Colubrina elliptica

Common name: Soldierwood

Other common names: Mauby, Mawby, Nakedwood, Snakewood, Wild guava

Names in non-English languages: French Spanish

Description

Soldierwood is a small tree or shrub originating in the Caribbean and valued there for its bark, which is made into a popular local beverage.

It occurs naturally in dry limestone and scrub forests, in the region extending from the Florida Keys to Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Eastern Caribbean.

It is typically a small evergreen tree 3 to 5 m (10 to 16 ft) tall, with a slender trunk up to 10 cm (4 in) in diameter supporting a thinly branched, wide-spreading crown. The bark is orange-brown, smooth when young, becoming cracked and scaling with age.

Leaves oval with a pointed tip, up to 7.5 cm ( 3 in) long, dark green on top, underneath pale green and finely hairy. They are alternately arranged along the ends of thin branchlets and remain on the plant throughout the year.

The flowers are small and insignificant, greenish-yellow and borne in clusters arising at the leaf base. They bloom on and off throughout the year, usually after a shower of rain and are followed by small, roundish seed capsules that when mature become reddish-brown with three glossy black seed inside. At full maturity, the capsules split apart releasing their seed.

Use

The bark contains saponins and tannins, which give it a bitter flavour. After being stripped from the tree, the bark is dried and either fermented to make a homebrew or combined with sugar and different flavourings to make a bitter-sweet syrup, said to remind of liquorice. The mix of flavourings added to the syrup change with location but may include, among others, Allspice (Pimenta dioica), Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), Star anise (Illicium verum), Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) and citrus peel. 

A drink is made by diluting the syrup in either still or carbonated water. The carbonated version has become a popular soft drink in Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where it bottled commercially and sold as 'Mauby fizz' and 'Hairoun mauby'. The dried bark is also made into a tea.

The wood is hard and heavy, averaging about 800 kgs per cubic meter (50 lbs per cubic ft), with dark brown heartwood and good natural resistance to rot and decay. However, it comes in diameters too small for uses other than posts, poles and for making tool handles.

It is sometimes cultivated in southern Florida as an ornamental tree, particularly in the Florida Keys, where it is native.

Health use

In a small study published in the West Indian Medical Journal (2005 Jan; Vol 54(1):3-8.), it was found that blood pressure reduced in more than 50% of hypertensive subjects given a mauby syrup and coconut water mixture, with the results showing 'Significant decreases in either the mean systolic, the mean diastolic pressure or both.'

Climate

Grows naturally in sub-humid to moderately humid tropical lowland climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 18 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 800 to 1500 mm and a dry season of 4 to 8 months.

Growing

New plants are usually started from seed. Performs best on free-draining loam, sand and limestone soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 8.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has good tolerance to both drought and salt spray conditions.

Problem features

There does not appear to be any record of it anywhere as a weed or invasive species.

Where it will grow


References

Books

  • Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston

  • Little, E. L. et al. 1964 and 1974, Common trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (2 volumes), Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.

  • Parkinson, R. 1999, Culinaria : The Caribbean a culinary discovery, 1st. ed, Könemann, Köln, Germany

  • Stewart, A. 2013, The drunken botanist : the plants that create the world's great drinks, 1st ed., Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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