Ucuúba


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: Myristicaceae

Species: Virola surinamensis (Rolander) Warb.

Synonyms: Myristica surinamensis Rolander, M. fatua Wartz, M. angustifolia Lamark, M. sebifera Aublet var. langifolia Lam., Virola mycetis Pulle.

Common names: Ucuúba, ucuúba da várzea, ucuúba branca, bicuiba (Amazônia brasileira), andiroba (Ceará, Brazil); virola, guingumadou, guingamadou de montagne, yayamadou, yayamadou de marecage, jea, flamadou, moulamba, moussigot, bali, dalli, arbre a suif (French Guiana); bamboen, bamboentrie, baboenhoedos, baboenhout, baboum, houdou, moonba, dallie, waroesie, moschetboon (Suriname); dalli, dalliba, white dalli (Guyana); camaticaro, cuajo (Venezuela), cajuca, wild nutmeg (Trinidad); muscadier fou (Guadalupe); camaticaro (Colombia); banax (Honduras); cumala (Peru); muscade de Pará, cove longo (Spain).

Related species


Virola divergens Ducke - This species produces an oil that contains "trimyristine", with applications in perfumes, shaving soaps and pastries (Pinto 1951). The wood is moderately heavy (0.55-0.65 g/cm3) and widely used for plywood (Loureiro et al. 1979).

In the forest the tree can attain 25 m in height and 1 m in diameter at breast height (DBH). The young branches and leaf petioles are covered with tomentum, the leaves are oblong (18-45 cm in length by 15-60 in width) and leathery. The male inflorescence is abundantly branched, to 25 cm long; the female inflorescence is less branched, 6-18 cm long.- Four to eight fruit are produced per bunch, each covered with a velvety coat (Loureiro et al. 1979). The species is a heliophyte, occurring generally at the forest edge on the terra firma (the dry uplands of Amazônia). Flowering is from April to July (Pinto 1951) and fruiting from July to January in Manaus, Brazil (Loureiro et al. 1979). Manaus is its probable center of origin; it is distributed from Pará, through Amazonas, to Acre and Peru (Rodrigues 1972).

Virola multinervia Ducke - This species produces small quantities of the alcaloide N. N-dimetil-triptamine in the root, although less than in other species of the genus (Silva et al. 1977). The wood is moderately heavy (0.55-0.68 g/cm3) and used for plywood (Loureiro et al. 1979).

In the forest the tree can attain 35 m in height and 45 cm in DBH. The male and female inflorescences are 15-20 cm long, abundantly branched; the bunch contains 3-15 oblong fruits with reddish arils (Silva et al. 1977). It is distributed in central and western Amazônia (Amazonas and Acre in Brazil and in Peru) as a component of the terra firma forest.

Description and phenology


Ucuúba is a large tree, attaining 30 m in height and 1 m in DBH, generally with a straight, cylindrical trunk, above the buttress roots. The smooth bark is yellowish-brown, with occasional gray or white areas. The crown is small, with few, horizontally oriented, densely leaved branches. The alternately spaced leaves have short petioles, a leathery textured leaf blade with a thin oblong shape, 10-20 cm in length by 2-5 cm in width, with a rounded to subcordate base and long thin apex. The inflorescence is abundantly branched, with 5-20 terminally grouped flowers, each 1.6-2.4 mm in length (Rodrigues 1972). The fruit are smooth, greenish, spherical, bi-lobed capsules, that dehisce at maturity, liberating the seeds. These have thin, loose, papery rinds, brown at maturity, blackening with time, 1214 mm in diameter, weighing about 1.4 g each, with a 9-12 mm diameter, firm, oily endosperm (Pinto 1951).

In French Guiana the ucuúba flowers twice a year, in March and September, with fruiting in May-June and November-December (Bena 1961). Near Manaus flowering extends from August to November and fruiting from January to July (Rodrigues 1972).

Distribution, abundance and ecology


Virola surinamensis is widely distributed from the Lesser Antilles throughout northern South America down to Bolivia in the west and around the Brazilian Northeast coast to Recife, Pernambuco, in the east. In Brazil it occurs in all of Amazônia (Rodrigues 1972).

Glerum (1962) gives a detailed report of ucuúba abundance in the lower Amazon River basin (Table 1). In this region it occurs in association with the buriti (Mauritia flexuosa), assai (Euterpe oleracea) and ubuçu (Manicaria saccifera) palms. The presence of buriti is a good indicator of the presence of ucuúba (Glerum 1962).

