Syzygium cumini, commonly known as jambolan, Java plum, black plum or jamun, is an evergreen tropical tree in the flowering plant family Myrtaceae. It is native to the Indian Subcontinent, adjoining regions of Southeast Asia, China and Queensland. The name of the fruit is sometimes mistranslated as blackberry, which is a different fruit in an unrelated family. Syzygium cumini has been spread overseas from India by Indian emigrants and at present is common in former tropical British colonies.
The tree was introduced to Florida in 1911 by the USDA, and is also now commonly grown in Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. In Brazil, where it was introduced from India during Portuguese colonization, it has dispersed spontaneously in the wild in some places, as its fruits are eagerly sought by various native birds such as thrushes, tanagers and the great kiskadee. This species is considered an invasive in Hawaii.
A slow growing species, it can reach heights of up to 30 m and can live more than 100 years. Its dense foliage provides shade and is grown just for its ornamental value. At the base of the tree, the bark is rough and dark grey, becoming lighter grey and smoother higher up. The wood is water resistant. Because of this it is used in railway sleepers and to install motors in wells. It is sometimes used to make cheap furniture and village dwellings though it is relatively hard to work on.
The leaves which have an aroma similar to turpentine, are pinkish when young, changing to a leathery, glossy dark green with a yellow midrib as they mature. The leaves are used as food for livestock, as they have good nutritional value.
Syzygium cumini trees start flowering from March to April. The flowers are fragrant and small, about 5 mm in diameter. The fruits develop by May or June and resemble large berries; the fruit of Syzygium species is described as "drupaceous". The fruit is oblong, ovoid. Unripe fruit looks green. As it matures, its color changes to pink, then to shining crimson red and finally to black color. A variant of the tree produces white coloured fruit. The fruit has a combination of sweet, mildly sour and astringent flavour and tends to colour the tongue purple.
The 1889 book 'The Useful Native Plants of Australia’ records that the plant was referred to as "Durobbi" by Indigenous Australians, and that "The fruit is much eaten by the natives of India; in appearance it resembles a damson, has a harsh but sweetish flavour, somewhat astringent and acid. It is much eaten by birds, and is a favourite food of the large bat or flying fox. (Brandis)."
Nutrients and phytochemicals
Nutritional information for S. cumini leaves and fruit are detailed here.
Cultural and religious significance
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Lord Krishna is also known to have four symbols of the jambu fruit on his right foot as mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavatam commentary (verse 10.30.25), "Sri Rupa Cintamani" and "Ananda Candrika" by Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura.
In Maharashtra, S. cumini leaves are used in marriage pandal decorations. A song from the film 'Jait re Jait (1977)' mentions the fruit in the song 'Jambhul Piklya Zaadakhali'. The seeds are sometimes used in herbal teas to treat diabetes.
Besides the fruits, wood from Neredu tree is used in Andhra Pradesh to make bullock cart wheels and other agricultural equipment.The timber of Neredu is used to construct doors and windows. Hindus use a sizable branch of the tree to inaugurate beginning of marriage preparations and plant it in a place a pandal will be erected. Culturally, beautiful eyes are compared to this fruit. In the great epic of India Mahabharatha, Lord Krishnas' (Lord Vishnu) body color is compared to this fruit as well.
There is a very famous legend that is associated with Auvaiyar (also Auvayar), a prominent female poet/ethicist/political activist of Sangam period (Tamil literature), and Naval Pazham(Jambu) in Tamil Nadu. Auvaiyar, believing to have achieved everything that is to be achieved, said to have been pondering over her retirement from Tamil literary work while resting under Naval Pazham tree. But she was met with and was wittily jousted by a disguised Lord Murugan (regarded as one of the guardian deities of Tamil language), who later revealed himself and made her realize that there is still a lot more to be done and learnt. Following this awakening, Auvaiyar is believed to have undertaken a fresh set of literary works, targeted at children. Also the presiding deity at Thiruvanaikaval temple, Lord Shiva is called as Jambukeswarar signifying the importance of Jamun tree which is the Stala viruksha of this 2nd century famous panchabhoota stalam.
The fruit is particularly plentiful in Kollam.
Bears like this fruit. This tree is commonly found in the rural regions of Karnataka. The name of the fruit in Kannada is Nerale Hannu
Ripe fruits for sale in a HAL market in Bangalore
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- Syzygium cumini
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