Muntingia calabura is a shrub or tree up to 12 m tall with spreading branches. The leaves are alternate, distichous, oblong or lanceolate, 4–15 cm long and 1–6 cm wide, with toothed margin and covered in short hairs. The flowers are small (up to 3 cm wide), solitary or in inflorescences of 2-3 flowers; with 5 lanceolate sepals, hairy; 5 obovate white petals; many stamens with yellow anthers and a smooth ovoid ovary. Fruit, an edible berry, red at maturity, about 1.5 cm wide.
Distribution and habitat
M. calabura is native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and western South America south to Bolivia and Argentina. It is present in tropical climate in disturbed lowland areas from sea level to 1000 m of elevation.
This species colonize disturbed habitats in tropical lowland areas, becoming part of the secondary vegetation, as well as gallery forests. It thrives in poor soil, able to tolerate acidic and alkaline conditions and drought, but doesn't grow on saline conditions.
The seeds are dispersed by birds and fruit bats.
Common names include:
The fruits are edible and in some cases sold in markets, as can be eaten raw or processed as jam; leaves can be used for making tea. There are also traditional medicinal uses reported for the leaves (headaches, prostate problems, reduce gastric ulcers), bark (antiseptic), flowers (antiseptic, reduce swelling, antispasmodic) and fruits (respiratory problems; antidiarrheic).
The tree is also planted along river banks in Brazil, as fallen fruits attract fish.
M. calabura has a potential as a useful species for restoration of disturbed areas and stop soil erosion. It also offers shelter for wildlife as it is a source of food for ca. 60 species of birds and mammals.
M. calabura can be propagated from seed, seedlings or cuttings. In Costa Rica, seeds set in the wet season, but require conditions of light and temperature found in forest gaps. In a test where seeds were placed in wet paper towel, at 25 °C a total of 44% of seeds germinated in white light, while none germinated in dark conditions.
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