Pandanus fruit ripes from green to orange and red.

During several visits over the course of a year it looked like a large berm of tall grass, about the size and height of a one-story house. For some reason it was trimmed back and began to fruit which led to its general identification: Pandanus. That naturally leads to a Pandanus Problem: Which species is it?

The genus Pandanus has over 500 members and are found from West Africa eastward to Hawaii, from coastal areas up mountains to 10,000 feet, from species a few feet high to 10o-foot trees. There are many natural species of Pandanus and several cultivated varieties. They are and have been a major textile and food crop throughout the Pacific region and figure significantly in Polynesian culture.

Pandanus conoideus fruit produces food and medicine.

Also called “Pandans” they fall into two large subgroups, those used for the fruit and those used for the seeds. Some fall in both groups.  The ones with edible fruit and or seeds are usually either oily or consist mainly of carbohydrates.  That group, generally known as “marita” is mainly Pandanus conoideus and perhaps Pandanus englerianus and Pandanus magnificus. Not every one agrees that the last two are separate species. The edible fruit is mostly red or yellow. Generally after processing it is used as a spread like butter. Another set in this subgroup is Pandanus tectorius which also includes Pandanus leram and the cultivated Pandanus fischerianus.

Smoked seeds of the Pandanus julianettii.

The second major food group of Pandanus produce edible seeds, some edible raw, some edible after proper cooking.  The prime species for that is the ‘karuka’ of New Guinea, which can be either Pandanus brosimos or Pandanus julianettii. The seeds are oily, contain protein, and are on par with coconuts in their use and value. Some experts think all Pandanus species probably produce edible seeds but no one really knows. Trees begin to fruit between seven and eight years old and will produce for some 60 years. When they do fruit it takes two to six  months for the fruit to ripen depending upon the species. Those used for the spread take two to three months to ripen, seed bearing ones four to six.

Unripe Pandanus tectorius

Besides carb or oil producing is there any other division we should be aware of? Yes. Wild versions can contain large amounts of calcium-oxalate crystals (raphides and rhomboids) which can irritate the mouth. Heating can break them down. In cultivated versions the raphides are reduced or missing so that some forms can be eaten raw.  Minus the calcium oxalates Pandanus can be quite nutritional. The fruit flesh of the Pandanus tectorius, for example, contains per 100 gram of edible portion: water 80 g, protein 0.4 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrates 19 g, fibre 0.3 g.  Oven-dried seeds of karuka (Pandanus brosimos) contain per 100 g edible portion: water 6—10 g, protein 8.5—14 g, fat 0.4—37 g, fibre 5—12 g, the remainder ash and carbohydrates

A basket made from Pandanus leaves.

Pandans used for textiles include Pandanus dubius, Pandanus kaida, and Pandanus tectorius. Various products are made from them as bags, hats, pocketbooks, umbrellas mats, dolls even sails. Pandans did not escape the attention of the oldest still extant foraging group on earth, the Aboriginals of Australia. They used the top leaves for baskets, ate the fruit, and used dead trunks to carry fire with them, smouldering like an all-day, bat-sized cigarette. At least six species have been exported to warm areas of the world.  Several species of Pandanus have been planted in Florida including Pandanus amaryllifolius, Pandanus baptistii, Pandanus sanderi, Pandanus tectorius, Pandanus utilius and Pandanus veitchii. Some Pandanus grow in Texas (definitely P. utilis) and many in Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Pandanus tectorius cultivar ‘Antinakarewe’

Among those in Florida Pandanus tectorius, aka Nicobar Breadfruit,  is native to the seacoast from southern China to tropical Australia and Polynesia. Common in Hawaii, it’s a tree to 25 feet with spreading branches, numerous prop roots, and forms large, dense thickets. The leaves are evergreen, spirally set, strap-like to five feet long. Their edges are spiny and the leaves droop. The female flower is a single spike with a yellow spathe; male flowers are on a separate plant, very fragrant, composed of many dangling spikes in long, white spathes. The fruit is a globose, knobby head to ten inches long, orange-yellow, breaking apart when fully ripe, exposing soft edible pulp in the center. The terminal bud is also edible. Leaves are used for thatching and mats.  The fleshy pulp of the fruit may be eaten raw, cooked, or made into flour, paste and thick flat cakes. Flour is often mixed with palm syrup or diluted with water to make a popular drink. Tender, white bases of the young leaves are eaten raw or cooked. Aerial roots are cooked and eaten or processed into beverage. Flowers and pollen are edible, too. Seeds can be made edible after processing. It’s also called Pandanus odoratissimus though that might just be a variation. Botanists can’t agree. Pandanus tectorius can withstand drought, strong winds, salt spray and propagates readily from seed or branch cuttings,

Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves are used for flavoring.

