Native to Trinidad and the northern regions of South America, the Cannon Ball Tree is a beautiful tree with a fascinating and curious form. The name 'Couroupita' comes from the South American common name for this plant (kouroupitoumou); and 'guianensis' means from the Guianas, a region in north-central South America.
The tree is cauliflorous in nature; the lower part of its massive trunk is lined with a mass of short woody branches bearing large showy flowers and large round fruits. The shape and size of the fruit look very much like cannon balls giving rise to its common name.
The fragrant and brightly coloured flowers are bisexual, fleshy, waxy and large, measuring about 12 cm across. The flowers are yellow on the outside and pink on the inside with many stamens and the tissue of the flower turns from white to blue when broken. Fruits take about a year or more to develop and are large and greyish-brown at maturity. Ripe fruit usually falls from the tree, sometimes cracking to reveal the soft, red pulp inside which has a pungent odour. In the Amazon forests, the pulp is reportedly appetizing to animals like monkeys and pigs, which aid in seed dispersal.
This Cannon Ball Tree on Tanglin Road was likely germinated from seeds collected in 1934 by Prof. E J H Corner. Prof. Corner collected these seeds from Cannon Ball Trees that he saw when he visited the famous Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens near Kandy, Sri Lanka. It was estimated that this Tree was more than 75 years of age when it was endorsed as a Heritage Tree in 2017.