Near Manaus, Loureiro et al. (1979) reported abundances of 3-30 ind./ha in the varzea and associated streams. Poyry (1984) reported an abundance of 1 inc./ha on terra firma and 2 inc./ha in black water stream swamps in Presidente Figueiredo, 300 km north of Manaus.

Table 1. Abundance of ucuúba in the lower Amazon region (lower Tocantins River, Amazon River estuary and lower Amapá River) in 1960 (adapted from Glerum 1962).


Diameter Class (cm)

Area

1

2

3

4

5

(5-14)

(15-24)

(25-34)

(35-44)

(45-)

Tucurui - Baiao

1.7

0.9

0.4

0.2

0.3

Estuary Islands

12.9

12.4

12.7

9.6

7.2

Amapá River

5.0

4.3

3.1

1.7

0.6

Ucuúba prefers swampy, fertile habitats, occurring in the varzea of the Amazon River and its muddy tributaries. The varzea habitat extends from the river's edge through a series of low-lying dikes, swamps and lakes, up to the edge of the terra firma and is seasonally flooded by the river. It generally does not occur in black or clear water rivers, except for the Negro River because of human intervention; in these habitats it is substituted by the vicariants V. carinata and V. pavonis. In these habitats it occurs in the open, i.e. it is heliophyllous. Rodrigues (1972) reports that growth is slow until the tree attains 25-35 cm DBH, after which it speeds up considerably; at this DBH the crown is probably finding its place in the sun.

Uses and economic potential


Principal use
Secondary uses



Principal use


Ucuúba wood is clear beige, soft and light (0.45-0.55 g/cm3), with rosy to nut-brown tinged heartwood, which takes on a silky sheen in the right light. It has a regular grain, medium texture, no distinct flavor or smell. The wood is easy to work and is widely used in light carpentry, for shipping boxes, match sticks, plywood and pulp for paper (Loureiro et al. 1979). Bertin (1920) states that the wood is not durable, however, rotting quickly (within 3 years) when exposed to the environment, principally because of fungal and insect attack. Therefore, a preservative treatment on the wood is necessary immediately after cutting.

Secondary uses


Ucuúba fat was extremely important in Amazônia before World War II but has gradually lost its importance because the wood is being heavily exploited for plywood and because other sources of fats have become more easily available. Near Manaus, commercial timber size trees are extremely rare today and other areas of the middle and lower Amazon basin are in a similar state. Nonetheless, this species has great potential as a multipurpose species, with harvesting of its oily seed before the plantation is mature for logging.

Pinto (1951) reports that the small seeds have 81-88% endosperm, which contains 60-73% (Tables 2 & 3) oil with a clear yellow color, locally called "sebo de ucuúba", composed principally of the glyceride "trimyristine". Baruffaldi et al. (1975) detail the triglyceride structure of this fat (Table 4). Unless the oil is extracted from fresh or carefully stored seed, it will have a dull brown color (Pesce 1941). Just after World War II, this oil had an important world market for perfumery and cosmetics (Pinto 1951).

Table 2. Centesimal composition of ucuúba seed (Pinto 1951).


Fresh weight

Dry Weight

Humidity

9.3%

-

Fats

60.8%

67.0%

Proteins

10.5%

11.6%

N-free extract & fiber

17.4%

19.3%

Minerals

2.0%

2.1%

Sebo de ucuúba is popularly used to treat rheumatism, arthritis, stomach aches due to gases, and dyspepsia (Rodriguez 1975). Lucent (1947) reports that cooked bark is used to sterilize wounds and aid healing. Its sap, mixed with camupu (Physalis sp) extract, is used to treat hemorrhoids (Rodriguez 1975).

Prance (1970) and Schultes (1971) report that the ground bark of several species of Virola, including ucuúba, is smoked for its hallucinogenic effects by many Amazonian tribes, who call it "parica". Schultes (1971) reports that the hallucinogenic agents are 5-etoxi-N, N-dimetilpritmamine and other triptamines, all powerful hallucinogens.

Table 3. Physical-chemical constants of ucuúba fat.

