Tallow wood (Ximenia americana) is a thorny sprawling shrub or small tree (usually) of dry places and is shown above along the beginning of the trail at the south Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. Its genus name, Ximenia, honors Francisco Ximenez, a 17th Spanish monk who published a book about the flora and fauna of Mexico in 1615. The species name, americana, references its presence in the Americas from peninsular Florida southward but belies its very wide generally coastal distribution though Asia, Africa, and even Australia.
This year seems to be a mast year for tallow wood, just as it does for live oak (Quercus virginiana). Oak fruits are called acorns. Tallow wood fruits are drupes or “stone fruits”. An outer fleshy, often edible, part (mesocarp) surrounds a pit (a hardened endocarp). Think of peaches, cherries, olives, and plums.
Tallow wood drupes are bright yellow and vary from dime-sized to quarter-sized. Their pulp is fragrant and pretty tasty. The palatability, as with many non-cultivated fruits, varies from plant to plant. The fruits of some plants may be a bit bitter.
The fruits may be eaten raw, juiced, made into jellies or jams, pickled, or even fermented into a “beer” (Think kombucha, if you want to be trendy). Pick fruits to eat when they are soft to the touch and fragrant but not shriveled.
Flowering and fruiting occurs throughout the year, as with some tropical plants. Bees, including European honeybees, are thought to pollinate tallow wood.
Tallow is an oil usually rendered from animal products and frequently used in the products of soaps, shampoos, and such. An oil can be rendered from the “pits” of tallow wood, giving rise to one of its many common names.
Another common name for this plant is hog plum. Botanist Dr. David Hall, former University of Florida herbarium curator, recommends that this common name be reserved for tropical fruits in the genus Spondias, which are fed to hogs. Other common names include tallow plum, tallow nut, sea lemon, and seaside plum.
Whatever you call it, this plant does have delicious fruits.