Cannon ball flowers

It took two days for the buds to grow and open. I watched the last of the cannonballs budding for two days until I got to see the large open flowers. I like the splash of colour the six petals provide, the yellow of the tips growing into a bright pink at the base, where they attach to six light green sepals. I’m not the only person who enjoys looking at the odd flower, as I can tell by the fact that it is quite a common garden tree. Its binomial, Couroupita guianensis, is probably a mistake, since its original range is an ocean away, around the periphery of the Amazon basin.

The common name, cannonball, may come from the spherical buds, or perhaps from the fruit (thanks NN, for the discussion below). The genus Coroupita contains two other species, one found along rivers in the Amazon basin, and another in Central and northern parts of South America. I’ve never seen them, but apparently they are hard to distinguish from this tree except by the showy flowers of this one. That probably means that they have been taken to other continents in modern times, in the same wave of exports from South America that globalized potatoes and chili. Isn’t it interesting that modern era essentially coincides with the era in which these plants were taken across the world?

The tree that I pass on my daily walk flowers in the late spring, when the whole trunk is covered in long racemes of flowers. The flowers which you see here have come at the tail end of the season. More than the colour it is the strange arrangement of the male sexual organs which catches the eye. The stamens are arranged in an androecium which folds over on itself like a hood. Apparently less than one in a hundred flowers gives rise to fruits. Does this mean that most flowers are male? Maybe, although I haven’t seen a count like this reported anywhere. I was locked in because of COVDI-19 most of this flowering season, so I haven’t seen the fruits this year. All four of the flowers on this raceme seem to be male, so I guess I won’t see the fruits at all this year: another of the strange absences that this epidemic has created.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. The “cannonball” probably comes from the huge, round fruit – the largest size fruit I have seen is on the trees at the UDCT campus in Matunga and in the Byculla Zoo. I remember having read somewhere that the fruit may take over one year to mature!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Apparently the fruits of the three species in this genus cannot be told apart, so if it was named for the fruit, then the name would apply to the whole genus. On the other hand, it could still have been named as you say, because it would have been an import into parts of the world where English was spoken, and the other trees of the genus were not around to confound the issue of naming.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve made an interesting, well-thought and logical point. My study on nomenclature of plants has been limited to Linnaeus, Bessey et al. But now your study in historical origins, which is reflected in your posts, makes me feel I have to delve deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

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