Related species
Description and phenology
Distribution, abundance and ecology
Uses and economic potential
Recent export data
Collection methods and yields
Propagation and cultivation methods
Research contacts

Paulo de T.B. Sampaio

Family: Papilionoideae (Leguminosae)

Species: Coumarouna odorata (Aubl.) Willd.

Synonyms: Baryosma tongo Gaertner, Dipteryx odorata Willd.

Common names: Cumaru, cumaru amarelo, cumaru roxo, cumaru do Amazonas, kumbaru, paw, muirapaye (Brazil); cumara, cuamara (Guyana); sarrapia (Colombia); guayae, faux, fevetonka, faux gaiac (French Guiana); angustura, serrapia, yape (Venezuela); ebo (Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras); tonka bean (English).

Related species

Dipteryx punctata (Blake) Amshoff. - Cumaru amarelo, or yellow cumaru, is a medium-sized tree (to 20 m), common in humid areas within the forest or along the edges of rivers. The bark and outer, white wood emit a strong odor of coumarin. The fruit is morphologically identical to those of C. odorata, although generally a little smaller. The oily seeds have a strong aroma and are used to cure pneumonia and to prepare snuff (Silva et al. 1977). It occurs in Amazonas and Pará states, Brazil, and is rarely found in Suriname, Venezuela and the Antilles (Ducke 1948, Silva et al. 1977).

Coumarouna rosea (Spruce ex Benth) Taub. - This is a small tree, common along river edges and in flooded areas. It occurs in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. The fruit and seeds are difficult to obtain, because they generally fall in the river when ripe. The seeds are strongly perfumed and are used to extract coumarin (Ducke 1948).

Coumarouna charapilha (MacBride) Ducke - This is a large tree (to 30-40 m), with aromatic flowers. The fruits are similar to those of C. odorata, except for the longer fibers covering the endocarp. The seeds are strongly perfumed. It occurs in western Amazônia (Ducke 1948).

Coumarouna tifoliolata Ducke - This is also a large tree (to 30-40 m) The fruits have a relatively thick pericarp, which is very oily, sweet and edible. The seeds are rich in coumarin, considered to be of very fine quality (Ducke 1948). It occurs in Roraima (Brazil) and Venezuela (Ducke 1939).

Description and phenology

Cumaru is a large tree of the primary forest, attaining up to 30 m, although smaller in secondary forests or when cultivated. The trunk is cylindrical, a light brownish-yellow color, with smooth bark and short buttresses (to 1 m). The leaves are compound, alternately pinnate, with elliptical-oblong leaflets which are frequently asymmetric, the whole attaining 20 cm in length by 8 cm in width. The panicle inflorescences are terminal, rusty colored, with hermaphrodite, zygomorphic, aromatic flowers. The fruit is a oblong-oval indehiscent drupe, 5-7 cm long by 3 cm in diameter, yellow-green when mature. The pericarp (pulp) is fleshy, sour, not edible, enveloping woody endocarp. The seed is smooth, hard, 2.5-3 cm in length, dark purple-red in color, furnishing a clear yellow, aromatic (coumarin) oil (Ducke 1948, Loureiro et al. 1979, Prance & Silva 1975).

The cumaru flowers during the late dry season (September to October in Manaus, October to November in Belém), with variations that depend upon rainfall. The fruits mature approximately 9 months later, falling from May to July (Manaus) and June to August (Belém) (Alencar et al. 1979).

Distribution, abundance and ecology

The cumaru is widely distributed in the Neotropics, extending from the humid forests of Honduras through Central America, to northern South America. It is found in all of the Amazonian countries and along the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts of the Guianas. In Brazilian Amazônia it is found in all states and as far south as Corumba, Mato Grosso (Loureiro et al. 1979, Prance & Silva 1975).

