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Mangrove Apple
Sonneratia alba

Perepat (Malay)

Sonneratia have thick cone-shaped pneumatophores. They use ultrafiltration at the root level to exclude salt. Sonneratia alba can tolerate wide fluctuations in salinity and often grow on exposed, soft but stable mudbanks low on the tidal mudflats. It is believed that they store excess salt in old leaves which they later shed.

The bark of young Sonneratia is covered with a layer of wax, probably to protect it against water loss and attacks by creatures great and small.

Uses as food:
Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked. The ripe fruit are eaten by people from Africa to the Malays and Javanese, and are said to taste like cheese. In Eastern Africa the leaves are used a camel fodder.

Other uses: Sonneratia is used for firewood, but is not the preferred mangrove tree for this purpose. Although it produces a lot of heat, it also produces a lot of ash and salt.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Grows up to 15m tall.

Bark: Cream, grey to brown bark, slight vertical fissures.

Roots: No buttresses or prop roots. Has pneumatophores that are cone-shaped (unlike the pencil-like ones of Avicennia).

Leaves: Rounded, leathery, opposite, upper and underside of leaf similar.

Flower: White, pom-pom-like, open only for one night.

Fruit: Large (4 cm) green, leathery berries with a star-shaped base. Contains 100-150 tiny seeds that are white, flattened and buoyant.
pneumatophores

flowers

fruit
Status in Singapore: More common in suitable habitats than other Sonneratia species.

World distribution: S. alba is the most widespread of the Sonneratia. They are found from East Africa through the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, northern Australia, Borneo and Pacific Islands.

Classification: Family Sonneratiaceae. World 6 mangrove species.
The heavy timber is resistant to shipworm and pests and is used for building boats, piling and posts for bridges and houses. However, the wood corrodes metal, probably because of the timber's high mineral content. The pneumatophores are made into floats for fishing nets. Because Sonneratia species regenerate branches easily from their trunk, it is possible to harvest branches without hurting the tree and maintain mangroves for such harvests (called coppicing). Sonneratia is among the few used in replanting mangroves to protect coastlines (the others are Avicennia and Rhizophora).

Traditional medicinal uses: Sonneratia caseolaris is used in poultices for cuts, bruises (Burma) and sprains and swellings. Ripe fruit are used to expel intestinal parasites (Malay) and half-ripe fruit for coughs.
flowers of the durian
Durian flowers, like most
bat-pollinated flowers,
are also pom-pom shaped!
No durians without Sonneratia? The fragrant, night-blooming Sonneratia flowers are pollinated mainly by the Dawn Bat (Eonycteris spelaea), the Common Long-tailed Bat (Macroglossus minimus), and the Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bat (Cynopterus brachyotis). These bats feed on nectar and pollen of flowers and rely mainly on Sonneratia for sustenance. The Dawn Bat in particular, prefers Sonneratia. They are the same bats that pollinate commercially important crops such as durians, bananas and papayas. Thus, without the Sonneratia, there would be less of these favourite fruits!

Role in the habitat: Many mangrove creatures and plants depend on Sonneratia. They are the host trees of the fireflies (Pteroptyx tener) that perform spectacular synchronised flashing along the Selangor River in Malaysia. Sonneratia leaves make up the bulk of the food eaten by the fascinating Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) of Borneo. Other insects and small creatures also feed on their leaves and other parts. Being among the first trees to grow low on the tidal mudflats, Sonneratia stabilise the riverbanks and coasts, providing more favourable ground for other types of trees and plants. For more on the general role, see mangrove trees.


LINKS Links between bats, durians and Sonneratia ... REFERENCES
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  • 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. 136-137: description, habit, photo, uses).
  • Colin Field, "Journey among Mangroves", International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems, 1995 (p.116: use in replanting mangroves).
  • Michael Mastaller, "Mangroves: The Forgotten Forest Between Land and Sea", Tropical Press, 1997 (p. 25: about bark of young Sonneratia; p. 102: uses of the wood; p. 73: fireflies; p. 79: Proboscis Monkey; p. 80-81: pollination by bats).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001