Pandanus amaryllifolius, uncommon in Florida, is the only species in the genus with fragrant leaves. It grows between 1.5 and 3 feet tall, sometimes to six feet.  When older it produces aerial roots and stilt roots to support itself from falling. Leaves are slender, lush-green and smooth-edged up to 20 inches long. It resembles an amaryllis, hence the name. Leaves have a depressed center running from the base outwards gradually flatten towards the tip. Fragrant young leaves are cooked as a vegetable or used as a condiment. Fresh or dried leaves add a musty odor and flavor and green color to tofu, jellies, doughs, curries, syrups, sauces, coconut rice, and sweets. It is also added to cooking oil before cooking as a spice. The leave are used to wrap food such as rice dumplings.  Sometimes called Pandanus latifolius. There is a bit of a schism with the Fragrant Pandan.  Some insist the leaves are used only for flavoring and removed. Others insist young leaves can be cooked and eaten. As folk dancers say when they encounter a variation in a dance they know… “different village.”

Unripe Pandanus utilis fruit.

Pandanus utilis, native to Madagascar, is a tree to 60 feet with stilt-like prop roots. Branches are few, sleek, rounded, tipped with clusters of evergreen, strap-like spiny leaves three feet long and three inches wide. Fruit is nearly round, six inches across,  compound and rough surface, green, yellowing as it ripens with a small amount of edible pulp, numerous large seeds (which are sometimes called keys.) Leaves are used for matting and baskets. Fiber can be gotten from the roots for cordage and weaving thus the name “utilis” meaning useful. It is very slow growing from seeds or cuttings. Prop roots are also used as torches.

Pandanus baptistii is native to the South Sea islands. It’s herbaceous and dwarf with a short stem hidden by a clump of upright, arching, one-inch wide ribbon-like leaves. They are blue-green, striped yellow or white, smooth edge. Often grows in clumps. No edibility mentioned. Pandanus sanderi, native to East Indies and Timor, will not survive temperatures below 55 F thus it is usually a houseplant beyond the tropics. Also herbaceous, short stemmed and densely tufted with ribbon-like leaves 2.5 feet long with tiny spines on edges. They, too, alternate green and yellow from base to tip. Grows in clumps.  No mention of edibility. Pandanus veitchii, native to Polynesia, to 40 feet, stilt-like prop roots, few branches, ending in huge clusters of strap-like leaves to eight feet long, three inches wide, bordered on both edges with a white strip, spiny margins and long-pointed tip.  Non-fruiting in Florida. Usually a house plant. Leaves used for mats, screens, and lamp shades. Often a potted plant in northern climes. No mention of edibility.

Pandanus trees in urban setting

Other Pandanus: Pandanus antaresensis, seeds. This species fruits continuously; Pandanus brosimos, West New Guinea, now West Irian Jaya, seeds are edible. Oven-dried seeds of P. brosimos contain per 100 g edible portion: water 6—10 g, protein 8.5—14 g, fat 0.4—37 g, fibre 5—12 g, the remainder consisting of ash and carbohydrates. The tree can grow to 100 feet tall. In Pandanus species that produce white seeds their flavor is similar to coconuts. Pandanus castaneus, oil; Pandanus conoideus, Papua, Indonesia, fruit is edible cooked, a red flavoring is also made from it; Pandanus dubius, southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, roundish seeds edible raw. Pandanus fascicularism, India, male flowers are the source of kewda attar, used for flavoring betel nuts, soft drinks, curries and an Indian rice dish called biryani; Pandanus foveolatus, seeds, fruits continuously; Pandanus galorei, seeds, fruits continuously; Pandanus houlettei, edible fruit; Pandanus Iwen, seeds; Pandanus leram, Nicobar Islands, the fruit is cooked for five to eight hours depend upon the state of ripeness. It is then pressed to separate a yellow paste from the fiber. The edible paste is used in a variety of ways, often as a spread like butter. Pandanus limbatus, seeds, fruits continuously but is the least preferred of all the Pandanus with edible seeds; Pandanus spiralis, Australia, fruit and seeds. The latter can be extracted from fruit and ground into flour and taste like a combination of peanuts and coconuts. There are 37 species found in Australia, usually along the coast of the northern territories.

Pandanus fruit falls apart when ripe.

While there are male and female trees P. brosimos, P. julianettii, and P. conoideus are believed to be parthenogenetic, read reproduce on their own. Fruiting for most Pandanus can also be a result of timing. Male flowers bloom every year. Female flowers every second year. And while male and female flowers may bloom at different times thus no fruit that year. The genus name, Pandanus, comes from the Indonesian name of the tree, Pandan. In English it is called Screw Pine because some species leaves appear to grow in spirals. Lastly, often the fruit is picked and just used for decoration.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 narf7 October 5, 2012 at 16:28

I always learn something from every single one of your posts. Cheers for this post regarding the tropical wonder we call pandanus. I have to say that as a Taswegian, the odds of me every growing one here are slim and next to none, BUT that doesn’t stop me admiring and enjoying posts like these :)

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2 Bruce R French January 13, 2014 at 20:11

Pandanus juilianettii and Pandanus brosimos grow in a climatic zone where Banana passionfruit goes wild and climb over it – just like banana passion fruit does in Tasmania. At 2,800 m altitude in PNG the climate is similar to Tasmania!