In forest inventories done by the FAO mission, during 19561961 (SUDAM 1975), 2.3 trees/ha were found in the forests of Amapá and 0.8 trees/ha along the Curua-Una River. Volumes of 4.3 and 3.5 m3/ha were found in the region of Cametá, along the lower Tocantins River, in Pará.

Along the Manaus-Itacoatiara highway (AM-010), an average of 0.03 trees/ha, with diameters at breast height (DBH) greater than or equal to 45 cm, and 0.85 m3/ha were found. Trees with smaller diameters (DBH 25 cm) are more frequent (0.3 trees/ha) but have smaller volumes (0.65 m3/ha) (Loureiro et al. 1979). At INPA's Tropical Silviculture Experiment Station, located in SUFRAMA's Agricultural District, Jardim (1985) found 0.125 trees/ha, with 0.83 m3/ha, for the DBH class 20 cm. In an 8,000 ha sample of terra firma forest in Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas (300 km north of Manaus), Poyry (1984) found 0.02 trees/ha with a volume of 0.21 m3/ha, for the DBH class 60-70 cm.

In the region of Senador Guiomard and Plácido de Castro, Acre, the cumaru is extremely rare (FUNTAC 1989). In Novo Aripuanã, southern Amazonas, Jardim & Fernandes (1983) found 0.57 trees/ha, with 2.4 m3/ha, for the DBH class 45 cm.

Uses and economic potential

Principal use
Secondary uses

Principal use

Cumaru's commercial value is currently due to its timber, which is very heavy (0.95-1.0 g/cm3). Its heartwood is a dark yellow-brown color, somewhat fibrous in appearance, its thin outer wood is a light beige color, its grain is irregular, its texture medium. It is somewhat difficult to work but it takes a good finish (Loureiro et al. 1979).

It is used in naval construction, especially in exposed positions, for truck and train wagons, and for high-quality cabinetry (Prance & Silva 1975). The wood is resistent to rot, withstanding 10-20 years in well drained soils. It is therefore considered an excellent wood for railway ties, not only because of its durability but because it does not split easily when exposed to the sun and elements (SUDAM 1979).

Secondary uses

Historically, the extraction of coumarin (orthocoumaric anhydride) from cumaru seed was nearly as important as its principal use. Coumarin was used in the perfume and cosmetic industry and as a flavoring for tobacco (Pesce 1941/85). The best quality cumaru seed, in terms of size and coumarin quality were obtained from Venezuela, with second-quality from the Guianas and lowest quality from Amazônia (ibid). Exports of cumaru kernels to various northern hemisphere markets have varied widely during this century, ranging from lows of 10-15 MT before 1910 (ibid) to highs of 450 MT in 1987 (IBGE 1988). During the first half of this period, the exports were mostly for the perfume and tobacco industries; during the latter period, its uses in the northern hemisphere are not registered in the bibliography available in Manaus. With recent trends to return to natural products, cumaru could again become an important aromatic product.

Thirty to forty percent (dry weight) of cumaru seeds is a clear yellow, perfumed oil, that oxidizes quickly upon contact with the air (Le Cointe 1934). This oil is similar in quality to other Leguminoseae oils, like peanut for example, except that it contains linolenic acid and traces of high molecular weight oils, such as beenic and lignoceric acid (Bentes et al. 1980).

The physical-chemical characteristics of cumaru oil are given in Table 1 (LeCointe 1934, Pesce 1941) and the fatty acid composition is given in Table 2 (Bentes et al. 1980).

Table 1. Extraction yield and physical-chemical constants of cumaru kernel oil, after LeCointe (1934) and Pesce (1941).




Extraction percentage



Refraction index at 40C



Density a 40C



Acidity value



Saponification value



Iodine value



Insaponifiable material value



Table 2. Fatty acid composition (% of oil) determined by gas-liquid chromatography (Bentes et al. 1980).


