Muntingia is a genus of plants in the family Muntingiaceae, comprising only one species, Muntingia calabura, and was named in honour of Abraham Munting. It is native to the neotropics, from Mexico south to Bolivia, with edible fruit, and has been widely introduced in other tropical areas.
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 two or three flowers, with five lanceolate sepals, hairy, five obovate white petals, many stamens with yellow anthers, and a smooth ovoid ovary. Fruit, an edible berry, is 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. In Kerala, India, it is seen in the areas adjacent to the Western Ghat.
This species colonizes 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 in saline conditions.
The seeds are dispersed by birds and fruit bats.
Common names include:
- English: cotton candy berry, calabur tree, capulin, festival berry, Jamaica cherry, Panama berry, strawberry tree, ornamental cherry, jamfruit tree, Singapore cherry, West Indian cherry
- Swahili: Mti kivuli
- Filipino: Aratilis
- Cebuano: Mansanitas
- Spanish: cereza, memiso, nigua, bolaina, capulin blanco; chitato, pasito (Colombia), yumanaza, cerezo caspi (Peru) frutilla, niguito (Ecuador)
- French: bois ramier, cerisier de Panama
- Portuguese: calbura, pao de seda; calabura, curumi, pau de seda (Brazil)
- Swedish: panamabär
- Tamil: sarkarai pala maram, seeni pala maram
- Sinhala: jam gaha' (jamfruit tree)
- Kapampangan: sarésa, arátilis
- Kannada: gasagase hannina mara
- India (language not specified): kattilanthi (wild cherry); Company Pazham (Palakkad Walayar area)
- Iloko: seresa, zanitas
- Tagalog: aratiles, datiles, ratiles, latires
- Indonesian: cerri, kersen, talok
- Malay: kerekup Siam, buah ceri
- Khmer: krakhob barang
- Thai: takhop farang (ตะขบฝรั่ง)
- Vietnamese: trứng cá (fish roe fruit)
- Malayalam: panjasaara pazham
The fruits are edible and in some cases sold in markets, as they can be eaten raw or processed as jam; leaves can be used for making tea. Also, traditional medicinal uses have been reported for the leaves (headaches, prostate problems, reduce gastric ulcers), bark (antiseptic), flowers (antiseptic, reduce swelling, antispasmodic), and fruits (respiratory problems; antidiarrheic).
It is said to help diabetic patients. A small reduction was recorded in patients' blood sugar levels after consumption.
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 stopping soil erosion. It also offers shelter for wildlife, as it is a source of food for about 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.
Sri Lankan author Carl Muller chose this tree as the title for his first novel, The Jam Fruit Tree. In the novel, the tree represents the Burgher community of Sri Lanka, "a race of fun-loving, hardy people, much like the jam fruit tree which simply refuses to be contained or destroyed." The book won the Gratiaen Prize for the best published work in the English language in 1993.
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