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Cashew Family (Anacardiaceae)

Edible Species Of The Cashew Family, Other Useful Species, Ornamental Species, Wild Species Occurring In North America

The cashew family (Anacardiaceae) is a group of about 600 species of plants, most of which are tropical in distribution, although some occur in the temperate zone.

Maturing pistachio (Pistacia vera) nuts on a tree in California. © Holt Studios International, National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced with permission.

Almost all members of the cashew family are trees or shrubs, though some are vines. Many species have foliage, fruits, or bark on the stems and roots that contain acrid, an often milky resin, and saps that are irritating or poisonous if touched or eaten. The leaves are typically compound, with at least three if not more leaflets per leaf. The flowers are small, five-parted, insect pollinated, and arranged in compact inflorescences. The fruits are either a one-seeded drupe or a many-seeded berry, and are generally eaten and dispersed by birds or small mammals.

The fruits of some species in the cashew family are an important source of food for people, while other species are used in horticulture. Many species are considered to be important weeds because they are poisonous, often causing a severe dermatitis (rash) in exposed people.

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