Spondias cytherea (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
Introduction
List of species


Spondias cytherea Sonnerat


Protologue: Voy. Ind. Or. & Chine 3: 242, t. 123 (1782).
Family: Anacardiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= unknown

Synonyms

  • Spondias dulcis Soland. ex J.G. Forster (1786).

Vernacular names

  • Ambarella, Otaheite apple, great hog plum (En)
  • Indonesia: kedongdong (general), coco (Ternate), kedondong manis (Java)
  • Malaysia: kedondong (general)
  • Papua New Guinea: spondias (En)
  • Philippines: hevi (Filipino), viapple (En)
  • Burma: gway, gwe-cho
  • Cambodia: mokak
  • Laos: kook hvaan
  • Thailand: ma kok farang, ma kok waan (central)
  • Vietnam: cóc, cóc trồng

Origin and geographic distribution

The ambarella is native throughout South and South-East Asia. It has spread through the tropics. It is the most common Spondias species in South-East Asia, apart from the Philippines where only Spondias purpurea L. is well-known. Ambarella is also an important fruit in some Pacific Island countries, e.g. Samoa. The species is so often planted in South-East Asia, including in forest clearings, that it is impossible to distinguish between indigenous and naturalized occurrence.

Uses

Fruit of the best forms is eaten raw, but most ripe fruit is stewed and used for jams, jellies and juice. Boiled and dried fruit can be kept for several months. The green fruit is much used in green salads ("rujak") and curries and to make pickles ("sambal"). Young steamed leaves are eaten as a vegetable. The fruit is fed to pigs and the leaves are eaten by cattle. The wood is light-brown and buoyant, useless as timber, sometimes used for canoes. There are diverse medicinal uses of fruit, leaves and bark in different parts of the world, the treatment of wounds, sores and burns being reported from several countries.

Properties

The fruit has a leathery stone which is ridged and bears hard fibres that project into the flesh. When green the fruit is crisp and sub-acid; as the fruit ripens (on the tree or after harvest) to a yellow colour, the flesh softens, the flavour changes and the fibres become more noticeable.

Per 100 g edible portion the fruit contains: water 60-85 g, protein 0.5-0.8 g, fat 0.3-1.8 g, sucrose 8-10.5 g, fibre 0.85-3.6 g. The fruit flesh is a good source of vitamin C and iron; unripe it contains about 10% pectin.

Botany

  • Large, sometimes buttressed tree, 25(-45) m tall, trunk 45(-90) cm in diameter; bark shallowly fissured, greyish to reddish-brown.
  • Leaves with 4-10 pairs of leaflets, rachis 11-20 cm long, petiole 9-15 cm; leaflets ovate-oblong to lanceolate, 5-15(-25) cm × 1.5-5 cm, chartaceous, unequal at base, margin entire, serrate or crenulate, apex acuminate.
  • Inflorescences paniculate, terminal, usually appearing before the leaves, up to 35 cm long.
  • Flowers cream to white, pedicel 1-4 mm long; calyx lobes triangular, 0.5 mm long; petals ovate-oblong, about 2.5 cm × 1 cm; ovary 5(4)-celled, styles 5(4), free.
  • Fruit an ellipsoid or globose drupe, 4-10 cm × 3-8 cm, bright-orange; endocarp peculiar, with irregular spiny and fibrous protuberances.

The tree grows quickly and bears fruit within 4 years from seed. In the humid tropics it produces more or less continuously, following flushing and flowering of individual twigs. In a monsoon climate flowering is concentrated in the dry season while the trees are more or less leafless; trees in the subtropics flower in spring. In Java trees flower in July-August and the crop is harvested in January-April when few other seasonal fruits are available. The fruit matures 6-8 months after flowering; in Australia a period of 3.5-4.5 months has been recorded. Flowers are perfect; many fruits have only one or two seeds. Some seeds are polyembryonic. The endocarp of good fruit has a rather small hard inner zone which is connected to a delicate peripheral zone by numerous radiating, straight or curved, spinose and fibrous protuberances. The outer zone can be easily torn or peeled off from the inner one. In New Guinea a form occurs with small, sour but edible fruits.

Ecology

Ambarella grows in the warm subtropics as well as the tropics; it is slightly less hardy than the mango. In the tropics it is common up to 700 m altitude. The trees require much light; shaded trees produce little or no fruit. Sheltered locations are advised, as the brittle branches break easily. The trees are drought-tolerant; under stress they may briefly lose their leaves. Ambarella grows on limestone soils as well as on acid sands, but the soil should be well drained.

Agronomy

In South-East Asia ambarella is often propagated from seed, which starts to germinate within one month. However, clonal propagation of superior trees is recommended and not difficult: it is said that large stumps are stuck in the ground to obtain live fence posts, and cuttings and air layers root easily. Grafting or shield budding on Spondias rootstocks is also possible. Seedling trees are more vigorous than budded or grafted trees. Tree spacing varies from 7.5 m to 12 m. Trees are prolific and respond to care (water, nutrients) but there is no information on growing techniques or yield levels.

Genetic resources

Large variations in the quality of ambarella fruit are usually attributed to seedling variation. However, although superior trees can easily be propagated true-to-kind, no named cultivars have emerged. This suggests that much of the variation in quality may be linked with the stage of maturity of the fruit.

Prospects

Ambarella is a fairly common tree in large parts of South-East Asia; the green and ripe fruits are used in a variety of ways. The trees bear prolifically, either continuously or seasonally, depending on rainfall distribution. Ambarella is a valuable home garden tree; much more information is needed to assess the potential for more commercial forms of production.

Literature

  • Ding Hou, 1978. Anacardiaceae. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. (Editor): Flora Malesiana, Series 1. Vol. 8. pp. 481-483.
  • Molesworth Allen, B., 1967. Malayan fruits. Donald Moore Press, Singapore. pp. 20-23.
  • Morton, J.F., 1987. Fruits of warm climates. Creative Resource Systems, Winterville, N.C., USA. pp. 240-242.
  • Popenoe, J., 1979. The genus Spondias in Florida. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 92: 277-279.

Authors

E.W.M. Verheij