numerous stamens united into a broad, hood-shaped mass.

Hazards[edit]

In Brazil, it is illegal to cut down a Brazil nut tree. As a result, they can be found outside production areas, in the backyards of homes and near roads and streets. The fruit containing nuts is very heavy and rigid, and it poses a serious threat to vehicles and persons passing under the tree. At least one person has died after being hit on the head by a falling fruit.[2] As the Brazil nut is a botanical seed, and unlike botanical nuts, the density of the fruit makes them sink in fresh water, which can cause clogging of waterways in riparian areas.

Reproduction[edit]

A freshly cut Brazil nut fruit

Brazil nut trees produce fruit almost exclusively in pristine forests, as disturbed forests lack the large-bodied bees of the genera Bombus, Centris, Epicharis, Eulaema, and Xylocopa which are the only ones capable of pollinating the tree's flowers, with different bee genera being the primary pollinators in different areas, and different times of year.[3][4][5] Brazil nuts have been harvested from plantations, but production is low and is currently not economically viable.[6][7][8]

The fruit takes 14 months to mature after pollination of the flowers. The fruit itself is a large capsule 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in) in diameter, resembling a coconut endocarp in size and weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb). It has a hard, woody shell 8–12 mm (0.31–0.47 in) thick, which contains eight to 24 triangular seeds 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) long (the "Brazil nuts") packed like the segments of an orange.

The capsule contains a small hole at one end, which enables large rodents like the agouti to gnaw it open. They then eat some of the seeds inside while burying others for later use; some of these are able to germinate into new Brazil nut trees. Most of the seeds are "planted" by the agoutis in shady places, and the young saplings may have to wait years, in a state of dormancy, for a tree to fall and sunlight to reach it, when it starts growing again. Capuchin monkeys have been reported to open Brazil nuts using a stone as an anvil.

Nomenclature[edit]

Brazil nut seeds in shell
Depiction of the Brazil nut in Scientific American Supplement, No. 598, June 18, 1887

Despite their name, the most significant exporter of Brazil nuts is not Brazil but Bolivia, where they are called nuez de Brasil. In Brazil, these nuts are called castanhas-do-pará (literally "chestnuts from Pará"), but Acreans call them castanhas-do-acre instead. Indigenous names include juvia in the Orinoco area.

Though it is commonly called the Brazil nut, in botanical terms it is the seed from the fruit of this tree. To a botanist, a nut is a hard-shelled indehiscent fruit. (An example of a botanical nut would be an acorn or a hazelnut.)

In the United States Brazil nuts were once known by the epithet "nigger toes,"[9] though the term fell out of favor as public use of the racial slur became increasingly unacceptable. They can be seen being sold in a market under this name in a scene from the 1922 Stan Laurel film The Pest.

Nut production[edit]

Around 20,000 tons of Brazil nuts are harvested each year, of which Bolivia accounts for about 50%, Brazil 40%, and Peru 10% (2000 estimates).[10] In 1980, annual production was around 40,000 tons per year from Brazil alone, and in 1970, Brazil harvested a reported 104,487 tons of nuts.[6]

Effects of harvesting[edit]

Brazil nuts for international trade can come from wild collection rather than from plantations. This has been advanced as a model for generating income from a tropical forest without destroying it. The nuts are gathered by migrant workers known as castanheiros.

Analysis of tree ages in areas that are harvested show that moderate and intense gathering takes so many seeds, not enough are left to replace older trees as they die. Sites with light gathering activities had many young trees, while sites with intense gathering practices had hardly any young trees.[11]

Statistical tests were done to determine what environmental factors could be contributing to the lack of younger trees. The most consistent effect was found to be the level of gathering activity at a particular site. A computer model predicting the size of trees where people picked all the nuts matched the tree size data gathered from physical sites that had heavy harvesting.[citation needed]

Uses[edit]

Nutrition[edit]

