BackgroundStyrax tonkinensis is a great potential biofuel as the species contains seeds with a particularly high oil content. Understanding the nutrient distribution in different parts of the fruit is imperative for the development and enhancement of S. tonkinensis as a biodiesel feedstock.MethodsFrom 30 to 140 days after flowering (DAF), the development of S. tonkinensis fruit was tracked. The morphology change, nutrient content, and activity of associated enzymes in the continuum of the pericarp, seed coat, and kernel were analyzed.ResultsBetween 30 and 70 DAF, the main locus of dry matter deposition shifted from the seed coat to the kernel. The water content within the pericarp remained high throughout development, but at the end (130 DAF later) decreased rapidly. The water content within both the seed coat and the kernel consistently declined over the course of the fruit development (30–110 DAF). Between 70 and 80 DAF, the deposition centers for sugar, starch, protein, potassium, and magnesium was transferred to the kernel from either the pericarp or the seed coat. The calcium deposition center was transferred first from pericarp to the seed coat and then to the kernel before it was returned to the pericarp. The sucrose to hexose ratio in the seed coat increased between 30 and 80 DAF, correlating with the accumulation of total soluble sugar, starch, and protein. In the pericarp, the sucrose to hexose ratio peaked at 40 and 100 DAF, correlating with the reserve deposition in the following 20–30 days. After 30 DAF, the chlorophyll concentration of both the pericarp and the seed coat dropped. The maternal unit (the pericarp and the seed coat) in fruit showed a significant positive linear relationship between chlorophyll b/a and the concentration of total soluble sugar. The potassium content had significant positive correlation with starch (ρ = 0.673, p = 0.0164), oil (ρ = 0.915, p = 0.000203), and protein content (ρ = 0.814, p = 0.00128), respectively. The concentration of magnesium had significant positive correlation with starch (ρ = 0.705, p = 0.0104), oil (ρ = 0.913, p = 0.000228), and protein content (ρ = 0.896, p = 0.0000786), respectively. Calcium content had a significant correlation with soluble sugar content (ρ = 0.585, p = 0.0457).ConclusionsDuring the fruit development of S. tonkinensis, the maternal unit, that is, the pericarp and seed coat, may act a nutrient buffer storage area between the mother tree and the kernel. The stage of 70–80 DAF is an important time in the nutrient distribution in the continuum of the pericarp, seed coat, and kernel. Our results described the metabolic dynamics of the continuum of the pericarp, seed coat, and kernel and the contribution that a seed with high oil content offers to biofuel.