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Cannonball fruits are medium to large in size, averaging 12 to 25 centimeters in diameter, and have a round, somewhat uniform shape with a heavy feel. The rind is thick, hard, and dense, with a rough and textured, brown-grey surface. Once the shell is cracked open, a pungent, acrid aroma is released, and the flesh is spongy, aqueous, and soft, encasing hundreds of small seeds. One fruit can contain up to 300 seeds, and once the white flesh is exposed to the air, it will oxidize into a light blue-green hue. Cannonball fruits have a distinctly earthy, tart flavor with sour apple, rubber, and musk notes. It takes up to 18 months for the fruits to fully develop, growing on vine-like stems, and the fruits will only ripen when connected to the tree. Cannonball trees are also known for their large, showy flowers with variegated hues of pink, red, orange, and yellow.
Cannonball fruits are found year-round in tropical regions worldwide.
Cannonball fruits, botanically classified as Couroupita guianensis, are unusual, globular fruits growing from the trunk of a deciduous tree belonging to the Lecythydaceae family. The Cannonball tree thrives in tropical to subtropical climates around the world and is primarily grown as an ornamental variety, planted in botanic gardens, parks, and in some neighborhoods. Cannonball trees can produce over 150 fruits at one time, and when in bloom, the trees can be covered in over 1,000 brightly colored, aromatic flowers. The flowers and the fruits also grow directly from the tree's trunk, rather than the branches, giving the tree a visually distinct appearance. Cannonball trees earned their name from their rough, brown, and round fruits, which are similar in appearance to a cannonball. Legend also has it that when the fruits drop to the ground and crack open, they create a loud thud that allegedly sounds like a cannonball dropping. Cannonball trees are known by many other regional names, including Kanon trees, Ayahuma, Nagalingam, Granadillo de las Huacas, and Sala trees. The fruits are edible when ripe, but they are not commonly consumed due to a permeating, pungent odor released from the flesh.
Cannonball fruits have not been studied for their nutritional properties and are only known to contain small amounts of sugar and acids, such as citric, malic, and tartaric. In traditional medicines of South America, the fruit's flesh is used to disinfect wounds and is consumed as a cough suppressant.
Cannonball fruits are only edible when ripe and should not be consumed when unripe as some consumers may experience an allergic reaction to young fruits. The mature fruits will typically fall off the tree when ripe and will crack open, revealing the fruit’s pungent flesh. While the flesh of ripe Cannonball fruit is considered edible when raw, it is primarily consumed in times of famine as the flesh has a rancid, putrid odor. There are very few uses reported for the fruits, but in remote Indian villages, the flesh is blended into drinks and used as a natural medicine against sickness. In Jamaica, the fruits are sometimes used to make wine. Worldwide, Cannonball fruits are used as animal feed for livestock such as chickens or pigs. Cannonball fruits should be consumed immediately once ripe as the fruit’s stench will strengthen with time.
Cannonball trees are known as Shiv Kamal or Kailashpati in India and are considered a symbol of Shiva, the well-known deity that is a part of the Hindu triumvirate. Shiva is often depicted in images with a cobra around his neck, and there are many different meanings of the symbolic snake, ranging from a manifestation of ego to Shiva’s love and dominion over animals. Many Hindus believe Cannonball flowers resemble a hooded cobra, a symbol of Shiva, and the trees are often planted in temples dedicated to Shiva throughout India. When the trees are in bloom, the flowers are also offered to Shiva and are used as decoration around shrines.
Cannonball trees are native to Central and South America and have been growing wild for thousands of years. The ancient fruits were consumed whole by prehistoric animals, and the seeds from the ingested fruits were naturally scattered through animal feces, expanding the variety’s natural habitat. The hard fruits were also believed to have been transported by early migrating peoples to tropical regions worldwide. Cannonball trees were recorded and named by French botanist Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusee Aublet in 1775, and the trees are primarily seen in the wild or cultivated as an ornamental. Today Cannonball trees are found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, Hawaii, and Florida.