Phyllanthus acidus (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Phyllanthus acidus (L.) Skeels

Protologue: U.S. Dept. Agric. Bur. Pl. Industry Bull. 148: 17 (1909).
Family: Euphorbiaceae


  • Phyllanthus acidissimus (Blanco) Muell. Arg. (1863),
  • Phyllanthus distichus (L.) Muell. Arg. (1866),
  • Cicca acida (L.) Merr. (1917).

Vernacular names

  • Otaheite gooseberry, Malay gooseberry, country gooseberry (En)
  • Cerisier de Tahiti (Fr)
  • Indonesia: ceremoi (Aceh), ceremai, cereme, cerme (Indonesian), caramele (southern Sulawesi)
  • Malaysia: chermai, chermala, kemangur
  • Philippines: iba (Tagalog), bangkiling (Bisaya), karmay (Ilokano)
  • Burma: thinbozi-hpyoo
  • Cambodia: kântûët, kântouot srôk
  • Laos: nhôm baanz, mak nhom, nhom ban2
  • Thailand: mayom (general)
  • Vietnam: chùm ruôt, tầm ruôt


Origin perhaps in Madagascar, now naturalized and cultivated pantropically, also in South-East Asia.

P. acidus is probably native to the coastal region of north-eastern Brazil, but since time immemorial it has been cultivated, mainly as a fruit tree, in tropical Asia from India to Malesia and Polynesia, and on all larger islands of the West Indies. Within Malesia it has not yet been reported from New Guinea.


The latex is credited with emetic and purgative activity. In Indonesia, the bark is heated with coconut oil and spread on eruptions on feet and hands. In Java, an infusion of the root is taken to alleviate asthma. In Borneo, roots are used in the treatment of psoriasis of the feet. Although the roots are weakly poisonous, in Malaysia they used to be boiled and the vapour inhaled to relieve cough and headache. In the Philippines, leaf decoctions are applied to urticaria, and a decoction of the bark is used to treat bronchial catarrh. In Burma (Myanmar), the fruit is used as a laxative. In India, the fruits are taken as a liver tonic to enrich the blood. The juice of the root bark is reported to have been employed in criminal poisonings.

The fruit flesh is added to many dishes in Indonesia as a flavouring. In the Philippines, the fruit juice is used to make cold drinks and the fruit to make vinegar. In Malaysia, ripe and unripe fruits are served as a relish, syrup or sweet preserve. The fruits are also combined with other fruits in making chutney or jam, because of their setting properties. Young leaves are cooked as a vegetable in Indonesia, Thailand and India. The wood is fairly hard, strong, tough and durable if seasoned. The bark has limited use in India as a tanning agent.


  • A monoecious, small, glabrous tree up to 10 m tall with phyllanthoid branching, bark rough, grey, with prominent lenticels; cataphylls not persistent, blackish-brown, their stipules triangular-ovate; deciduous branchlets ascending, (20-)25-52 cm long, with 25-40 leaves.
  • Leaves arranged like a pinnate leaf along the branches, broadly ovate to ovate-lanceolate, (4-)5-9 cm × (2-)2.5-4.5 cm, base obtuse to rounded, apex acute, petiole 2.5-4 mm long, stipules triangular-acuminate.
  • Flowers in dense, cushion-shaped cymules at the nodes of leafless branchlets on older wood, and usually also on proximal branchlets of current year's growth, pale green to reddish; male flowers 4-merous, filaments and anthers free, dehiscing vertically; female flowers on a stout pedicel, 4-merous, disk deeply lobed or split, styles connate, deeply bifid, staminodes present.
  • Fruit drupaceous, oblate, 1-1.5 cm × (1.2-)1.5-2(-2.5) cm when fresh, shallowly 6- or 8-lobed, greenish-yellow to creamy-white.
  • Seeds 4-6, smooth.

In north-eastern Brazil P. acidus has been found in coastal forest. In South-East Asia it is cultivated on humid sites, up to 1000 m altitude. Propagation usually by seed, but also by budding or cutting.

Selected sources

  • Brown, W.H., 1951-1957. Useful plants of the Philippines. Reprint of the 1941-1943 ed. 3 Volumes. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Technical Bulletin 10. Bureau of Printing, Manila, the Philippines.
  • Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2nd ed. 2 Volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 2444 pp.
  • Morton, J.F., 1987. Fruits of warm climates. Creative Resource Systems Inc., Winterville, N.C., USA. 503 pp.
  • Ridley, H.N., 1922-1925. The Flora of the Malay Peninsula. 5 Volumes. Government of the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States. L. Reeve & Co., London.

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  • P.C.M. Jansen, J. Jukema, L.P.A. Oyen, T.G. van Lingen
  • F.L. van Holthoon