Inocarpus fagifer (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Inocarpus fagifer (Parkinson) Fosberg

Family: Leguminosae - Papilionoideae


Inocarpus edulis J.R. & G. Forster. Note: I. fagiferus is an often used orthographic variant of I. fagifer .

Vernacular names

  • Otaheite chestnut, Polynesian chestnut, Tahiti chestnut (En). Inocarpe comestible (Fr)
  • Indonesia: gayam (Java), bosua (Manado, Ternate)
  • Malaysia: kerepit, kopit
  • Papua New Guinea: aila, lala, ivi
  • Philippines: kayam.


Probably originated in eastern Malesia and taken to Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia by Malay-Polynesian migrants, who are thought to have carried the seeds as food on their voyages. It is occasionally also cultivated elsewhere in the tropics (e.g. in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, Java).


I. fagifer is a common tree in home gardens in the Pacific where it provides shade and firewood. Nearly ripe seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting in hot ashes and taste like chestnut. A popular Polynesian dish is prepared from grated seed mixed with coconut meat and coconut milk, wrapped in green leaves and baked in a stone oven. Seeds are also stored in underground pits after partial fermentation, as is done with breadfruit ( Artocarpus altilis (Parkinson) Fosberg). The hard timber is used for making moulds and bed frames. In Borneo and Java tannin from the bark is taken internally as a remedy against intestinal disorders. The foliage is fed to cattle.


Often several-stemmed, evergreen tree, with straggling appearance and drooping branches, up to 30 m tall and 65 cm in trunk diameter. Trunk often irregularly fluted, sometimes with stout buttresses, 1-3 m long; bark dark brown, slightly flaky, inner bark yielding a red exudate. Leaves alternate, simple; petiole 0.5-1.5 cm long; stipules small; blade oblong, 10-50 cm × 4-18 cm, thinly leathery, shiny yellowish-green, pink when young, glabrous, drooping. Inflorescence an axillary spike, 1-17 cm long, simple or 2-5-fid; flowers small, 5-merous, pungently fragrant; calyx tubular with 2-5 teeth; petals 5, subequal, 1-1.5 cm long, white or yellow, apex recurved; stamens 10 in 2 series, alternately long and short. Pod very variable, 1-seeded, flattened, reniform or wedge-shaped, 5-10 cm × 5-8 cm × 4-5 cm, indehiscent, keeled, ribbed or smooth, mostly densely, finely pubescent when young. Seed up to 8 cm long, with very hard seed-coat and white endosperm.

In Java, I. fagifer flowers from January to June and in September. Fruit set is poor. Plants start bearing fruit when about 8 years old. The fruit may float for over one month in seawater, but the seed quickly loses its viability. A second species, I. papuanus Kostermans, whose specific distinctness is questioned, occurs in the rain forest of New Guinea; its fruit is somewhat smaller, red and inedible. I. fagifer is resistant to flooding and grows in swamps and on the banks of estuaries and streams, even in brackish water. It is one of the most common species on the islands of the Pacific, where it occurs up to 500 m altitude. In brackish tidal swamp forest in Johor, Malaysia, it locally dominates the undergrowth.

Selected sources

79, 104, 127, 137, 170.


M.S.M. Sosef & L.J.G. van der Maesen