The Calabash Trees that are found in Belize are small tropical evergreens that can attain a height
of over 22 feet. However, the Calabash Tree is referred to as a “tree” in its' local name only, not
scientifically, for they are technically shrubs.
The scientific name for the
Calabash Tree is Crescentia Cujete. The Calabash
belongs to the family of Bignoniaceae and is known to grow in abundance in Belize. However, also found in
Belize is a cousin to the Calabash Tree, scientifically called Crescentia Alata, that is locally known as the
The Calabash Trees' exact origin is not known, however today, the Calabash has been introduced
throughout the tropics and can be found growing in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and the northern
parts of South America. The Calabash has become native to much of Southern Mexico and Central America and
has also been naturalized in India.
The Calabash Tree has
characteristics that are uniquely its own that features a broad but irregular crown made up of long,
spreading and arching branches which are capable of providing dappled shade on sunny days. Calabash
leaves are simple and elliptical in shape, clustered at the nodes. As a result of this unique growth habit,
this tree often becomes a surrogate for orchid-growers to perch their plants on its
branches. Crescentia cujeteis grown in lawns, parks and
are often used for hedges.
The Calabash produce nocturnal flowers that are a greenish-yellow color marked with purple veins on
the trunk or main branches. Every evening around 6 p.m. these nocturnal blooms open and will emit a fairly
strong odor that is attractive to the nocturnal mammal, the Fruit Bat. Fruit Bats help to pollinate the
Calabash Trees' flowers which, by noon time the next day, will be closed and all withered away, ready start
their nocturnal blooming cycle the following evening.
Wood from this tree has a wide range of uses which include manufacture of cattle yoke,
tool handles, wooden wheels, ribs in boat building and thin strips are used to make baskets and
The Calabash Trees' fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years. The pulp of the Calabash fruit
has been known and used for medicinal purposes for hundreds maybe even thousands of years. The medicinal
properties of the Calabash fruit have been used to treat headaches, burns, certain respiratory issues,
stomach aches, coughs, colds, laxatives and also has been used to help reduce high rates of blood
Beside the use of the Calabash fruit for medicinal purposes other parts of the tree are also used
medicinally. A concoction of the bark of the Calabash Tree is used to clean wounds and the pounded leaves are
applied as a poultice for headache while finely crushed leaves are applied on wounds to stop bleeding and
The oval gourd-like fruit of the Calabash Tree has a hard and woody rind, similar to a gourd. The
Calabash fruit can grow up to 25 cm in diameter, not too much unlike the Calabash Vine of the Middle and Far
East. Each fruit takes up to seven months to ripen. Ripened Calabash fruits are brown in color and the seeds
inside are surrounded by a light-colored pulp.
The shells of the dried Calabash fruits are used to make a wide range of household utensils or
creatively filled with sand to make musical instruments. The larger fruits are used as bowls or made into
helmets that are worn by bird hunters.
Past civilizations have used the dried and hardened green shells of the Calabash fruit to make bowls
and eating utensils, such as spoons, for about as long as that same fruit has been cultivated as a viable
source of food.
One can find gift shops in Belize displaying and selling a wide variety of artifacts made from the
calabash fruit. Products made from the Calabash Tree make great souvenirs and usually are not very expensive.