The outermost layer
of the fruit wall is green turning brown when ripe. The middle layer is
spongy and contains air sacs to help the fruit float. The innermost layer
is hard and thick to protect the seed (the layers of spongy and hard coverings
are somewhat similar to the coconut).
Fish Poison Tree, Putat Laut/Butun/Butong/Pertun
A large tree that grows on sandy and rocky shores, it has large leaves
held in rosettes at the ends of branches. The young leaves are a beautiful
bronze with pinkish veins. Old leaves turn yellowish.
flowers are delightful puff balls of white stamens tipped with pink.
They open at night and attract large moths and nectar-feeding bats
with their heavy scent.
The next morning, the flower stamens are usually found strewn beneath
The fruits have a typical lantern shape and float on the water. The
fruit can survive drifting on the sea for long distances and for periods
of up to 2 years. They were among the first seeds to arrive on the
island of Krakatau when it first emerged out of the sea.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Mangrove associate. Grows up to 25m.
Bark: Grey, smooth.
Leaves: Large, simple, egg-shaped,
Flowers: Night-blooming flowers
appear on a long spike from the centre of a leaf group.
Flower is a puff ball of stamens with four small white
Fruits: Lantern-shaped, floats
on water. Green at first, turning brown when ripe.
Status in Singapore: Common.
World distribution: Coasts
of the Indian to Western Pacific Oceans from Africa, India
to Southeast Asia and Polynesia.
Classification: Family Lecythidaceae.
World 2 mangrove associated species.
Uses: All parts of the tree contain,
saponin, a poison. The seeds and other parts of the plant are pounded, pulped
or grated to release the poison and used to stun fish in freshwater streams.
The floating seeds are sometimes used as fishing floats. A colourful shady
tree, it is commonly planted as a roadside tree in Singapore.
Traditional medicinal uses: The heated
leaves are used to treat stomach ache and rheumatism (Philippines); seeds
are used to get rid of intestinal worms.
Role in the habitat: It is among the
plants that host the magnificent Atlas
- Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore",
Times Editions, 1987 (p. 116: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
- Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to Medicinal Plants",
Singapore Science Centre, 1992 (p. 24: description, chemical compounds,
- Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to the Wayside Trees
of Singapore", Singapore Science Centre, 1989 (p. 84-85: description,
- Wee Yeow Chin, "The City and the Forest: Plant
Life in Urban Singapore", Richard Corbett, Singapore University
Press, 1986 (p. 72: description, uses).
- E. J. H. Corner,
"Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol I", Malayan Nature Society,
4th ed., 1997 (p. 391: description, habit).
- Dr E Soepadmo (ed.), "The Encyclopaedias of
Malaysia: Plants", Fruit and Seed Dispersal by Dr E Soepadmo,
Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 123: traditional medicinal uses).