16: 0

18: 0

18: 1

18: 2

18: 3

20: 0

22: 0

24: 0










16: 0 - palmitic; 18: 0 - estearic; 18: 1 - oleic; 18: 2 linoleic; 18: 3 - linolenic; 20: 0 - arachidic; 22: 0 - beenic; 24: 0 - lignoceric.

A water extract of cumaru bark is popularly used as an antispasmodic and general tonic, acting as an efficient moderator of cardiac action and respiration (Loureiro et al. 1979, Prance & Silva 1975).

The seeds are occasionally used to make ornamental necklaces and other handicrafts (Ducke 1948).

Recent export data

Table 3 shows some recent cumaru kernel export data (IBGE 1988). Demand rose dramatically in the late 1980's, although IBGE does not explain why,. It is worth mentioning that all of the exported kernels are collected from wild trees in the forest.

Table 3. Recent (1975-1987) exports of cumaru kernels (IBGE 1988).





















Collection methods and yields

Cumaru seeds are collected from the ground under the tree during the fruiting season. Each fruit contains one seed, which is separated manually from the mesocarp and endocarp. There are an average of 137 seed/kg (Ducke 1948, SUDAM 1979, Loureiro et al. 1979).

The dried seeds are treated with alcohol, and covered to dry slowly for several days, after which they are covered with crystallized coumarin (Pesce 1941/85), with an extraction yield estimated at about 3% by dry fruit weight (Rizzini & Mors 1976). More modern technology could surely raise this extraction yield and probably result in better quality coumarin.

For oil extraction, the dried seeds are ground and the oil is extracted with solvents (Bentes et al. 1980).

Seedling cumaru trees start to fruit at 4 years of age on sandy soils at INPA's Tropical Silviculture Experiment Station, 60 km north of Manaus. Early yields are on the order of 500 fruit/tree (Silva et al. 1977), which is equivalent to 3.6 kg of fresh kernel. At 400 trees/ha (a rather open silvicultural planting density, but one suitable for fruit monocultures for later thinning) this is equivalent to 1.4 MT/ha/yr during the early years. Yields at more open densities and with older trees have not been reported.

Propagation and cultivation methods

Both direct seeding and nursery germination and seedling preparation techniques have been used in silvicultural experimentation (Magalhães et al. 1986). Seeds are treated with fungicides and take 20-30 days to germinate 90% (SUDAM 1979, Magalhaes et al. 1986). During the first 60 days after germination, the seedlings are shaded. When they attain 25 cm in height, they can be hardened-off and taken to the field (Magalhaes et al. 1986).

In full sun experimental plots at Curua-una, Pará, 80% of the field planted seedlings survived, versus 50% survival of natural regeneration during field clearance (SUDAM 1979). Annual growth increments were 1.4 m in height, 1.4 cm in diameter and 16.1 m3/ha in volume (SUDAM 1979). At INPA's A. Ducke Forest Reserve, near Manaus, shaded plots at 400 trees/ha presented 75% survival at 11 years of age, with trees averaging 7.3 m in height and 4.5 cm in DBH. In full sun at the same density at 13 years, survival was 92%, average height was 9.2 m and average DBH was 13.2 cm (Loureiro et al. 1979).

From this silvicultural data, it appears that cumaru is suitable for planting both in full sun and in partial shade, making it both a good option for reforestation and for agroforestry systems. If couramin or oil uses find new markets, this fast-growing leguminous tree could make an interesting multipurpose component in regional agroforestry schemes.

Research contacts

MSc. Paulo de T. B. Sampaio, Departamento de Silvicultura Tropical, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia - INPA, Cx. Postal 478, 69011 Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil.

Departamento de Silvicultura, Superintendência pare o Desenvolvimento da Amazônia - SUDAM, Belém, Pará, Brazil.

Departamento de Sivicultura, Centro de Pesquisas Agropecuárias do Trópico Úmido - CPATU/EMBRAPA, Cx. Postal 28, 66040 Belém, Pará, Brazil.