Hernandia nymphaeifolia (Jack-In-The-Box Tree)


  • TropPlant Accession Number (TPAN): 0138
  • Botanical Name: Hernandia nymphaeifolia
  • Common Name: Jack-In-The-Box Tree, Lantern Tree, Bing-A-Bing (Indonesian)
  • Cultivar: N/A
  • Family: Hernandiaceae
Hernandia nymphaeifolia
Photo by Matthew Gaston

  • Native To: Coastal lands throughout tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans including East Africa and Madagascar

Landscaping Information

    • Plant Type: Tree, Broadleaf Evergreen
    • Texture: Medium to Dense
    • Form: Round-Headed
    • Height (on average, in landscape use): 20'-60'
    • Height to Spread Ratio: 1:1
    • Growth Rate: Fast
    • Landscape Values: Street Tree, Framing, Shade, (Some) Sculptural Form, Specimen
    • Outstanding Quality: Form/Silhouette, Foliage Characters, Fruit, Bark
    Hernandia nymphaeifolia on the UH Manoa Campus
    Photo by Matthew Gaston



    Hernandia nymphaeifolia with its appealing bark, structure, and colors
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    Botanical Descriptions

    • Flowers: 0.5",White to greenish, fragrant, unisex. Flowers year round.
    • Fruits: 1"-1.5" white to red, waxy cupule (fused bracts) surrounds a 0.75"-1.25" black drupe with eight ribs. The black bit is the fruit, which contains a single seed. The outer structure is called a cupule, which has an opening opposite the stem. A gentle, pleasant, fragrance. One seed per fruit.
    Hernandia nymphaeifolia cupule with fruit inside (aka the "Box with Jack inside" or "The Lantern")
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    Hernandia nymphaeifolia ripped cupule with fruit exposed
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    • Foliage Color: Young/immature: Light Green Mature: Bright Medium Green to Dark Green
    • Foliage Tip: Acute
    • Foliage Base: Peltate
    • Petiole: 3"- 4"
    • Stipules: N/A
    • Margins: Smooth
    • Leaf Arrangement: A description of the attachment of the leaves to the stem; descriptions can include Opposite, Alternate, Distichous, Whorled, 4-ranked, Rosette.
    • Leaf Shape: Peltate
    • Leaf Type: Simple
    • Leaf Texture: Leathery, smooth, deep green adaxial surface (top surface); prominent raised venations, paler green abaxial surface (bottom surface).
    • Leaf Special Notes: Notable petiole attachment to the leaf. A pleasant shape and color. 
    Hernandia nymphaeifolia adaxial leaf surface
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    Hernandia nymphaeifolia abaxial leaf surface
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    • Bark and Trunk: smooth, white bark with dark gray fissures. Rather Notable
    Hernandia nymphaeifolia bark
    Photo by Matthew Gaston

    Horticultural Information

      • Light Preference: Full Sun
      • Soil Preferences:  Loam, Sand, Organic, Moist
      • Tolerances: Salt Air, Moderate Winds, Humidity, Regular Watering
      • Water Requirements: More water than moderate. Enjoys moist roots. Once established it can tolerate a short period of drought, but this is not ideal.
      • Notes on Maintenance: No known pests in Hawaii. Ensure that the soil is moisture retentive. Can tolerate moderate winds, but the crown will be heavily altered by the wind. Tolerates sea spray. Popular in beachfront gardens due to its tolerances, but would grow best in fertile, moist, inland-lowlands.
      • Propagation: Readily propagated through seed, but hardwood cuttings also work.
      • Minimum USDA Hardiness Zone: 10a
      • Weed Risk Assessment Score (WRA): -4, Low Risk

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