Brazil nuts after shell removal
Brazil nuts, dried, unblanched, shelled
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy2,743 kJ (656 kcal)
12.27 g
Starch0.25 g
Sugars2.33 g
Dietary fiber7.5 g
66.43 g
Saturated15.137 g
Monounsaturated24.548 g
Polyunsaturated20.577 g
14.32 g
Tryptophan0.141 g
Threonine0.362 g
Isoleucine0.516 g
Leucine1.155 g
Lysine0.492 g
Methionine1.008 g
Cystine0.367 g
Phenylalanine0.630 g
Tyrosine0.420 g
Valine0.756 g
Arginine2.148 g
Histidine0.386 g
Alanine0.577 g
Aspartic acid1.346 g
Glutamic acid3.147 g
Glycine0.718 g
Proline0.657 g
Serine0.683 g
Vitamins
Thiamine (B1)
(54%)
0.617 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
(3%)
0.035 mg
Niacin (B3)
(2%)
0.295 mg
Vitamin B6
(8%)
0.101 mg
Folate (B9)
(6%)
22 μg
Vitamin C
(1%)
0.7 mg
Vitamin E
(38%)
5.73 mg
Trace metals
Calcium
(16%)
160 mg
Iron
(19%)
2.43 mg
Magnesium
(106%)
376 mg
Manganese
(58%)
1.223 mg
Phosphorus
(104%)
725 mg
Potassium
(14%)
659 mg
Sodium
(0%)
3 mg
Zinc
(43%)
4.06 mg
Other constituents
Water3.48 g
Selenium1917 μg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Brazil nuts are 14% protein, 12% carbohydrates, and 66% fat by weight, and 85% of their calories come from fat; a 100 g serving provides 656 total calories.[12] The fat components are 23% saturated, 38% monounsaturated, and 32% polyunsaturated.[12][13] Due to their high polyunsaturated fat content, primarily omega-6 fatty acids, shelled Brazil nuts may quickly become rancid.

Nutritionally, Brazil nuts are an excellent source (> 19% of the Daily Value, DV) of dietary fiber (30% DV) and various vitamins and dietary minerals. A 100 g serving (75% of one cup) of Brazil nuts contains rich content of thiamin (54% DV), vitamin E (38% DV), magnesium (106% DV), phosphorus (104% DV), manganese (58% DV) and zinc (43% DV) (right table). Brazil nuts are perhaps the richest dietary source of selenium, with a one-ounce (28 g) serving of 6 nuts supplying 774% DV.[12] This is 10 times the adult U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances, more even than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level, although the amount of selenium within batches of nuts varies greatly.[14] Brazil nut oil is clear and light amber in color, with a pleasant, sweet smell and taste suitable for salad dressing.

The European Union has imposed strict regulations on the import from Brazil of Brazil nuts in their shells, as the shells have been found to contain high levels of aflatoxins, which can lead to liver cancer.[15]

Brazil nuts contain small amounts of radium, a radioactive element, in about 1–7 nCi/g or 40–260 Bq/kg, about 1000 times higher than in several other common foods.[16] According to Oak Ridge Associated Universities, this is not because of elevated levels of radium in the soil, but due to "the very extensive root system of the tree."[17]

Brazil nuts are a common ingredient in mixed nuts where, because of their large size, they tend to rise to the top, an example of granular convection, which for this reason is often called the "Brazil nut effect".

Brazil nut oil[edit]

Brazil nut oil contains 75% unsaturated fatty acids composed mainly of oleic and linolenic acids, as well as the phytosterol, beta-sitosterol,[18] and fat-soluble vitamin E.[19]

Brazil nut oil

The following table presents the composition of fatty acids in Brazil nut oil.[12]

Palmitic acid16-20%
Palmitoleic acid0.5-1.2%
Stearic acid9-13%
Oleic acid36-45%
Linolenic acid33-38%
Saturated fats25%
Unsaturated fats75%

Other uses[edit]

A carved Brazil nut fruit

As well as its food use, Brazil nut oil is also used as a lubricant in clocks, for making artists' paints, and in the cosmetics industry. Engravings in Brazil nut shells were supposedly used as decorative jewelry by the indigenous tribes in Bolivia, although no examples still exist. Because of its hardness, Brazil nut shell has often been pulverized and used as an abrasive to polish softer materials such as metals and even ceramics (in the same way as jeweler's rouge is used). A high luster could be acquired by a final application of carnauba wax, only produced in north-eastern Brazil.

