Sterculia foetida is a large, straight, deciduous tree growing to 40 m in height and 3 m in girth, with the branches arranged in whorls and spreading horizontally. The bark is smooth and grey. Leaves crowded at the ends of branchlets, digitate, with 7-9 leaflets; leaflets elliptical or elliptic-lanceolate, acuminate, 10-17 cm long, shortly petioluled, with unpleasant smell; petiole 12.5-23 cm long. Flowers in many panicles, subterminal, 10-15 cm long; rather large, green or dull purple; unisexual, with male and female flowers on separate trees; calyx dull, orange coloured, deeply 5-partite; lobes 1-1.3 cm long. Follicles scarlet, 7.6-9 x 5 cm, very stout, ultimately woody; seeds 10-15, slate-coloured, ellipsoid, oblong, 1.5-1.8 cm with rudimentary yellow aril.
The generic name is based on the Latin word ‘stercus’, meaning ‘manure’, which refers to the smell of the flowers and leaves of some species. The malodorous nature of the tree is emphasized in the species name, ‘foetida’, meaning ‘stinking’. Requires a frost free environment. Makes an interesting potted plant when young.
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