Whether called monkey pod or rain tree, Samanea saman is a noble tropical tree widely used as a park shade tree or to line avenues. According to the Traditional Tree Initiative's website profile of the tree, it grows up to 5 feet a year, eventually maturing nearly 75 feet tall and over 100 feet wide with a spreading, umbrella-like canopy. "Tropical and Subtropical Trees" by Margaret Barwick lists the monkey pod as the tree used in the 1960 film "Swiss Family Robinson" to support the treehouse on the set in Tobago. Monkey pod is native to northern South America and is appropriate to grow outdoors only where winters are frost-free and temperatures do not dip below 46 degrees F, such as in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 11 and warmer.
Things You'll Need
- Organic mulch
- Granular, balanced fertilizer
Choose a spacious location to plant a monkey pod. The soil should be fertile and well drained, but overall this tree demonstrates wide tolerance of many soil types and pH ranges, according to Margaret Barwick, author of "Tropical and Subtropical Trees." The landscape location must also supply at least 10 hours of direct sunlight exposure daily. The monkey pod grows well in nutrient-poor soils and those that are shallow, such as soils only 2 to 3 feet deep over rock substrate.
Plant the monkey pod at least 30 feet away from buildings, sidewalks or other permanent, expensive structures or hardscapes. This fast-growing tree develop massive, muscular surface roots (especially in clay or rock-laden soils). It is not the tree to grow on the smaller lot dimensions of residential properties. Site this tree in an open park or campus setting.
Place a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the young monkey pod, extending it several feet beyond the reach of its branches. Mulch retains soil moisture, cools the roots and diminishes the encroachment of weeds around the tree's root zone.
Fertilize the monkey pod tree annually with a well-balanced, granular fertilizer. Follow label directions for proper timing and dosage of applications. Maintaining organic mulch under the tree also supplies trace nutrients to sustain tree health, too.
Tips & Warnings
- Margaret Barwick, in "Tropical and Subtropical Trees," comments that when the monkey pod tree grows in tropical regions with abundant rainfall, its root system tends to be rather shallow. If hurricanes are common, monkey pod is better planted in drier soils or where seasonal drought encourages tree roots to penetrate more deeply into the soil, for anchorage.
- Remove lower branches when the tree is smaller to help develop a tree with lots of clearance, such as if sited close to a roadway.
- Prune away dead or diseased branches if they appear, regardless of time of year.
- Monkey pod tree is considered an invasive, undesirable tree in some parts of tropical Australia and Pacific islands such as Fiji and Vanuatu.
- Be prepared to rake up the messy fallen flower petals in late spring as well as the numerous black seed pods that drop. This is especially bothersome in formal garden settings or if trees reach over roads and parking lots.
- "Tropical and Subtropical Trees"; Margaret Barwick; 2004
- Traditional Tree Initiative: Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry: Samanea saman
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