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325 species in 15 genera are native to tropical America.

[Summary yet to be added]

Barringtonia racemosa Roxb.

The powdered seed is irritant to the nasal cavity and produces sneezing (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

The genus Barringtonia J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. was classified in the family Barringtoniaceae by Willis (1973).


Two species are native to tropical South America and the West Indies.

Bertholletia excelsa
Brazil-Nut Tree

Workers in a candy factory developed dermatitis of the hands and upper limbs from brazil nuts. Patch tests to the nut and its oil produced positive patch test reactions in 7 of 8 cases (Markson 1942). In a patient who had urticaria of the lips from chewing brazil nuts, a patch test to a piece of the nut produced a local urticarial reaction (Maddin 1974).

A positive scratch test to brazil nut was observed in a food-handler who had dermatitis (Hjorth and Roed-Petersen 1976).


20 species are native to tropical America and the West Indies.

Couroupita guianensis
Cannon-Ball Tree

The large fruits are a hazard to persons who walk under the tree (Corner 1952).

Couroupita nicaraguensis

The wood has been known as grendilla and used for musical instruments (Hausen 1970).


50 species are native to tropical America.


The oily seeds of some species are edible (sapucaia nuts).

The seeds are used to catch monkeys.

Gooneratne (1966) asserted that [? following ingestion] the nuts of Lecythis have caused alopecia in man.

Lecythis ollaria
Coco de Mono

Universal alopecia and nail changes were observed to follow ingestion of the nuts (Aronow and Kerdel-Vegas 1965).

An amino acid derivative of selenium, produced by some of the trees from pockets of selenium in the soil, has toxic properties (Kerdel-Vegas 1964, 1973, Kerdel-Vegas et al. 1965).

According to Woods and Calnan (1976) the botanical name of this species is as follows: Lecythis grandiflora Aubl. (L. ollaria L.)

Lecythis pisonia

Sapucaia wood had to be soaked in a mixture of urine and soda for several days before being worked because a saponin present in the fresh wood could produce severe mucosal irritation, headache and vomiting (Freise 1932).


  • Aronow, L. and Kerdel-Vegas, F. (1965) Seleno-cystathionine, a pharmacologically active factor in the seeds of Lecythis ollaria. Nature 205: 1185.
  • Corner EJH (1952) Wayside Trees of Malaya, 2nd edn, Vol. 1. Singapore: V.C.G. Gatrell, Government Printer [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Freise, F.W. (1932) Gesundheitsschädigungen durch Arbeiten mit giftigen Hölzern. Beobachtungen aus brasilianischen Gewerbebetrieben. Archiv. für Gewerbepathologie und Gewerbehygiene 3: 1.
  • Gooneratne BWM (1966) Massive generalized alopecia after poisoning by Gloriosa superba. British Medical Journal i(5494; Apr 23): 1023-1024 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Hausen, B.M. (1970) Untersuchungen über Gesundheitsschädigende Hölzer. Thesis, Hamburg.
  • Hjorth, N. and Roed-Petersen, J. (1976) Occupational protein contact dermatitis in food handlers. Contact Dermatitis 2: 28.
  • Kerdel-Vegas, F. (1964) Generalized hair loss due to the ingestion of "Coco de Mono" (Lecythis ollaria). J. Invest. Derm. 42: 91.
  • Kerdel-Vegas, F. (1966) The depilatory and cytotoxic action of "Coco de Mono" (Lecthyis ollaria) and its relationship to chronic seleniosis. Economic Botany 20: 187.
  • Kerdel-Vegas, F. (1973) The challenge of tropical dermatology. Trans. St John's Hosp. Derm. Soc. 59: 1.
  • Kerdel-Vegas, F., Wagner, T., Russell, P.G. et al. (1965) Structure of the pharmacologically active factor in the seeds of Lecythis ollaria. Nature 205: 1186.
  • Maddin, W.S. (1974) Personal communication to J.C. Mitchell.
  • Markson, L.S. (1942) Dermatitis from seed and oil of Bertholletia excelsa (Brazil nut). Archs Derm. Syph. 46: 831.
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Woods B, Calnan CD (1976) Toxic woods. British Journal of Dermatology 95(Suppl 13): 1-97 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]

Richard J. Schmidt

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