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The Cashew Nut

by Gene Joyner, Extension Agent I

IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service

The cashew nut, Anacardium occidentale, is native to Brazil and is planted throughout the tropical regions of the world where it is a very important economic crop for some countries. Trees grow in protected areas in South Florida and reach a height of about 30 feet. The trees have large leathery alternate leaves, 5-7 inches long and prominently veined; the small fragrant pinkish flowers are produced from early spring through early summer.

The fruit formed by the cashew tree is very unusual in that it looks like a small pear with the cashew nut hanging from the bottom of it. The cashew apple, as it is called, is about 2 inches in diameter and 3 to 4 inches in length in some varieties. The trees produce fruit very quickly, usually about 3 months after flowering; the fruit at maturity can be either bright red, orange-red or yellow in color, and is very aromatic. The cashew apple is often used in tropical regions for many important products such as wine, jellies, or refreshing drinks. The edible nut, however, is the most highly prized part of the the fruit, and is roasted and packaged for shipment to distant markets.

The cashew is a relative of poison ivy and the oil in the nutshell can cause a rash or other irritation to the skin--this why the nuts must be heated in order to render the oil less caustic. Never eat cashews raw since this caustic oil can cause significant problems for most people. After roasting, however, the cashew is one of the most delicious of nuts and is rich in protein and fat; the oil which is in the spongy layer of the shell is used in many commercial applications.

Cashews are easily propagated by seed, and seedlings may bear flowers by the second year when they are less than 3 feet in height. As long as they have good drainage, trees grow well over a wide range of soil types. Young trees must be protected from low temperatures because they will be damaged or even killed at 32°F. Older trees may have significant damage caused by frost or freeze, but usually will make a recovery. When planted in the landscape, trees should be in sheltered locations protected by more cold-hardy trees or buildings for optimum growth.

Cashews should be fertilized every 3 to 4 months with a good-quality complete fruit tree-type fertilizer and are very drought-tolerant, although they will grow better when supplied with regular irrigation. Superior varieties of cashews are available in many tropical countries, but most of the ones grown in Florida are seed-grown. If you have access to superior varieties, they can be propagated by veneer grafting, budding, or air-layering. There are very few, if any, serious pests of cashew; however, during the spring dry season, thrips may occasionally attack foliage and cause some defoliation.

Most of the people growing cashew here in Florida do not grow the tree for its edible nut because they often save the seed to plant new trees to share with friends. The apple, however, is the source of an excellent juice or beverage and this is the common use of the tree here in Florida.




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