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Blind Your Eye
Excoecaria agallocha

Milky Mangrove, Buta Buta (Malay), Gewa (Bangladesh)

The milky sap of this tree can cause temporary blindness if it enters the eyes, hence is common name in English and Malay. The sap can also cause skin blisters and irritation.

branch with male flowersfemale flowers and red leaves Each tree bears either male or female flowers. So when they are in bloom, the trees can look confusingly different! The flowers are wind pollinated.

The young leaves are pinkish. Old leaves turn bright red when they are about to drop off.

The fruit capsules explode when ripe to disperse the seeds by water. The seeds have an air space within the seed coat to help them float. They don't germinate on the parent tree.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Grows 14-20m tall.

Bark: grey, rough covered with brown corky pores.

Leaves: 6-10cm long, pointed tips. Old leaves turn bright red.

Flowers: Tiny flowers in spikes. Male and female flowers occur in separate trees.

Fruit: Small, round, in clusters. Seeds float.

Status in Singapore: Rare.

World distribution: Africa, across the Asian subcontinent to Japan, Southeast Asia to Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Classification: Family Euphorbiaceae. World 2 mangrove species.
male flowers (close up)
Male flowers
female flowers (close up)
Female flowers
unripe fruits
The tree grows further inland usually at the high water mark. It can grow in both stony and muddy ground. The tree can tolerate dry and salty conditions. It grows quickly in open areas, but can also survive in shade.

sap from broken leafUses: Natives in New Guinea use the sap as an ingredient in arrow poison. The sap is also used to stun fish. The timber is soft, white, light with a fine grain and rots quickly. Nevertheless, in Bangladesh, the tree is an important source of cheap planks, matches and matchboxes, and pulp for paper. The timber is easily transported by water as it floats. It is also used as firewood and converted into charcoal.

Traditional medicinal uses: The plant is used to treat sores and stings from marine creatures. Smoke from the bark is used to treat leprosy. The plant is being tested for modern medical uses. Modern clinical trials show that the plant may have anti-HIV, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

Role in the habitat: Like other mangrove trees, they help stabilise the ground and provide shelter and food for small creatures. For more, see mangrove trees.

LINKS Modern medicinal properties

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Peter K L Ng and N Sivasothi, "A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I: The Ecosystem and Plant Diversity", Singapore Science Centre, 1999 (p. 111-112: description, habit, photo).
  • Colin Field, "Journey Amongst Mangroves", ISME, 1995 (p. 26: description, photo).
  • Michael Mastaller, "Mangroves: The Forgotten Forest Between Land and Sea", Tropical Press, 1997 (p. 97-98, 102: medicinal uses and other uses).
By Ria Tan, 2001