Wood[edit]

The lumber from Brazil nut trees (not to be confused with Brazilwood) is of excellent quality, but logging the trees is prohibited by law in all three producing countries (Brazil, Bolivia and Peru). Illegal extraction of timber and land clearances present a continuing threat.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruno Taitson (January 18, 2007). "Harvesting nuts, improving lives in Brazil". World Wildlife Fund. Archived from the original on May 23, 2008. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Agricultor morre após ser atingido por ouriço de castanha, no Amazonas", Amazonas. (Portuguese)
  3. ^ Nelson, B.W.; Absy, M.L.; Barbosa, E.M.; Prance, G.T. (1985). "Observations on flower visitors to Bertholletia excelsa H. B. K. and Couratari tenuicarpa A. C. Sm.(Lecythidaceae).". Acta Amazonica 15 (1): 225–234. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  4. ^ Moritz, A. (1984). "Estudos biológicos da floração e da frutificação da castanha-do-Brasil (Bertholletia excelsa HBK)" 29. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  5. ^ http://www.hindawi.com/journals/psyche/2012/978019/
  6. ^ a b Scott A. Mori. "The Brazil Nut Industry --- Past, Present, and Future". The New York Botanical Garden. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  7. ^ Tim Hennessey (March 2, 2001). "The Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa)". Archived from the original on January 11, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  8. ^ Enrique G. Ortiz. "The Brazil Nut Tree: More than just nuts". Archived from the original on July 6, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  9. ^ Brazil, Matt (July 14, 2000). "Actually, My Hair Isn't Red". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.). Retrieved 2009-07-06. Hearing angmo so often took me back to my childhood, when my friends and I used the words Jew and Gyp (the latter short for Gypsy) as verbs, meaning to cheat. At that time, in the 1960s, other racial epithets, these based on physical appearance, were commonly heard: cracker, slant-eye, bongo lips, knit-head. To digress to the ludicrous, Brazil nuts were called "nigger toes." 
  10. ^ Chris Collinson; Duncan Burnett; Victor Agreda (Spring 2000). "Economic Viability of Brazil Nut Trading in Peru". Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  11. ^ Silvertown, J. (2004). "Sustainability in a nutshell". Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19 (6): 276–201. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2004.03.022.  edit
  12. ^ a b c d "Nutrition facts for Brazil nuts, dried, unblanched, 100 g serving". nutritiondata.com. Conde Nast; US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, version SR-21. 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  13. ^ "Nuts, brazilnuts, dried, unblanched". United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  14. ^ Chang, Jacqueline C.; Walter H. Gutenmann, Charlotte M. Reid, Donald J. Lisk (1995). "Selenium content of Brazil nuts from two geographic locations in Brazil". Chemosphere 30 (4): 801–802. doi:10.1016/0045-6535(94)00409-N. PMID 7889353. 0045-6535. 
  15. ^ "Commission Decision of 4 July 2003 imposing special conditions on the import of Brazil nuts in shell originating in or consigned from Brazil". Official Journal of the European Union. July 5, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Radioactivity in Nature". Idaho State University. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  17. ^ "Brazil Nuts". Oak Ridge Associated Universities. January 20, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  18. ^ Kornsteiner-Krenn M, Wagner KH, Elmadfa I (2013). "Phytosterol content and fatty acid pattern of ten different nut types". Int J Vitam Nutr Res 83 (5): 263–70. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000168. PMID 25305221. 
  19. ^ Ryan E, Galvin K, O'Connor TP, Maguire AR, O'Brien NM (2006). "Fatty acid profile, tocopherol, squalene and phytosterol content of brazil, pecan, pine, pistachio and cashew nuts". Int J Food Sci Nutr 57 (3-4): 219–28. PMID 17127473. 
  20. ^ "Greenpeace Activists Trapped by Loggers in Amazon". Greenpeace. October 18, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
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Notes

Common Names

French Guiana: touka. Guyana Akawaio: imbaima. Guyana Creole: Brazil nut. Surinam: Braziliaansche noot, Brazielnoot, ingie noto, kokeleko, Para noot. Surinam Arawak: tetoka, totoka. Surinam Tirio: toeka.

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Synonyms

Bertholletia nobilis Miers

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