Crescentia alata

Accession Count: 1
Common Name: calabash tree
Family Name: Bignoniaceae
Botanical Name: Crescentia alata
Botanical Synonyms: Crescentia trifolia
Sub Species:
Characteristics: Crescentia alata is a broad leaf evergreen tree growing up to 12 meters (~30 feet) tall (3) It has a slow-medium growth rate, a short 50 cm (12 inch) thick bole and a rounded canopy (3).  Bark is gray, fissured and has a checkered texture due to the presence of flower/fruit buds (1, 3).  Leaves are dark green, 7-12 cm (3-5 inch) long, lustrous, trifoliate (“cross shape”) and have a winged petiole (1). Flowers are born directly on the trunk and branches (“cauliflory”), are bell-shaped, 5-7 cm (2.5 inches) across and attached to the stem on a short stalk (3).  Flowers have 5 fused petals, are yellowish-green with maroon or tan veins, bloom at night and are bat pollinated (1). Fruits are 7 cm (~3 inches) in diameter, spherical and lime-green in color which eventually dry into a gourd (1,3,4). After the fruit falls from the tree, it completes it ripening processes (3). During the fruit maturation, the inner pulp softens and becomes white with immature yellow seeds but later ripens completely to produce a syrupy black-purple, pungent smelling residue containing the mature seeds (3).
Compound: Cre ala
Geographic Origin: Mexican Tropics
Ecozone Origin: Neotropic
Biome Origin:
Natural History:
Crescentia alata is native to the tropics of Central America from Costa Rica and north into Mexico, where it can be found at elevations up to 1,200 m (4000 feet) (3, 5). It commonly inhabits dry or seasonally wet wet plains and hillsides (3). It is believed that the seeds of C. alata were dispersed by large extinct species of herbivores such as the elephant-like Gomphotheres and the Ground Sloth. The theory arose as the difficulty of seed germination from such a hard fruit/shell was considered (4). Consequently, it was proposed that large animals were necessary to break the shell in order to allow for germination of the seed (4). It has further been postulated that the introduction of domesticated animals, such as horses, accomplish the task of smashing the fruit, eating it and distributing the seed to keep the species viable (4).

Natural History of the UA Campus Arboretum Specimen: 

Accession # :  1780 was designated as a university Heritage Tree in 2002. At the time of the recognition, it was one of only three on campus, and it was by far the largest. Additionally, no others were known in Tucson. This tree is unique for its bat pollinated flowers and fruits that develop on the trunk. Seed was collected on the western coast of Mexico in the 1970's, and this specimen was planted as a small tree by Warren Jones, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona, as an experiment. It was also designated a Great Tree of Arizona in 2002. While it experienced severe die back due to freezing temperatures for several days (low temp recorded: 15F) in winter 2011, it has regrown and attempts to restore some of its structure have generated a beautiful specimen.

Cultivation Notes: Crescentia alata can easily be propagated by seed (1). It is suited for USDA hardiness zones 9-12 and grows best in areas where the mean daily temperature is between 18 and 29°C (50-80°F) (3). Temperatures below -7°C (19°F) may cause damage (4). This plant needs full sun and will not do well in a shady location (1). Young plants are fast-growing, establish well, and thrive when provided with 400 - 900mm (11-30 inches) of water (3). The calabash tree prefers moist, deep, well-drained soil of moderate fertility but can tolerate a variety of soil types and even drought after it is fully established (3).
In agroforestry and revegetation, the tree is grown to provide shade in plantations, where it also enriches the soil with its leaf-fall and in revegetation its extensive root system stabilizes the soil (3, 4). Calabash trees produce woody gourd-like fruits used as cups (3). These fruits are commonly gathered and sold in Guatemalan markets where the trees grow naturally (3). Though smaller than the gourds produced by C. cujete, they are considered suitable as a bowl, cup, or other toy (such as spinning tops) or handicraft (3).  The dried fruit is cut in half to make two small cups, which are commonly carried, around a person’s waist, as a drinking cup (3). These fruits are also eaten or made into a refreshing drink called 'horchata' (3) The drink is made by mixing the ground seeds, with other ingredients such as raw rice, roasted pumpkin seeds, lemon peel, sugar, water and ice (1, 3, 4). Seeds produce a bland, relatively stable oil which is edible and also used in cosmetics and in therapeutic applications (3). The pulp is eaten by cattle and horses and the hard, light brown wood is grown for timber and used in construction (1, 3). Licorice flavored pulp in the center of the fruits is not only used to produce a drink but it is also used medicinally to treat colds and diseases of the kidneys (1,3). The leaves are used to make a decoction used as an astringent and antihemorrhagic as well as for the treatment of dysentery and haemoptoysis (3). The same decoction is reported to be used to promote hair growth (3). While the plant has been used in Mexican and Guatemalan traditional medicine for respiratory infections and as an anti-inflammatory, respectively, the anti-inflammatory characteristics have been confirmed in animal models in modern science (6). The anti-microbial characteristics have also been observed against Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans (6).

Height: 20 - 50 feet
Width: 20 - 50 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Green
Function: Shade
Spread: Non-spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Semi-hardy
Water Use: Low water Use


  1. Plants for a Future database. Retrieved August 29, 2019
  2. Mansfeld's World Database of Agritcutural and Horticultural plants. Retrieved August 29, 2019
  3. Useful Tropical Plants Database. Retrieved August 29, 2019
  4. University of Florida Mexican Calabash Factsheet Retrieved May 6, 2009
  5. Neotropical Anachronisms: The Fruits the Gomphotheres Ate. Retrieved August 30, 2019
  6. KEW Botanical Gardens Retrieved June 27, 2024. 
  7. Ethnobotany of Arboretum Plants Retrieved June 27, 2024. 
  8.  Retrieved June 27, 2024. 


Crescentia alata