The blue cherry (Elaeocarpus angustifolius Blume, 1825) is an arboreal species belonging to the Elaeocarpaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Species E. angustifolius.
The terms are synonymous:
– Aceratium ganitrie Hassk.;
– Ayparia crenata Raf.;
– Elaeocarpus baclayanensis Elmer;
– Elaeocarpus baclyensis Elmer;
– Elaeocarpus crenatus (Raf.) Merr.;
– Elaeocarpus cyanocarpus Maingay;
– Elaeocarpus cyanocarpus Maingay ex Mast.;
– Elaeocarpus dolichopetalus Merr.;
– Elaeocarpus drymophilus Domin;
– Elaeocarpus faurensis Hemsl.;
– Elaeocarpus fauroensis Hemsl.;
– Elaeocarpus ganitrus F.Muell.;
– Elaeocarpus grandis F.Muell.;
– Elaeocarpus hebridarum Knuth;
– Elaeocarpus major (Hochr.) Knuth;
– Elaeocarpus major Kunth;
– Elaeocarpus muelleranus Schltr.;
– Elaeocarpus muellerianus Schltr.;
– Elaeocarpus novoguineensis Warb.;
– Elaeocarpus parkinsonii Warb.;
– Elaeocarpus polyschistus Schltr.;
– Elaeocarpus ramiflorus Merr.;
– Elaeocarpus subglobosus Merr.;
– Elaeocarpus trichopetalus Merr. & Quisumb.;
– Elaeocarpus wenzelii Merr..
The term Elaeocarpus comes from the Greek ἐλαία (élaia), i.e. olive and καρπός (carpόs), i.e. fruit.
The specific epithet angustifolius comes from the Latin angustus, a, um, i.e. narrow folium, ii, i.e. leaf, in reference to the shape of the leaves.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Elaeocarpus angustifolius is a plant widespread in Asia and Oceania; it is found in particular in: India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, China (Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan), Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland), Fiji Islands and New Caledonia.
Its habitat is that of open places at altitudes between 600 and 1,100 meters in Nepal; it is present in broad-leaved mountain and valley rainforests at altitudes between 400 and 1,300 meters; it is also common in secondary forests.
This plant is typical of the second growth forest; it is believed that the large individuals found in what appears to be primary rainforest are likely remnants of a time when the rainforest was less “primary”, i.e. when fires, storms or humanity disturbed it. Sometimes it is also found in rather marshy sites, or at least along watercourses, and in more cultivated or even urban environments. In New Caledonia the property of growing in disturbed sites has been used in archeology to observe human influence on the species composition of rainforests. The long-term presence of humans increases the population of this species.
Elaeocarpus angustifolius is an evergreen, or briefly deciduous, tree with open canopy, growing to a height of 40 m and usually having buttress roots at the base of the trunk. These buttresses form on mature trees and usually completely surround the base of the trunk. This may be an adaptation to becoming emergent in some habitats, or often growing in secondary woodland: buttress roots may better distribute tensile stress at the base of the tree transmitted by wind into the canopy.
The trunk can have a diameter of 20-200 cm; the bark is grey-brown and the young branches are yellowish-brown and hairy.
The leaves are about 60–180 mm long, 40–60 mm wide with wavy serrations on the edges and taper to form a petiole 5–15 mm long, but without a pulvinus. Old leaves often turn bright red before falling.
The flowers are arranged in racemes up to 100 mm long; each flower sits on a peduncle 9–16 mm long. The five sepals are 8–11 mm long and 1–2 mm wide. The five petals are creamy white in colour, ovoid to oblong in shape, 12–15 mm long and 3–4 mm wide, the tip has linear lobes. There are between thirty-five and sixty stamens and the style is 11–18 mm long and hairless.
The fruit is a more or less spherical drupe, bright blue or purple in color, 15–23 mm in diameter. The fruits weigh on average 7 g, but vary from 10 to 4 g.
The bright, iridescent blue color (wavelength around 430 nm) is produced not by anthocyanin pigments as in other blue fruits, but by physical interference. In fruit epidermal cells, cellulose layers form a special structure outside the cell membrane but inside the cell wall. The layers create a constructive interference of the thin film with blue light (thus reflecting the color blue).
