The nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) produces two spices, nutmeg and mace. Both are derived from the seeds of the nutmeg tree. Nutmeg is the actual seed of the nutmeg tree. Mace is the covering, or aril, of the seed. Both are similar in flavor. Nutmeg is usually used in sweet dishes whereas mace is usually used in savory dishes. Both are important components of Asian cuisine. During the Age of Discovery, they were imported to Europe where they became part of those cuisines and then were brought to the New World with the European colonists. Both are dried and used in powdered form.
Nutmeg trees are native to the Molucca Islands (the so-called Spice Islands) of Indonesia. Because of their unique growing needs, they have not spread as much around the world as more common herbs and spices. In modern times, the largest exporters of nutmeg are Indonesia and Grenada. Other places where the trees are now found include India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean Islands.
One extremely important fact to note is that nutmeg is toxic for dogs. They are attracted to the scent but if ingested, nutmeg can kill them.
Unfortunately, unless you live in a wet, humid tropical zone (10 & 11), you cannot grow your own nutmeg, either in your yard or in containers. The trees require heat, high humidity and lots of water. They do not tolerate any dryness. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area of the world where nutmeg trees can be grown, they prefer full sun. Younger trees prefer partial shade. They are multi-stem trees and evergreen. Full grown trees reach 40 to 60 feet in height.
The flowers are cream color followed by yellow fruits that resemble apricots. It takes anywhere from 150 to 180 days after bloom for the fruit to ripen. When the fruit ripens, it splits open revealing the aril covered seeds inside. The aril is scarlet and the seeds are a purple brown.
Nutmeg trees begin bearing fruit when they are between 5 and 8 years old. They can be productive for 30 to 70 years depending on how vigorous the trees are. A full grown tree will produce up to 1,000 fruits each year.