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Habitat and growth[edit]

'Anacardium occidentale', from Koehler's 'Medicinal-Plants' (1887)

Cashew treeThe tree is large and evergreen, growing to 10-12m (~32 ft) tall, wit
h a short, often irregularly shaped trunk. The leaves are spirally arranged, lea
thery textured, elliptic to obovate, 4 to 22 cm long and 2 to 15 cm broad, with
smooth margins. The flowers are produced in a panicle or corymb up to 26 cm long
; each flower is small, pale green at first, then turning reddish, with five sle
nder, acute petals 7 to 15 mm long. The largest cashew tree in the world covers
an area of about 7,500 square metres (81,000 sq ft); it is located in Natal, Rio
Grande do Norte, Brazil.
The fruit of the cashew tree is an accessory fruit (sometimes called a pseudocar
p or false fruit). What appears to be the fruit is an oval or pear-shaped struct
ure, a hypocarpium, that develops from the pedicel and the receptacle of the cas
hew flower.[3] Called the cashew apple, better known in Central America as maran,
it ripens into a yellow and/or red structure about 511 cm long. It is edible, and
has a strong "sweet" smell and a sweet taste. The pulp of the cashew apple is v
ery juicy, but the skin is fragile, making it unsuitable for transport. In Latin
America, a fruit drink is made from the cashew apple pulp which has a very refr
eshing taste and tropical flavor that can be described as having notes of mango,
raw green pepper, and just a little hint of grapefruit-like citrus.
The true fruit of the cashew tree is a kidney or boxing-glove shaped drupe that
grows at the end of the cashew apple. The drupe develops first on the tree, and
then the pedicel expands to become the cashew apple. Within the true fruit is a
single seed, the cashew nut. Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botani
cal sense the nut of the cashew is a seed. The seed is surrounded by a double sh
ell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irrit
ant chemically related to the better-known allergenic oil urushiol which is also
a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the
toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke (not unlike that from burning
poison ivy) contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-th
reatening, reactions by irritating the lungs. People who are allergic to cashew
urushiols may also react to mango or pistachio which are also in the Anacardiace
ae family. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequ
ent allergen than other nuts or peanuts.[4]