Spondias purpurea (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
Introduction
List of species


Spondias purpurea L.


Protologue: Sp. Pl. ed.2: 613 (1762).
Family: Anacardiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= unknown

Synonyms

  • Spondias dulcis Blanco (1837), non Soland. ex Forst.f. (1786).

Vernacular names

  • Red mombin, Spanish plum (En)
  • Mombin rouge, prunier d'Espagne (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kedondong seberang, kedongdong sabrang (Sundanese), kedondong cocok, kedongdong cucuk, kedongdong cina
  • Philippines: siniguelas, sineguelas (Filipino), saguelas (Iloko), siriguelas (Bikol)

Origin and geographic distribution

S. purpurea is a native of tropical America. It has been introduced to other tropical and warm subtropical countries. In the 16th Century it was introduced by the Spaniards in the Philippines where it is now of some economic importance as a fruit crop. Elsewhere in South-East Asia S. purpurea is hardly cultivated, Spondias cytherea Sonnerat being grown instead.

Uses

The ripe fruit is usually eaten fresh but it may also be preserved in syrup or made into jelly. The green mature fruit can be made into pickles. Cattle eat the leaves. Large stumps are planted as live fence posts. The wood is light and soft and suitable for paper pulp. A decoction of the bark is effective against dysentery and is very useful in treating infantile tympanitis.

Production and international trade

S. purpurea is quite extensively grown in many parts of the Philippines as a backyard tree, and the fruit is common in local markets.

Properties

The fruit has 64% edible portion and 36% seed. The thin skin is also edible. Per 100 g the edible portion contains: water 77.9 g, protein 0.9 g, fat 0.2 g, carbohydrates 20.5 g, fibre 0.5 g, ash 0.5 g, calcium 15 mg, phosphorus 35 mg, iron 0.9 mg, sodium 2 mg, potassium 270 mg, vitamin A 370 IU, niacin 0.4 mg, traces of thiamine and riboflavin and vitamin C 51 mg. The energy value amounts to 330 kJ/100 g. Citric acid is the predominant organic acid in the fruit.

Description

  • Deciduous tree, up to 10(-25) m tall, trunk 30(-80) cm in diameter, spreading; bark grey to brown, branches thickish and brittle.
  • Leaves alternate, pinnately compound with 4-12 pairs of leaflets; rachis 6-12 cm long, petiole 2.5-4 cm; leaflets obliquely elliptic to elliptic-oblong, 2-5.5 cm × 1-2.5 cm, chartaceous, margin entire or obscurely crenulate, petiolules short.
  • Inflorescences appearing before the leaves, paniculate or racemiform, axillary, up to 4 cm long, few flowered; pedicels 2-4 mm long; flowers reddish or purplish; calyx lobes triangular; petals 4-5, ovate-oblong, 3-4 mm × 1.5-2 mm; stamens 8 or 10, styles 4 or 5.
  • Fruit a drupe, oblongoid to ovoid, 2.5-4 cm × 2 cm, purple-red, dark-purple or yellow; flesh yellow, aromatic, juicy; stone oblongoid, up to 2 cm long, rough, fibrous, hard, containing up to 5, usually abortive seeds; fruit weighs 20-30 g.

Growth and development

Stem cuttings grow rather fast, producing terminal and lateral shoots. In the Philippines the tree becomes dormant at the start of the dry season in November and loses all its leaves in December and January. In the 3rd or 4th year, flower buds emerge from leaf axils soon after leaf fall. Flowers in Spondias are bisexual, but red mombin trees in the Philippines bear flowers with small stamens which produce no pollen. As parthenocarpy ensures good fruit set, there is no need for pollination in the cultivated crop. Apparently S. purpurea produces viable seeds in its area of origin. Possibly the species is more or less dioecious; in that case, functionally male trees introduced in Asia would have become extinct through selective vegetative propagation of male-sterile trees. As the fruits start to develop, new shoots are formed. The fruits ripen usually in May or June, sometimes in April or July, during which time the new growth is about to mature.

Other botanical information

The Philippine common name siniguelas is a corruption of the Spanish name ciruela, meaning plum. Some authors consider the purple-fruited and yellow-fruited S. purpurea to belong to two different subspecies or botanical varieties. The rather uncommon yellow form is sometimes confused with the true yellow mombin, Spondias mombin L., which has long (50 cm), many-flowered inflorescences, appearing together with the leaves, and white flowers.

For other species with edible fruits see Spondias cytherea and the Chapter on Minor edible fruits and nuts.

Ecology

S. purpurea thrives at elevations up to about 600 m; in tropical America it is found up to 2000 m. It succeeds equally well in both dry and wet sites, but better quality fruit is apparently produced in places with a long dry season. The tree is equally adaptable to different soil types. In the Philippines many trees are found in places ill-suited to other fruit trees.

Agronomy

Since the seeds inside the stone are not viable, the tree in the Philippines is always propagated by stem cuttings. Sections of mature stems about 50 cm long are planted in individual containers in the nursery or directly in the field. Propagation under mist using softwood cuttings treated with a root-promoting substance may prove to be more economical and efficient. Marcotting is successful but takes 8-9 months. Grafting onto Spondias pinnata (L.f.) Kurz seedlings is also possible. Rooted stem cuttings are set in the field at the onset of the rains. The suggested planting distance is 7-9 m. Once established in the field the trees receive little care. They would probably benefit greatly from adequate fertilization and irrigation, particularly during flowering and fruit development. Training and formative pruning to reduce the size of the mature tree has to be studied.

No important diseases and pests have been reported. Minor pests observed in the Philippines include: twig borers, toy beetles, slug and tussock caterpillars, grey and cottony cushion mealy bugs and scales. Fruit flies may become serious if ripe fruits are allowed to remain on the tree. Fruits are considered ripe when they change colour from green to greenish-yellow or reddish-purple. Fruits on a tree do not ripen at the same time. Ripe fruits are harvested by hand and with the help of a pole with a wire hoop fixed in the opening of a net bag that catches the fruits.

Genetic resources and breeding

In the Philippines all the existing trees have been propagated by stem cutting because of the inability of the seeds to germinate. Consequently, they all belong to only two clones; the yellow and the purple. It is, however, possible that bud mutations occur. For example, a tree with exceptionally large fruits and small seeds has been reported. Among introductions in Florida, at least 6 cultivars can be distinguished, varying greatly in fruit characteristics and harvest season. Some of these cultivars bear names of the area of origin (e.g. "Campechana" in Cuba).

Prospects

S. purpurea is a very hardy tree and can grow successfully in dry areas not suited to many fruit trees. The ripe fruits are attractively coloured and have ready markets. The green fruits can be processed commercially into pickles. With proper selection, the prospects of this fruit tree appear bright, but they should be weighed against those of S. cytherea which dominates elsewhere in South-East Asia.

Literature

  • De Leon, J.G., 1917. Forms of some Philippine fruits. Philippine Agriculturist & Forester 5(8): 251-283
  • Ding Hou, 1978. Anacardiaceae. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. (Editor): Flora Malesiana, Series 1. Vol. 8. p. 485.
  • Juliano, J.B., 1932. The cause of sterility in Spondias purpurea Linn. The Philippine Agriculturists 2(1): 15-24.
  • Galang, F.G., 1955. Fruit and nut growing in the Philippines. AIA Printing Press, Rizal, the Philippines.
  • Gabriel, B.P., 1975. Insects and mites injurious to Philippine crop plants. Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture U.P. Los Baños, Laguna.
  • Popenoe, J., 1979. The genus Spondias in Florida. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 92: 277-279.

Authors

R.E. Coronel