Cannon Ball /Nagalinga

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Common name:

Cannon Ball Tree(English)


Kaman gola , Nagalinga, নাগলিঙ্গ

Other Common Names includes : Nagalinga ,Tope gola Lingada mara, Nagalingam, Shivalingam(Indian subcontinent), macacarecuia (Portuguese), coco sachapura (Colombia, Panama), bala de canon (Costa Rica), kanonskogelboom (Dutch), arbre à boulet de canon (French), kouroupitoumou (French Guiana), sala (Indonesia), granadillo de las huacas (Panama), ayahuma (Peru), and boskalebas (Suriname)

The tree was named Couroupita guianensis by the French botanist Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet in 1755.

Botanical name:

Couroupita guianensis     Family: Lecythidaceae (Barringtonia family)

Description :

Cannonball tree, (Couroupita guianensis),is a large deciduous tropical, tall, soft-wooded tree, of the family Lecythidaceae, native to northeastern South America but in the tree grows different region of the world. Some botanists contest its origin is India as well. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. In Indai cannonball trees scattered throughout their warm, balmy, tropical cities.  It  has been known in Indian Subcontinent for at least 3,000 years, where it is so revered that it is often found growing at religious temples. This tree found  very few in numbers in Bangladesh.In Dhaka this is very rare. Cannon Ball tree notable for its large, spherical woody fruit, which resembles a rusty cannonball. The tree is also cultivated in the southern regions of North America.

Cannon Ball(Couroupita guianensis) tree grows up to 35 meters in height. The name of this glorious tree is very indicative of the characteristics it displays. Popularly referred to as the ‘cannonball tree’ because not only are the fruits as large, round and heavy as their namesakes, but when falling to the earth, they often do so with loud and explosive noises. Naturally, such trees are not planted next to footpaths, because a falling fruit could easily cause a fatal injury.

The cannon ball tree is planted in gardens because the flowers are large, beautiful, pleasantly aromatic, and unlike any other flower a newcomer to the tropics has ever seen. Even the fruits are a botanical curiosity because they are in the shape and size of cannon balls that, like the flowers, arise from the trunk of the tree. In contrast to the flowers, they release a foetid aroma when they hit the ground and break open.

The clustered leaves vary in length, generally from 8 to 31 centimeters, but reaching up to 57.The flowers are borne in large bunches up to 80 meters long. Some trees flower profusely, until the entire trunk is buried in flowers. One tree can bear 1000 flowers per day. They are strongly scented, especially at night, and in the early morning. They are large, up to 6 centimeters wide, and often brightly colored, the six petals in shades of pink and red near the bases and yellowish toward the tips. There is a ring of stamens at the center, and an arrangement to stamens that have been modified into a hood. The large fruit, which is woody and very spherical, measuring up to 25 centimeters wide, gives the species the common name “cannonball tree”. A smaller fruit contains perhaps 65 seeds, while a large one can have 550. One tree can bear 150 fruits. The fruit takes up to a year to mature in most areas, sometimes as long as 18 months.

Cannon Ball/Nagalingam   is a tree of river banks and lowlands, subjected to periodic flooding. Although a plant of moist soils, it grows well under dry conditions

These amazing trees are commonly found in Shiva temples in India and also around Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Hindus regard it as the sacred tree because the flower petals resemble the hood of the ‘Naga’, a sacred snake protecting the stigma known as the ‘Shiva lingham’. Bhuddists, however, sometimes confuse the cannonball tree with the sala tree, under which Buiddha Vessabhu gained enlightenment. Neither fruit nor flowers actually grow directly from the trunk, but on a thick extrusion that develops from it. The flowers, although large, do not appear to have need of the strong support these extrusions provide, but as the fruits develop, the necessity for this strength becomes clear. When the fruits ripen and fall, they usually burst open with a loud crack, and the foul smell they give off attracts animals that spread the seeds within the fruit via their dung.


Though the flowers of Cannon ball/Nagalingam does not have any nectar and are mostly visited by bees in search of pollen. The structure of the male part of the flower is not found in any other plant family in the world except for other species of the Brazil nut family. In the cannon ball tree, fertile stamens are found in a ring around the reduced style and stamens with sterile pollen are located in the anthers of staminodes located in the hood (a prolongation from one side of the staminal ring that arches over the ovary). Carpenter bees (Xylocopa brasilianorum) have been reported as the principal pollinators. The large black carpenter bees enter the flowers with their ventral side toward the sterile stamens of the hood and their head and backs against the ring with fertile pollen and, as a result of their position, they are dusted with pollen on their heads and back. The two types of pollen were first described as being different in 1825 by the French botanist Pierre Antoine Poiteau who was the first to recognize the family Lecythidaceae in the same publication. The morphological and physical differences of the pollen have been demonstrated by several botanists since that time. The most important pollen difference is that the pollen of the ring stamens germinates and is fertile while the hood pollen does not and is sterile. Thus, hood pollen has become specialized as the reward to attract pollinators to the flowers. In turn, the fertile pollen is transferred to the next flowers the bees visit and as a result fruits and seeds develop. Most fruits of this species in nature are probably the result of the movement of pollen from one tree to another, but experiments show that self-pollinated plants of the cannon ball tree also set fruit.