Inside there are stones, covered by an external shell of the fruit pulp and divided into several segments, which are niches, each usually bearing a seed.
Elaeocarpus angustifolius is an evergreen tree, sacred in India, where its seeds are commonly used as beads to make rosaries, the seeds are also used for buttons etc. The tree is also commonly harvested for its wood, while it also has minor medicinal and edible uses.
The plant is sometimes cultivated, even as an ornamental.
It is a plant of the tropical and subtropical areas of the humid lowlands, where it is found at altitudes up to 500 meters. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 18 and 28°C, but can tolerate 8-38°C.
It prefers an average annual rainfall between 1,500 and 3,000 mm, but tolerates 1,000 – 3,500 mm.
The plant prefers a position in full sun but tolerates some shade.
From a pedological point of view, it prefers fertile soil, rich in humus, which retains humidity but well drained, with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, tolerating 4.5 – 7.5.
It is one of the fastest growing species in the Australian rainforest.
It is in fact an imposing, fast-growing tree that flowers and bears fruit abundantly, occasionally used as an ornamental and for shade in tropical, subtropical and marginally warm temperate climate zones. It grows in full sun, except in the initial growth phase when light shade is preferable, or in partial shade.
The trees are sometimes partially debarked. This causes the tree to produce smaller seeds than normal – these smaller seeds are more popular for decorative purposes than normal sized seeds.
The tree begins to bear fruit in three to four years.
The plant reproduces by seed, which must be previously immersed in water for two days, in draining soil kept moist at a temperature of 24-26 °C, with germination times ranging from a few months to over a year.
Propagation can also take place by cutting, obtained from almost mature shoots, in sandy soil in a frame; it is recommended to leave the leaves on the cutting.
Customs and Traditions –
Elaeocarpus angustifolius is a plant known by various common names; among these are: bead tree, blue fig, blue marble tree, blue Quandong, silver Quandong (English); yuan guo du ying (China); sapatua, siapoatua (Fiji); akkamani, civacatanam, kammani, malankara, rudrak, urutturacam (India); ambit, jenitri, rijaksa (Indonesia); changkan, parents (Malaysia); mamun dong, mun dong, mun khon (Thailand).
In Sri Lanka the recorded names are woodenbegar and Indian begar tree. It is known simply as elaeocarpus in the Northern Territory of Australia.
The Hindi vernacular name for both the tree and the stones is “rudraksha”, from Sanskrit: rudrākṣa, a compound word made up of the name Rudra (“Shiva”) and akṣha (“tears” or “eyes”).
In India, the cleaned stones of the fruit of this tree are known as rudraksha in Hindi (from Sanskrit: rudrākṣa, meaning “Rudra’s tears” or “eyes”) and are widely used as stones (more or less precious) for rosaries , particularly in Hinduism. Rudraksha could be produced from more than one species of Elaeocarpus, however E. angustifolius is the main species used in making malas (garlands).
This plant boasts a long history of use by humans and this may have also confused its possible origin.
It is possible that long-distance trade has mixed lineages or influenced the distribution of specific types. The species is often grown as an urban street tree in Indonesia and Malaysia. It appears that here the form with the largest leaves is most often selected for planting as a street tree. This appears to have already been the case in Java more than a century ago, based on the collection notes accompanying specimens in herbariums.
Writing from the island of Ambon in the Moluccas in the mid-16th century, the German-Dutch soldier, merchant and botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius provided the first modern binomial description of the species in his work Herbarium Amboniense, in which he introduced the species into European science as Ganitrus Ganitri. Few read the work at the time, as it was considered a trade secret by the V.O.C. and published long after Rumphius’ death. When Carl Linnaeus introduced his new standard of taxonomic nomenclature, he missed the opportunity to use this work, as he received his copy only after working on the 1753 edition of his Species Plantarum. The specific epithet ganitrus derives from ganitri, the name of this species in Sundanese and Malay.
When Linnaeus published his Species Plantarum, he listed only one species of Elaeocarpus, referring to the 1747 formal description, as well as an illustration, of “Elaiocarpus serrata” provided by Johannes Burman in his book Thesaurus zeylanicus. which Linnaeus used as a reference in his work.