Constant

Lucent 1924

Pinto 1951

Rodriguez 1975

Loureiro et al. 1979

Saponification value

219-221

217.2

220.3

219-227

Iodine value (Hames)

9-14

16.9

14.8

12.75

Reichert-Meissl

-

1.1

-

1.4

Insaponifiables (%)

3.2

2.5

3.16

3.2

Free, Acids (Oleic) (%)

17.2

10.7

12.0

17.5

Resins (%)

-

4-4

-

-

Glycerine (calc.) (%)

-

11.8

-

-

Total fatty acids (%)

-

88.0

-

-

Table 4. A. Fatty acid composition of ucuúba fats.

A.

acid

C8: 0

C12: 0

C14: 0

C14: 1

C16: 0

C16: 1

C18: 0

C18: 1

C18: 2


%

0.7

19.7

68.1

1.7

4.2

0.2

0.2

3.5

0.7

Table 4. B. Principal triglycerides (%) of ucuúba fats. (From Baruffaldi et al. 1975.)

B.

No. carbon atoms

36

38

40

42

44

46

48



LLL

LLM

LLP+ MLM

LLO+ MLP

PLP

POL+ MOM

MOP+ OOL



0.1

0.5

3.6

4.2

0.8

0.6

0.8




LML

MML

MMM+ LMP

MMP

PMP





3.6

25.0

29.7

5.7

2.3






LPL

LPM

LPP+ MPM

PPM






2.4

2.8

0.5

0.2







LOL

LOM








4.2

0.8



Total 87.8% =

0.1

+ 4.1

+31.0

+40.9

+ 7.8

+ 3.1

+ 0.8


Recent export data


While Pinto (1951) mentions the importance of ucuúba fats just after World War II, IBGE (1987 and earlier) shows that there is still a small export market for this fat (Table 5).

Table 5. IBGE export data for "sebo de ucuúba".


1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

////

1986

Tons

110

109

106

85

84

118


12


Collection methods and yields


Pinto (1951) states that the seeds are generally collected at the water's edge, from fruit that have fallen into rivers and streams, so that they are generally cleaner than other oil seeds collected from the wild. Because they are collected from the water, they generally arrive at the processing center with more than 25% humidity; consequently they are generally left to dry in the sun for a few days (Pesce 1941, Pinto 1951). The seeds are then finely ground and pressed to extract the oil, which may be done either hot or cold (Pinto 1951).

An ucuúba tree starts fruiting relatively precociously when grown in adequate ecological conditions and may produce 60-90 kg of seed/year when mature, of which 65-75% is oil (Baruffaldi et al. 1975). At Lucent's (1947) recommended density of 150 trees/ha for oil production, extrapolated yields are quite high: 9-13.5 MT of seed, with 5.8-10.1 MT of oil. The harvesting of these relatively small seed in the varzea, however, would be much more expensive than from alternative oil crops on the terra firma, eg. African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).

Propagation and cultivation methods


Ucuúba seedlings can be obtained either by germinating fresh seed in germination beds with subsequent transplanting to black plastic nursery bags or by direct sowing into the nursery bags. Sixty to seventy percent of the seeds will germinate within 112 days. The nursery substrate used is 3 parts A horizon forest oxisol or ultisol with 1 part well-rotted manure (SUDAM 1979).

Lucent (1947) suggested monoculture plantations of ucuúba at 144 to 150 trees/ha if the emphasis is on oil yields. At Curua Una, Pará, small experimental plots in full sun on yellow latosols (oxisol) at high density (1600 trees/ha) had the following growth characteristics at 18 years: 0.65 m2/ha/year basal area increment; 0.25 m maximum DBH; 0.07 m minimum DBH; 13.9 m average height; 6.3 m average bole height; 4.93 m3/ha/year volume increment; and 54.35% crown coverage (SUDAM 1979). At INPA's Tropical Silviculture Exp. Station, 45 km north of Manaus, Amazonas, small experimental plots in full sun on sandy, acid (pH 4.5) podzols (ultisols) presented 96% mortality after 6 years. Pires & Koury (1959) report that ucuúba will sprout from the cut trunk about 25% of the time.

Dubois (1967) suggested two silvicultural methods that may prove promising: 1. the progressive elimination of low commercial value species from natural varzea populations of ucuúba, which would stimulate plant growth and natural regeneration; 2. agroforestry, starting from intercropping of ucuúba with annual or perennial crops. Neither of these methods has received research attention, however.

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 Silvicultura, Centro de Pesquisas Agropecuárias do Trópico Úmido - CPATU/EMBRAPA, Cx. Postal 48, 66040 Belém, Pará, Brazil.