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3 John November 29, 2012 at 16:38

WOW!! I live near the Gold Coast Australia and didn’t realize this plant is such a gem. Its grows mad here.
Love your stuff Dean, U Rule big time here mate.

Cheers from OZ :-)

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4 Marilyn March 10, 2013 at 23:44

This is a fascinating article. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I had no idea and will look for this fruit the next time I’m in Hawaii visiting my family. I’ll also look for baskets made from this trees leaves and bark.

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5 dave April 16, 2013 at 04:26

Great article about Pandanus! So many options! Pandanus tectorius (and other pandanus) are great plant for coastal windbreaks.

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6 Spencer May 20, 2013 at 18:13

Thanks for the info. I just learned a lot more about Pandanus… This looks like a fantastic website, I’m surprised I haven’t come across it before. I’ll be sure to tune in regularly. If you have a moment, could you tell me if I have the right ID on this Pandanus photo: http://anthropogen.com/2008/03/02/pandanus-spp-close/

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7 CeLia July 20, 2013 at 13:51

The “Pandanus amaryllifolius” usually known just as Pandan in Malaysia and other South East Asian countries are used in making deserts. And we remove or discard the leaves. It’s too ‘hard’ for consumption. We would wash it, tie 3-4 leaves in a knot and boil in a pot of water with slices of old ginger and rock sugar to make syrups, or add more water and toss in sweet potato cubes in hues of colours. We call this the Sweet Potato Soup.

There is also the Bubur Cha-cha which also uses the Pandan leaves to flavor the ‘soup’.

Pandan can also be tossed into rice and some shallots with some fenugreek seeds and a bit of coconut cream to make a rice dish call Nasi Lemak (direct translation call “rice lard” but it is not lard. It’s a fragranty rice that goes well with curries. Have a try. :) )

If you’re interested in the recipes, google the names.

The Pandan leaves could also be used to wrap pieces of marinated chickens and grilled. “Pandan Chicken”

Or made into square cups and filled with some type of coconut + water chestnut + mung bean flour. Eaten cold from fridge. Desert. Goggle for Kueh Tako Pandan.

Cheers!
celia

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8 carl September 10, 2013 at 06:41

I have a very large Pandanus in my yard and its baring those round green fruit pods . I live in florida though can you still eat the fruit?? Its a very large tree i removed 17 pods off .

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9 Green Deane September 10, 2013 at 08:52

Most of them are edible when bright orange red. You would have to make sure of the species, though.

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10 david January 21, 2014 at 18:03

My mom used to make baskets and bowls and placemats and hats! Growing up in Miami

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11 Crystal February 9, 2014 at 13:19

Carl would you be willing to sell some of your pods? I would like to try the fruit. They say the are good for birds also and i would like to try them.

Thank you

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12 Kristen March 25, 2014 at 17:50

Great info. about pandanus! I manage Pacific Pure Water in the Marshall Islands and produce panadanus juice and makwon, pureed pandanus, as well but there’s not a lot about it online. Love the stuff!
Thanks!
PS – It’s really tasty in a martini or margarita too!

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13 Green Deane March 25, 2014 at 21:05

Thanks. Have you tried all the species or are there just a few you prefer?

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14 Isabel Dyer April 17, 2014 at 12:27

Very good article with great information. I bought what I was told was a Flax plant from a nursery in St Vincent (Grenadines). This year it grew many hard green fruits, which turned orange and burst. I think it’s a Screw Pine, Pandanus Tectorius. My garden is blasted by trade winds and salt but this plant withstands all of it. I put the chopped fruit in a blender with honey and coconut water, and strained the juice, it smelt like fresh mown grass and made a refreshing drink. Maybe we shouldn’t have drunk it! But everyone survived, maybe the fresh passion fruit vodkas to follow helped! I bought a Cleusa Rosa from the same nursery, it’s now 20′ tall and is full of mocking birds when the football fruits ripen.

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15 manu May 29, 2014 at 09:22

hi all!
from my last trip to Asia,I brought with me some pandan seeds. does anyone know how i can end up planting them?
thanks

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16 joan July 8, 2014 at 13:40

can I plant a pandanus tree close to my house

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17 Green Deane July 8, 2014 at 14:48

Not too close. They form a huge clump that can grow as big as a house.

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