Hernandia nymphaeifolia is a large evergreen tree with smooth bark that can grow up to 20 m in height. The leaves are simpl,e rounded-cordate, 7-20 cm long, with long petioles that attach to the blade inside of the leaf margin (peltate). The lantern tree is monoecious, meaning that there are separate male and female flowers on the same tree. The small flowers are clustered together usually in groups of three, the male flowers having 3 white petals and the females 4. On some trees the female flowers open in the morning and the males flowers in the afternoon, and on other trees the males open before the females, thus insuring cross pollination. Flowering occurs year round. The single seeded fruit (drupe) is surrounded by a white or pink fleshy covering with a hole at one end resembeling a lantern. The mature fruits are 2.5 - 3.5 cm long and contain a black round seed approximately 5 mm in diameter.
(Smith, A. C. 1985. Flora Vitiensis Nova)
(Whistler W. A. 2005. Trees of Western Polynesia)
Throughout most of Polynesia, the round seeds are polished by native islanders and strung like beads into shiny brown necklaces or leis.
(Whistler, W. A. 1990. Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands.)
Hernandia nymphaeifolia is naturally distributed from tropical East Africa to Eastern Polynesia with the exception of Hawai`i and the Marquesas.
(Whistler, W. A. 2005. Trees of Western Polynesia)
We currently have 43 herbarium specimens for Hernandia nymphaeifolia in our collection. Click on any specimen below to view the herbarium sheet data.