Nutritional value :

A nutritional profile doesn’t seem to be assembled for the fruit. The only known compounds are sugar, tartaric acid, citric acid, malic, and gum.

Constituents :

Flowers yield an alipathic hydrocarbon and stigmasterol.
Flowers yielded alkaloids, phenolics and flavonoids.
Yielded active principles isatin and indirubin (vital to its antimicrobial activity).
Phytochemical screening yielded flavonoids: 2′,4′-dihydroxy-6′-methoxy-3′,5′-dimethylchalcone, 7-hydroxy-5-methoxy-6,8-dimethylflavanone and the phenolic acid 4-hydroxybenzoic acid

Smell of Cannonball Fruit

When the fruit is ripe and oxygen hits the flesh upon hitting the ground, it resembles durian in its pungent, notorious stench.The book, “Encyclopedia of Geography” describes cannonball fruit as such: “in the perfectly ripe state, it exceeds whatever is filthy, stinking and abominable in nature.” It goes on to describe that when extracts were preserved in rum, the plant’s odor permeated the apartment that it was nearly inhabitable.

The smell serves a powerful evolutionary purpose: when the fruit cracks open, the smell sends a beacon to all animals to come and enjoy the flesh. Then, the animals spread the seeds in their feces and the circle of life continues for the fruit.

The cannonball’s flesh turns bluish-purple as a result of exposure to oxygen and has a multitude of black seeds within the gelatinous pulp.

Cannonball Uses :

The fruit is fed to livestock such as pigs and domestic fowl.

The fruit is edible, but not usually eaten by people because it can have an unpleasant smell

Un ripened, cannonball fruit is apparently used in drinks to ward off fever. The Amazonian shamans eat the fruit, but for others, eating it might be poisonous and could cause an allergic reaction. Other accounts cite the fruit as bland.

In the book – “Edible Medicinal and Non-medicinal Plants” states the pulp is “vinous (resembling wine), white, acid, and not disagreeable.”

Medicinal and health Benefits:

TK Lim explains in the book, “Edible Medicinal and Non medicinal Plants that in folk medicine, cannonball fruit contains the following medicinal properties:

–Wound disinfectant

–Cures skin diseases

–Parts of the tree are antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic and analgesic

–Treats colds and stomach aches

–Soothe toothaches

–Chicken farmers also feed the birds cannonball pulp as a vaccination against respiratory illnesses. Ducks, pigs and turkeys also eat cannonball pulp.

Different Scientific Studies shows following :

Antimicrobial / Antioxidant: Study showed antimicrobial activity against Shigella flexneri, Staph aureus and Candida albicans. The phenolic and flavonoid fractions showed

Strong antioxidant potential

Antinociceptive: Results showed Couroupita guianensis exhibited nociceptive activity mediated, in part, by opioid and cholinergic systems and the nitric oxide pathway.

Wound Healing / Antimicrobial: Study of ethanolic extract of whole plant of CG (bark, leaves, flowers and fruits) on excision and incision wound models showed accelateration of the wound healing process by reduction of surface area of the wound and increasing tensile strength. Moderate activity was observed against all test organisms.

Anthelmintic: Study tested the activity of chloroform, acetone and ethanolic flower extracts of CG for anthelmintic activity against adult earth worm, Pheritima posthuma. The alcholic extract was the most effect in an activity comparable with Piperazine citrate.

Skin Fibroblast Proliferation / Antioxidant: Study of hydroalcoholic extract strongly indicated antioxidant activity attributed to phenolic content. Also, significant stimulation of HSF proliferation and absorption of UV radiation was noted. Results suggest promising skin care properties.


Fragrance: Fragrant flowers can be used to scent perfumes and cosmetics.

Wood: (1) Hard shells of the fruit sometimes used as containers and utensils. (2) Wood used for making incense


Capt.Kawsar Mostafa

 Reference and further reading :

1. Prokiti Somogra – Prof. Dizen Sharma,Dhaka

2. Edible medicinal and non-medicinal plant – T.K.Lim

3. Al-Dhabi et al. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine



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