What Kind of Tree Do Cashews Come From?

A branch of a cashew tree with many cashews

Cashews are a beloved snack and ingredient worldwide that originate from an intriguing and unique tree. While the cashew nut is widely recognized, the tree it comes from remains a mystery to many.

That’s why we are going to give you the basics on the fascinating cashew tree. We will look at the essentials about the cashew tree: its distinct look, its historical background, and the environments where it thrives. You will better understand where these popular nuts come from and how they grow.

What Does a Cashew Tree Look Like?

The cashew tree, or Anacardium occidentale, is a tropical evergreen tree that can grow up to 40 feet tall, or 12 meters. The canopy of the tree is wide and spreading, and the trunk is short and stout. The cashew tree leaves have a leathery texture, and elliptical shape, and are spirally arranged. The flowers are small and pink to reddish, growing in clusters.

A cashew tree

Dwarf cashew trees

Over the last decades, cashew trees have been modified to reach maturity earlier, leading to greater yields. The positive results of such practice paved the way for the arrival of new tree breeds, which are different in size. They are known as dwarf cashew trees.

There are different varieties of dwarf cashew trees, but on average, they only grow to about 20 feet tall, or 6 meters. These new breeds have a more compact canopy than the standard cashew tree. They’re easier to manage and harvest this way.

Where Can the Cashew Tree Be Found?

Cashew trees need particular conditions for growing. That’s why they are only found in specific places on the globe. While relatively common in East Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, and parts of South America, the cashew tree is absent from most of the globe. 

Cashew trees thrive in wet-dry tropical climates. They require temperatures between 50 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive, or 10 and 40 degrees Celcius. 

While these trees can only grow in limited places throughout the globe, they grow quite prolifically in the spots where they can thrive. In fact, the saying goes that “cashew trees grow like weeds” once you get a few in one spot.

Where Do Cashew Trees Originate From?

Cashew trees (Anacardium occidentale) are native to Brazil’s dry forests between the Atlantic and the Amazon. However, they have been spread all over the globe for commercial purposes. 

Europeans first saw cashews in the 16th century when Portuguese explorers discovered them while colonizing Brazil.

In the same century, they started to export them to other parts of the world. One of the places the Portuguese took both cashews and the trees was Goa, in India, which was their territory at the time. Cashews spread from India to Asia and Africa.

How Do Cashews Grow on the Tree?

The cashew tree produces a fruit called the cashew apple, which is neither an apple nor fruit, but a swollen stem. The cashew apple is classified as an accessory fruit, or a false fruit. That’s because it doesn’t develop from the flower’s ovary, but from its receptacle.

Cashews attached to cashew apples

Cashews grow attached to this accessory fruit. That’s why cashews aren’t real nuts; they are the seeds that grow connected to cashew apples. 

Many people who see photos of cashews growing describe them as looking like moon-shaped heads with “grumpy faces” wearing red hats. The moon-shaped seed you see protruding from the red hat is the cashew you’ll eat after it’s plucked and dried.

How many years does a cashew tree take to produce?

From the moment a cashew tree is planted, it takes about around three years until it is ready to produce cashews. However, it will take five additional years for the tree to be able to produce a whole crop. Only then is it possible to start harvesting the cashews.

The appearance of new cashew tree breeds shortened that time. Some trees start producing fruit in as little as one year, and harvests are feasible after two more years.


The cashew tree is a beautiful, fascinating tree that produces the seeds we know and love. The fact that cashews grow attached to a stem (which people call apples) makes them very unusual. 

Hopefully, you enjoyed learning about this tree, its origins, and where it grows. The next time you eat a cashew nut, you will remember its life cycle.

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