Nuts Trees For Tropical Climates: 7 Types To Grow


When planning out a food forest that is filled with tree crops that provide a well rounded diet, it is important not to overlook the tropical nut trees that you can be growing.  Nuts provide for you a source of fats that cannot be found in other crops that you may have already considered.

While we can’t grow many of the temperate climate nuts that many are used to, we can still grow some of the best nuts found anywhere in the world.  I have compiled a list of Tree Nut species that grow well in the tropics. 

Finding a space for at least one of these nut trees will provide you and your community a valuable source of nutrition.  If you do not already have one of these planted, be sure to plant one today.

Coconut

Considered one of the most important plants on the planet, the Coconut deserves a place in any tropical garden.  Besides all of the uses that the tree itself has, the coconut fruit is packed full of essential fats and minerals as well as an electrolyte rich/alkaline based liquid that is said to be able to replace breast milk for young children.

The meat from the coconut can be processed into oil and milk and can be eaten raw or cooked.  It can be consumed when the fruit is young when the meat is more jelly like all the way to the point when it is sprouting, when the meat inside is spongy more like cotton candy.

When it comes to cooking food in the tropics, coconut goes with almost everything.

Traditional coconuts take up to 15 years to begin fruiting and tend to do best below 800’.  There are dwarf coconut varieties that can fruit within 6-8 years and be harvested without the need for ladders or other climbing equipment.

These trees do well in any tropical food forest design.  Their height and growth pattern pretty much keep them in a league of their own.

Pili Nut

This is a nut that should be on everyones radar.  High in protein and contain all 8 essential amino acids, Pili Nut is packed full of nutrition for anyone off grid in the tropics.

The Pili Nut tree grows similar to a Macadamia, full round leaf layer up to 20-40ft high.  It is best grown in full sun in the northern edges of your food forest so they do not block the sun.

The nut itself is surrounded by a pulp which is removed soon after harvesting then allowed to dry.  Once sufficiently dry, the shell must be cracked to remove the nut. 

Removing the shell is not that easy.  The Pili Nut has one of the hardest shells out there.  It takes just the right swipe with a hammer to crack the shell without destroying the nut.  So far no one has been able to find a machine that can crack the shell without destroying the nut, so until then it must be done by hand.

The Pili nut loves rich volcanic soils on the windward side of most tropical areas.  If that’s you, be sure to include a Pili Nut into your food forest.

Macadamia Nut

The Macadamia is one of Hawai’i’s most famous nut and for good reason, it’s delicious and it grows well here.  Thriving in the rich volcanic soils of the windward coasts, macadamia nut trees can grow up to 40’ in height.

The flowers of this tree produce abundant pollen for bees throughout the summer and a nutrient dense nut in the fall and winter.  It is great eaten raw or roasted and can be paired with numerous dishes.  And don’t forget a Mac Nut dipped in Chocolate!  Delicious!

It’s best to plant a Macadamia Nut in well prepared, composted soil on the northern end of your forest garden to allow it to get to size.  

Having one of these trees in your backyard will ensure that you, your family and your neighbors have a valuable fat source to add into your diet.

Malabar Chestnut

Another great nut that thrives in the tropics.  The Malabar Chestnut is a showy tree that can grow up to 60ft in the tropics.  It produces an edible nut that bursts open when it’s ready to harvest.

The seeds taste a lot like peanuts when eaten raw, but when roasted I don’t think you can tell the difference between the Malabar Chestnut and a regular chestnut.

Another great thing about this nut is that it keeps for a long time and can be ground easily into a flour to be baked into breads and such.

The Malabar chestnut is a slow grower and can be tamed pretty easily if you’re not interested in letting it get too big.  Overall, another great nut to add to the list.

Cashews

Cashews love the tropics, grown commercially in India, Africa, & Brazil and grown for fun in many more.  They are easy to grow and sprout readily from seed, but they come with a catch.

The cashew nut grows inside of a “fruit” know as the cashew apple.  It looks a lot like a mountain apple.  This hust around the nut is laced with a highly caustic liquid that can burn your skin on contact.  Removing the nut is very difficult for the backyard grower.

If you are still interested in trying, the cashew tree likes sandy, well draining soil that gets ample rainfall.  Like most other nut trees, these trees can get big.  Be sure to plant them in the back of your food forest.

Peach Palm

I have a neighbor who is crazy about Peach Palm.  She’s so proud of the harvests she gets and shows them off when they’re in season, but she never wants to share.  She loves them too much for that.

While not quite a nut tree, mainly harvested for its fruit, the Peach Palm can be converted into an oil the is high in saturated fats.  

The tree was a staple food throughout native latin america and can still be seen in many backyard gardens throughout the latin tropics.  The Peach Palm is becoming increasingly popular in other areas, including Hawai’i and can become an important food source for a sustainable island food system.

The peach palm is of course a palm tree that can grow up to 80’ in height an not take up too much solar space in your food forest, making it the perfect plant to place almost anywhere within a food forest system.

Betel Nut

I probably shouldn’t be adding this to a list of tropical nut trees, but there aren’t too many tropical nuts in the world and the betel nut isn’t even a true nut.  The Betel Nut is the seed that comes from the fruit of an Areca Palm and is mostly consumed throughout Asia.

It would be classified in the same league as chewing tobacco, a mild stimulant that when chewed, produces heightened awareness and mild intoxication.  

But like any so called drug, it does come with side effects, mainly cancer in the mouth and esophagus. 

Most people are encouraged to stay away from it, but if you are from an Asian country, the Betel Nut is a very important part of your culture.  In that case, it would deserve a spot in your garden.

Only A Handful Of Tropical Nuts

As you can see, there are only a handful of tropical nut trees.  The ones that do grow here are more than enough though.  Coconut and Macadamia Nuts, you can stop there, thank you.  Why grow anything else in my opinion.

What we do find though are many crops that are not true nuts, but used for their seed regardless.  We will cover those in a future post.  In the meantime, be sure to plant at least two types of nut trees in your food forest to ensure a well rounded diet on your off grid homestead.

Mahalo for reading.  Aloha!!

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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