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What is Barringtonia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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Barringtonia is a genus of flowering mangrove trees in the family Lecythidaceae. These plants can be found in tropical swamps in regions across Asia and parts of Africa and they are also cultivated ornamentally in some regions of the world. In areas where Barringtonia species can be grown, they may be carried by nurseries and garden supply stores and can be ordered by request. Gardeners can also request seeds from people who are already cultivating trees in this genus.

These plants have notable rosettes of foliage and produce flowers on long racemes. The flowers are heavily scented and look like puffballs with shades of white, pink, and sometimes purple. Tropical insects are attracted to the flowers and often knock off individual stamens, making the ground under the trees very messy. The flowers develop into fruits that look similar to guavas, and eventually into boxy seeds. Barringtonia seeds are designed to float in water, allowing the seeds to drift between islands and along coastlines. The salt journey does not damage the seeds and, in fact, these trees often grow in salty to brackish swamps, like other mangroves.

There are a number of common names for various species, including Box Fruit and Sea Poison Tree. All parts of Barringtonia species are poisonous and historically people have used the plants to prepare compounds for fishing. The compounds are introduced to the water to stun or kill the fish, making them easier to catch in high volumes.

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In addition to being useful for fishing, these species are also grown ornamentally. In some tropical cities, trees may be cultivated along streets and paths to provide decoration. Barringtonia plantings can be messy when the plants are in flower, as the flowers will drop to the ground, and the fruits can also be a mess. In private gardens, one or two trees may be grown as a garden feature. People with pets and young children should be careful about growing Barringtonia species, as there is a risk members of the household may ingest the fruit and become sick.

In addition to being grown outdoors, mangroves like Barringtonia can also be grown in greenhouse environments. They favor humidity and may need special soil mixes to grow successfully. In a greenhouse, they can be used to recreate the swamp or rainforest environment, and they are also used in butterfly gardens, where appealing trees are used to make butterflies feel at home. The trees can be trimmed to shape them, if desired, or they can be allowed to grow naturally.

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