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Plants: Species

Ice Cream Bean Tree, Guaba Inga vera


Ice cream bean trees Inga vera get their English name from their "beans," which are actually legume pods full of sweet, white, frothy pulp, tasting something like a cross between cotton candy and ice cream. Long a popular snack in the tropical Americas where they grow naturally, the easy-to-crack pods are known there as pacays or guamas. They've even made history: Pedro Pizarro reported that the Inca emperor Atahualpa sent him a basketful of guamas as a gift.

Besides providng snacks, the trees are also used as shade for coffee and cacao, and for timber. They're even used as an astringent and diuretic in folk medicine. You'll see one of the Zoo's larger ice cream bean trees behind the back wall of the meerkat enclosure west of the African Kopje exhibit.