Tree That Feed – Ackee Tree

By Liliana Usvat


Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. It is a familiar, delicious, staple dish when served with fish, or sometimes bacon. In fact “ackee and saltfish” is the national dish of Jamaica.

Its name is derived from the West African name Akye fufo, which is where the fruit is native. It was brought to Jamaica during the 18th century, along with other fruit, to feed the people. Since then it has become a major feature of various Caribbean cuisines.ackee-tree-3640


The ackee tree is an evergreen related to the lychee and the longan. It grows up to 25 feet tall with a short trunk and a dense crown. The leaves are a light, almost luminous green. The fruit has a red outer skin, bright yellow exposed flesh, and black seeds. An ackee tree in bloom is beautiful.


The ackee tree grows true to form from seed. We are encouraging propagation and more widespread planting for local consumption .


Ackee is considered a fruit but is cooked and used as vegetable. To prepare Ackee the arils are cleaned and washed. They are then boiled for about 30 minutes and the arils will turn from cream to bright yellow.


The fruit is about the size and shape of a pear. As it ripens , it turns from green to a bright red to a yellow-orange, and splits open to reveal three large, shiny black seeds, surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh called the arilli. This is the edible part of the fruit and is only safely edible after it has split open and cooked.

A handful of islands grow ackee as an ornamental tree, but only Jamaica looks at it as a tree that bears edible fruit. Ackee grows in bunches on powerful, strong-rooted trees. The trees grow all across Jamaica, particularly in the farming regions of the south central plains in Clarendon and St. Elizabeth. There are two bearing seasons: between January to March and June to August.

The fruit turns bright red on reaching maturity and splits open along the seams with continued exposure to the sun. When open it reveals three large black shiny seeds and bright yellow flesh. Traditionally it is at this time that the ackees are harvested.


The fruit of the Akee is not edible. It is only the fleshy arils around the seeds that are edible. The fruit must only be picked after the fruit has opened naturally, and must be fresh and not overripe.
When boiled, drained and simmered in oil with salted dried cod with your choice of vegetables and hot peppers, it becomes Jamaica’s national dishAckee and Saltfish. Considered as a delicacy by many, cooked ackee has the consistency and look of scrambled eggs. It is enjoyed by many at breakfast or as an entree throughout Jamaica. The purified oil from ackee has high nutritive value.


Ackee trees should be planted in full sun but generally should be at least 25 to 30 ft (6.7-7.6 m) from adjacent trees and structures. Trees planted too close to other trees or structures may not grow normally or produce much fruit due to shading.


Trees appear to grow well in well drained, deep, fertile soils and non-fertile soils like sands and oolitic limestone.


Planting an Ackee Tree

Proper planting is one of the most important steps in successfully establishing and growing a strong, productive tree. The first step is to choose a healthy nursery tree. Commonly, nursery ackee trees are grown in 3-gallon (11-liter) containers and trees stand 2 to 4 ft (0.6-0.9 liters) from the soil media. Large trees in smaller containers should be avoided because the root system may be “root bound.” This means all the available space in the container has been filled with roots to the point that the tap root is growing along the edge of the container in a circular fashion. Root-bound root systems may not grow properly once planted in the ground. Inspect the tree for insect pests and diseases, and inspect the trunk of the tree for wounds and constrictions. Select a healthy tree and water it regularly in preparation for planting in the ground.


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