Alexandrian laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum)

Also known as: beach calophyllum, Borneo mahogany, sweet scented calophyllum, Tamanu
GenusCalophyllum (1)
SizeHeight: up to 20 m (2)

The Alexandrian laurel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A medium-to-large evergreen tree with a broad spreading crown of irregular branches, the Alexandrian laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum) is valued for its ornamental timber and its oils (2). The oils, which are contained in soft nuts in spherical drupe fruits, are said to have a variety of medical and cosmetic uses. The fruits are arranged in clusters and, once ripe, have a smooth, yellow skin (3). 

The thick trunk of the Alexandrian laurel is covered with a rough, black, cracked bark which becomes smooth and tinted yellow or ochre with age (3) (4). The inner bark is usually thick, soft, firm, fibrous and laminated pink to red, but darkens to brownish on exposure to air (4). 

The trunk of the Alexandrian laurel supports a dense canopy of glossy, smooth, tough, elliptical leaves that are rounded at the bases (2) (3). In open areas the canopy is oval or umbrella-shaped and as wide as the tree is tall, but old trees in coastal environments are often bent and twisted by the wind (2). The white flowers are arranged in clusters and have a sweet, lime-like fragrance (3).

The Alexandrian laurel is a widespread tree that is native from East Africa, through India and the Chagos Islands, to Southeast Asia and Taiwan, southwards to Australia and many islands in the Central and Southern Pacific Ocean. It is widely planted within and outside its natural range, and is also found in the Caribbean and Hawaiian islands (1) (2) (4).

Growing best in direct sunlight on sandy, well-drained soils, the Alexandrian laurel generally occurs on beaches and in coastal forests. It may also be found on sandy soils inland or along river margins (2) (4).

The Alexandrian laurel’s hermaphroditic flowers are pollinated by insects, such as bees (4). Flowers may be present on the tree all year, but flowering peaks in the northern Hemisphere in late spring to early summer and in late autumn (2). Fruits are borne twice a year, which occurs between April and June and October and December in Hawaii (2). The fruits are dispersed by sea currents and by fruit bats. It is possible that the Alexandrian laurel may also reproduce asexually, resulting in several embryos produced from a single fertilised ovule (4). In its first few years of life, the Alexandrian laurel may grow at a rate of one metre per year, but this growth rate later slows. Young trees first flower after seven or eight years (2).

The Alexandrian laurel is a widespread and abundant species that is easily propagated. Consequently, it is not considered at risk of extinction, and there are no known major threats to this species. However, in some areas the Alexandrian laurel is harvested in large quantities for its valued wood, which is sought after for its hardiness and beauty. The timber is prized for carving, cabinet making and boat building in particular (2) (4). 

The oils from the Alexandrian laurel’s nuts also have a variety of uses. They are used in varnishes and as lamp oil, as well as in medicines and cosmetics such as soaps. The oil has proved useful in the treatment of rheumatism, but may also be applied to inflamed bones and joints, burns and ulcers. The bark, gum, sap and leaves are also said to have medicinal properties, but the fruit is poisonous and can be used as rat bait or as a mosquito repellent (3). 

The Alexandrian laurel may also be used in coastal stabilisation as it is tolerant of wind and salt spray, and may be planted as an ornamental species in parks and gardens, as its thick crown provides shade and shelter from the sun (2) (4).

In the absence of any major threats to its survival, the Alexandrian laurel has not been the target of any conservation measures. However, it is often propagated and managed for its nuts and oils (2).

Find out more about plant conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry - Calophyllum inophyllum (March, 2011)
  3. Dweck, A.C. and Meadows, T. (2002) Tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum) - the African, Asian, Polynesian and Pacific Panacea. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 24: 1-8.
  4. Agro Forestry Tree Database - ­Calophyllum inophyllum (March, 2011)