Limonia acidissima (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Limonia acidissima L.

Protologue: Sp. Pl., ed. 2, 1: 554 (1762).
Family: Rutaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 18


  • Feronia elephantum Correa (1800),
  • Feronia limonia (L.) Swingle (1914).

Vernacular names

  • Wood apple, elephant apple (En)
  • Pomme d'éléphant (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kawista (Java), kusta (Bali)
  • Malaysia: belinggai, gelinggai
  • Burma: thibin
  • Cambodia: kramsang
  • Laos: mafit
  • Thailand: makhwit (central), mafit (northern)
  • Vietnam: câǹ thǎng.

Origin and geographic distribution

Wood apple occurs naturally in India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Indo-China, where it is limited to the drier regions. It is cultivated in villages and parks throughout its natural range, and in Malaysia and Indonesia (Java, Bali) where it has even become naturalized (western Java). It was introduced long ago into the United States (California, Florida) for experimental purposes.


The fresh pulp of the ripe fruit is mixed with sugar and eaten like sherbet, with or without the seeds, or made into a type of treacle. In Sri Lanka wood apple cream is processed from the fruit pulp. In India the fruit is used in the same manner as the closely related bael fruit (Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa) but is not a substitute for it. The ripe fruits display cooling, astringent and tonic properties, and are used as a stomachic. In Indo-China, the spines and bark of the tree are used in several medicinal preparations for the treatment of excessive menstruation, liver disorders, bites and stings, and nausea. The timber is employed in the construction of houses, posts and agricultural tools. Gum collected from the bark is said to have medicinal value, and is used as a substitute for gum arabic.

Production and international trade

Wood apple is cultivated as a homegarden tree in villages, hence fruits become available in markets only in small quantities. In Bali (Indonesia) in the late 1980s fruit fetched Rp. 150 a piece (US$ 0.09) during the high season. It has recently become an economically important commodity in Sri Lanka where wood apple cream is canned and exported.


Wood apple pulp represents about one-third of the whole fruit. Pectin content of fresh pulp is 3-5%. Per 100 g edible portion, the approximate contents of the pulp are: water 74 g, protein 8 g, fat 1.5 g, carbohydrates 7.5 g, ash 5 g. The seeds contain per 100 g edible portion: water 4 g, protein 26 g, fat 27 g, carbohydrates 35 g and ash 5 g. The dried pulp contains 15% citric acid and small quantities of potassium, calcium and iron salts. The wood is yellowish-white, hard, rather heavy and coarsely fibrous but close-grained and takes a fine polish.


  • A small, deciduous tree up to 12 m tall, with numerous, slender branches armed with sharp, straight spines to 4 cm long.
  • Leaves up to 12 cm long, imparipinnate with narrowly winged rachis and petiole; leaflets opposite in 2-3 pairs and a terminal one, obovate, up to 4 cm long, dotted with oil glands and faintly aromatic when crushed.
  • Staminate and perfect flowers, 5-merous, white, green or reddish-purplish, usually together in lax, terminal or axillary inflorescences.
  • Fruit a hard-shelled, globose berry, up to 10 cm diameter, with whitish scurfy surface and filled with pinkish, aromatic pulp containing numerous, slimy seeds.
  • Seeds 5-6 mm long, hairy, with thick, green cotyledons; germination epigeal.
  • Seedling stem slender, slightly zigzag: first 1-4 leaves unifoliolate.

Trees reveal a simple developmental pattern of leafing, flowering and fruiting in a single year. In South-East Asia, leaves are shed in January, flowering begins in February or March, and fruits ripen in October or November. Trees grow slowly and will not produce fruits until the 15th year or later.


Wood apple, like the bael and species of Feroniella Swingle, thrives in a monsoon or seasonally dry tropical climate. It grows to an elevation of 450 m in the western Himalaya where it is native. In Malaysia and Indonesia trees are predominantly cultivated in the coastal regions. It is apparently drought-tolerant and best adapted to light soils.


Plants can be propagated by seed, root-cuttings and budding. Seeds germinate after 2-3 weeks in the nursery; 80% germination may be achieved for seed stored for several weeks. Buds from mature wood grafted onto seedlings are said to result in dwarf trees which fruit early.

Genetic resources and breeding

Wood apple can be used as a rootstock for Citrus species in the same way as Poncirus trifoliata (L.) Raf., also a deciduous citrus relative. The wood apple stock promptly forces the citrus scion into bloom, which may be useful in breeding programmes (early flowering, simultaneous flowering of all grafted material for crossing). The use of wood apple as a rootstock in drought-prone areas should also be tested.


Wood apple is likely to remain an underutilized resource in South-East Asia, despite its status as an export commodity in Sri Lanka. The tree is only found in home gardens in the drier parts of South-East Asia and the fruit is not used much. There appears to be little interest in other potential uses (source of gum, dwarfing rootstock, breeding work) either.


  • Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2nd edition. Vol. 1. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 1014-1015.
  • Corner, E.J.H., 1988. Wayside Trees of Malaya. 3rd edition. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 666-667.
  • Dymock, W., Warden, C. & Hooper, D., 1890. Pharmacographia Indica. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta. pp. 281-284.
  • Swingle, W.T., 1967. The botany of citrus and its wild relatives. In: Reuther, W., Webber, H., & Batchelor, L. (Editors): The citrus industry. Revised edition. Vol. I. University of California, Berkeley. pp. 415-417.


D.T. Jones