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Jamaican Cherry Tree
Muntingia calabura

Jamaican/Japanese Cherry, Buah Ceri/Kerukup Siam(Malay)

The Cherry Tree is named for its sweet sticky fruits, juicy and full of tiny seeds. They are a favourite with birds and bats, which disperse the seeds, and children too! The leaves are covered with tiny sticky hairs.

Although it provides good shade, it is not a popular wayside tree because the birds and bats that visit the tree also leave their droppings under the tree.

The tree flourishes in poor soil, tolerating both acid and alkaline conditions and quite drought resistant. However, it doesn't tolerate salty conditions and so is not a true mangrove associate.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small fast-growing tree with drooping branches that give an umbrella-shaped crown. Grows up to 7-12m.

Leaves: Simple, covered with sticky hairs.

Flowers: Small, white. Last only one day, petals falling in the afternoon.
leaves with flower and fruit
Fruits: Small, round, juicy, green turning red when ripe. Very sweet, musky, somewhat fig-like flavour, filled with tiny, yellowish seeds, too fine to be noticed when the fruit is eaten.

Status in Singapore: Introduced, common in wastelands.

World distribution: Native to southern Mexico, Central America, tropical South America, the Greater Antilles, St. Vincent and Trinidad. Widely introduced to almost all tropical regions.

Classification: Family Elaeocarpaceae.
Uses as food: The fruits are eaten in Mexico and sold in markets there. Fruits are also made into jams and used in tarts. The leaf is made into a tea. In Brazil, they are planted on river banks so their fallen fruit attracts fish which are then caught.

Other uses: The reddish-brown timber is compact, fine-grained, moderately strong, light in weight, durable, and easily worked. It is used to make small boxes, casks, and general carpentry. The dried timber is valued as firewood for cooking as it lights quickly and produces intense heat with little smoke. In Brazil, it is being considered as pulp for paper making. The bark is stripped to produce strong soft cord made into ropes. Because of its ability to grow quickly on poor soils and rapid dispersal by birds and bats, the Cherry Tree is being considered as a candidate for reforestation projects.

Traditional medicinal uses: The flowers are used as an antiseptic and to treat spasms. It is also taken to relieve headaches and colds.

Role in the habitat: As a pioneer species on poor soils, it helps provide shade for other plants to establish themselves. Its fruits provide food for birds and bats, and it provides shelter for small creatures.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche

  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to the Wayside Trees of Singapore", BP Singapore Science Centre, 1989 (p. 145: description, habitat, photo).
  • E. J. H. Corner, "Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol I", Malayan Nature Society, 4th ed., 1997 (p. 251-252: description, habit, distribution).
By Ria Tan, 2001