A Filipino name for a massive tropical tree, dao refers to the species Dracontomelon dao, known in English-speaking nations as the New Guinea walnut or Argus pheasant tree. After a seed germinates, the dao quickly grows to a height of 10 to 15 feet in two years and about 20 feet tall in five and a half years. An attractively branched tree that is used as a large ornamental shade tree across the tropics, dao also provides economic and culinary value. It is a relative of mango and cashew trees.
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Dao grows in the lowlands and swamps across southern Asia where annual rainfall is high and the dry season is quite short. It occurs from sea level to about 1,600 feet; high elevation cold limits its survival as it's not tolerant of frost. The tree's native range extends from India to southern China southward, to the Philippines, Sumatra and New Guinea.
Habit and Size
In a forest setting with many nearby trees, the dao grows upright with a trunk free of major branches until the 60 to 70 foot level. The branches extend outward to receive sunlight with rather open canopy. Dao matures around 150 feet tall, occasionally to 185 feet. If grown in a spacious, sunny park setting where no other tree competition occurs, dao becomes much wider with stouter, more massive trunk. The broad, spreading canopy creates a domelike silhouette, about 150 feet tall and 150 to 175 feet wide. Buttressing roots support the large, heavy tree structure.
Newly emerging leaves look bronzy on the dao. Each mature green leaf is compound, comprising seven to 19 leaflets. The leaves tend to cluster at branch tips and attach to the branches in a spiral arrangement. In periods of drought, leaves may shed to create a partially deciduous tree canopy. Tiny, white-green, fragrant flowers may occur in a branched cluster anytime of year when it's warm and rainy. Usually, flowers appear on branches just before new leaves emerge at the beginning of the tropical rainy season. The fruits that follow contain a hard seed surrounded by soft flesh and a removable skin called an operculum.
Fruits and their seed kernels are edible, although not considered a sought-after delicacy across Southeast Asia. In nature, bats eat the fruits and scatter the seeds. People may also eat young, tender leaves as a vegetable. Dao wood makes a good burning fuel. The timber contains wavy streaks of green to dark brown, with pinkish to pale yellow heartwood. It's used in veneers, furniture, plywood, and interior trim and framing.