In 1791, long before the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) were formalized, in his book on the fruits and seeds of plants Joseph Gaertner renamed the genus again from Elaeocarpus to Ganitrus, arguing that since Rumphius had been the first to describe the species, its name should have taxonomic priority. The only species he placed in this genus was G. sphaerica. This is not what is known as the “good species”.
Regarding its ecological function, writing from the island of Ambon in the mid-17th century, Rumphius described that the fruits are willingly eaten by large birds, mentioning that especially wreathed hornbills can be found feeding on them. Fruit bats also do the same.
The flowers have been recorded as being visited by various beetles, flies and wasps.
Hundreds of years ago this plant was an important article of international trade, especially the briar-like stones containing its seeds. Rumphius describes that it was common practice throughout the islands of the Indonesian archipelago to trade the stones, known as ganiter or ganitris in Malay, Javanese, and Balinese, words known throughout the East Indies. Not all the stones were precious, the best ones were smaller in size and were dark brown in color. The stones were often collected from the faeces of cattle, as it was during passage through the various stomachs of the cow that the stones took on their preferred colour, although less scrupulous traders used to drown the stones in sea water to achieve a similar effect. Stones lying on the ground turned a less attractive gray color and therefore had no value. A trader might pick up around 3,000 Dutch pounds of unsorted stones at a port in Java, Madura or Bali for only around 60 silver reais, the trader must then sort his load, retaining only the small and medium stones and throwing away the rest. Medium-sized stones were not worth much, but Hindu and Arab traders paid a good price for small stones, about 10 reals for a handful of stones, using them to make religious objects for their priests. A hole could be drilled through them and the stones could then be tied into chains, which were worn around the body in the same way Europeans do with corals in rosaries. Mainly Hindu priests were customers, but Muslim imams also used the chains as prayer beads to recite Tasbih. The richest of the priests stuck a gold nugget in every two ganiters, so the Chinese called the stones kimkungtsi – “hard seeds of gold”. Such was the value of a good stone, that counterfeits were carved from hard wood, so the Codja were usually very expert at distinguishing good stones from fake ones.
In some parts of Java, local people used a special cultivation method to ensure a harvest of good stones. When the trees were just beginning the fruiting process and the young fruit was just beginning to develop, long strips of bark were peeled off the main branches and some from the trunk: this forced the fruit to become stunted, causing smaller, more grooved stones to form.
Bark, leaves and fruit pulp have been used since ancient times in traditional Indian medicine for various pathologies; the tree, considered sacred in India, also plays an important role in the religion and superstitions of local populations, in particular with the endocarp (as said called rudraksha) garlands and rosaries are made to which particular virtues are attributed.
The wood, light and light, has a limited use for furniture, internal parts of boats, light carpentry in general and in the manufacture of plywood.
The heartwood has a color ranging from light yellowish-white to pink-brown, it is not distinctly delimited by the sapwood band up to 10 cm wide. The texture is moderately fine to coarse, with straight to slightly intertwined grain. The wood is soft to moderately hard; light to moderately heavy; it is weak and not very durable. The maturation is quite slow with slight final and superficial checks; shrinkage is quite low. It is easy to saw and cut crosswise; planing is easy and leaves a moderately smooth finish; nailing properties are good; It is easy to paste and stain. A general purpose wood very suitable for bending work; It is suitable for purposes such as general planking, formwork, boxes, cages, wooden pallets, boat planking, racing oars, matchsticks, veneer and plywood.
The fruits are edible.
The fruits represent an important food source for many frugivores, which contribute to dissemination, while the leaves are part of the diet of Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi Collett, 1884).
Preparation Method –
Elaeocarpus angustifolius is a well-known plant used since ancient times for edible, medicinal or sacred and ornamental uses.
Fruit is eaten raw; the thin layer of pulp around the seeds of ripe fruits is edible; it can be eaten by hand, or the pulp can be removed and mixed with water to form a paste.
In the medicinal field, the seeds are appreciated as a remedy for blood pressure and heart problems.
The fruit is used in the treatment of head diseases and epileptic attacks.
The sap from the leaves is used to treat stomach pain or chest and shoulder pain.
In the Philippines, there is documentation of the application of the bark to treat an enlarged spleen.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.