The Singapore Cherry tree is a flowering plant and native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and western South America south to Peru and Bolivia.
In Tamil, it is called ‘Nei Pazham’ (translated as Ghee fruit) for when it is crushed, it has the same consistency of ghee.
Common names include (English) Jamaican cherry, Panama berry, Singapore cherry, Strawberry tree, (Spanish), Singapore cherry or the more appropriately titled Jam tree.
The trees grow to a height of 7-12 metres and are multi tiered with slightly drooping branches. The leaves are serrated, measure 2.5-15 cm in length and are 1-6.5 cm wide. The flowers are small in size and white in colour.
The fruit is red in colour, edible, sweet and juicy, and contains a large number of tiny yellow seeds.
The tree thrives well even in soils devoid of any nutrient and is able to grow in acidic and alkaline conditions and in drought.
The seeds are dispersed by birds and fruit bats. It is cultivated for its edible fruit, and has become naturalised in some other parts of the tropics, including southeastern Asia.
In Mexico, the fruits are eaten and sold in markets. The fruits can be processed into jams and the leaves can be used for making tea. In Brazil, the trees are planted along river banks. The fruits falling from the tree attract fish that are then caught by the locals.
In the Philippines and Indonesia the fruits are usually eaten mostly by children although it is not sold in markets. In traditional medicine, its flowers can be used as an antiseptic and to treat abdominal cramps.
The timber from the Jamaican cherry is reddish-brown, compact, durable and lightweight and can be used for carpentry. It could also be used as firewood.
The bark is used to produce ropes and fibre for bark skirts.
Due to its ability to grow in poor soil and its effective propagation by means of bats and birds, it could be used for reforestation projects in India particularly for Tamil Nadu.
(G. Kathiresan, Director & S. Muralikrishnasamy, Professor, Directorate of Planning & Monitoring,Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore – 641 003, phone: 0422- 6611566.)