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Myristica fragrans Houtt.

Myristica fragrans Houtt.




Myristica officinalis L.r., Myristica moschata Thunb., Myristica aromatica Lamk.

Vernacular Names






Pala, pala Banda.




Pokok pala.




Pôch kak.


Chan th'e:d.


Chan-thet (cen­tral), chan-ban (northern).


Nh[ujlc d[aaj]u kh[aas]u.


Noix de mus­cade.

Geographical Distributions

Myristica fragrans is only known from cultivation but it most proba­bly originated in Indonesia from the southern Moluccan Islands, especially Ambon and Banda. M. fragrans and mace (the dried aril) spread from there and became known throughout Southeast Asia. The first record was in Europe, in Constantino­ple, which dates back to 540 AD. By the end of the 12th Century, M. fragrans and mace were generally known in Europe. The further history of nutmeg is closely related to an aggressive colonial history. In 1512, the Portuguese discovered Banda and obtained the monopoly on M. fragrans. In the 17th Century, they were ousted by the Dutch who took over the mo­nopoly, and held to it rigorously, even by extirpa­tion of trees grown elsewhere, in order to keep the prices high. In 1772, the French broke the monopoly, and the British ended it in 1802, during their rule of Indonesia. In those days, centres of cultivation came into being in other parts of the tropics; they all disappeared again, some due to diseases. In 1843, some plants were introduced into Grenada (West Indies); this led to large-scale production on that island, which has become the second largest producer after Indonesia. At present, the main centre of cultivation are Banda and surrounding islands. M. fragrans is cultivated on a smaller scale on other Indonesian islands, no­tably North Sulawesi (Manadol, western Suma­tra, West Java and in Irian Jaya), Sri Lanka, India (Kerala), and the island of Penang off Peninsular Malaysia also has sizable acreages. The crop has also been dispersed to many other perhumid or humid tropical regions and enters the world mar­ket also from there, albeit on a small scale.


Myristica fragrans is a dioecious evergreen tree and it can grow up to 5-13(-20) m tall. It is cone-shaped if free-growing and it exudes a sticky red sap when wounded. The twigs are slen­der, and measure 1-2 mm in diametre towards the top.

The leaves are arranged alternate, simple, exstipulate and chartaceous. The petiole is about 1 cm long. The blade is elliptical to lance-shaped, measuring 5-15 cm x 3-7 cm, acute at base, with entire margin, acuminate at apex and aromatic when bruised.

The inflorescences are axillary, and in umbellate cymes, where the male ones are usually many-flowered while the female ones are 1-3-flowered. The flowers are fragrant, sparse hairy, with very minute to­mentum, pale yellow and with a 3-lobed perianth. The male flowers are with slender pedicels less than 1 mm thick, usually with slightly narrowed perianth at the base and with 8-12 stamens adnate to a column. The female flowers are with a superior, sessile, 1-celled ovary with a single basal ovule, which is normally anatropous to hemi-anatropous.

The fruit is peach ­shaped, berry or drupe-like. It is 5-8 cm long, fleshy, yellowish, splits open into 2 halves when ripens and contains 1 seed. The seed is ovoid, measures 2-3 cm long, with a shiny dark brown, hard and stony, furrowed and longitudinally wrinkled shell, and surrounded by a red aril which is attached to its base. The ker­nel is with a small embryo and ruminate endosperm which contains many veins composing of essential oil. The mace of commerce is the dried aril and the nutmeg is the dried kernel of the seed, often called nut.

Ecology / Cultivation

Myristica fragrans needs a warm and humid tropical climate, with average temperatures of 25-30°C and average annual rainfall of 2000 ­3500 mm without any real dry period. Flowering can be adversely affected by temperatures above 35°C and by hot dry winds. Frost always damages or kills the tree and makes commercial production impossible. Therefore, in the tropics the crop can only be grown below 700 m altitude. The superfi­cial root system makes the tree very susceptible to wind damage. The crop can grow on any kind of soil, provided there is sufficient water but without any risk of waterlogging. Preferred soils are those of volcanic origin and soils with a high content of organic matter with pH 6.5-7.5.

Line Drawing / Photograph


Read More

  1) Safety

  2) Essential Oil


1.       Plant Resources of South-East Asia No.13: Spices.

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