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Sea Almond Tree
Terminalia catappa

Indian/Tropical Almond, Ketapang/Lingtak (Malay)


branches with coloured leavesThe colourful Sea Almond Tree is among the most common trees in our region, growing wild as well as cultivated as a popular wayside tree.

The tree has a characteristic pagoda shape because it sends out a single stem from the top centre. When the single stem reaches a good height, it sends out several horizontal branches. This fast-growing tree grows on sandy shores.

The leaves form a rosette and are found only at the end of a branch. During the dry season, the leaves turn into autumn colours of red, copper, gold. The tree usually sheds all its leaves twice a year in January-February and July-August. The tree first drops its leaves when it reaches 3-4 years old.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Mangrove associate. Pagoda-shaped, grows to 25-30m. Spreading, coarse-leafed crown.

Bark:
Grey, fissured, flaky but not ridged.

Leaves:
Large, simple; changes colours before they fall.

Flowers:
Small, greenish-white in short elongated clusters, appearing on upper leaf axils. Described as having a foetid smell. The 1-9 flowers on the tip are female, the rest male. Or the whole spike male.

Fruits: Almond-shaped, green turning brown fibrous shell surrounding an edible nut.
flower cluster
close-up of flowers
fruits
Status in Singapore: Common wild and wayside tree.

World distribution: On rocky or sandy coasts of the Indo-Pacific Oceans.

Classification: Family Combretaceae. World 1 mangrove associated species.
ripe seed coat openedThe green almond-shaped fruit turns red to purple when ripe. The seeds are dispersed by water. The smooth outer skin covers an inner layer of corky fibres which surround the nut. This shell helps the fruit to float.

Uses as food: The nuts are edible, taste like almonds and are eaten, although the flesh is troublesome to separate from the hard stone (Malays and some Pacific islanders). Unlike the commercial almond, the Sea Almond can be eaten raw. Oil extracted from the dried nuts is edible and used in cooking (South America).

Other uses: Its timber is not widely used, but in some places where other suitable timber is lacking (e.g., islands), it is made into heavy-duty items like carts, wheels and posts. Tannin and a black dye can be extracted from the bark, leaves and fruit. In Singapore, it is a common wayside tree, planted to provide colour and shade.

Traditional medicinal uses:
Leaves, bark and fruits: dysentery (Southeast Asia); dressing of rheumatic joints (Indonesia, India).
Fruits and bark: coughs (Samoa), asthma (Mexico).
Fruits: leprosy, headaches (India),
Ripe fruits: travel nausea (Mexico)
Leaves: get rid of intestinal parasites (Philippines); treat eye problems, rheumatism, wounds (Samoa); stop bleeding during teeth extraction (Mexico), fallen leaves used to treat liver diseases (Taiwan), young leaves for colic (South America).
Juice of leaves: scabies, skin diseases, leprosy (India, Pakistan)
Bark: throat and mouth problems, stomach upsets and diarrhoea (Samoa); fever, dysentery (Brazil).
Modern research has identified some properties which could be used to treat high blood pressure.

Role in the habitat: Various species of biting and stinging ants have been found inhabiting hollow twigs of the tree. While the tree provides these creatures with a home, the ants in turn may protect the tree from insect predators. Fruit bats eat the husk of the fruit.

LINKS REFERENCES
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Nature's Niche

  • Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions, 1987 (p. 116: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to the Wayside Trees of Singapore", Singapore Science Centre, 1989 (p. 86-87: description, habitat, photo).
  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to Medicinal Plants", Singapore Science Centre, 1992 (p. 146: description, chemical compounds, uses, photo).
  • E J H Corner, "Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol 1", The Malayan Nature Society, 4th ed., 1997 (p.217-218: description, habitat, distribution).
  • Dr E Soepadmo (ed.), "The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Plants", Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 16: seasonality).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001