Lepisanthes alata

Family : Sapindaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini



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Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, Lepisanthes alata can be 4 to 10 m tall © Giuseppe Mazza

The species is native to Indonesia (Kalimantan) and Malaysia (Johore, Sabah and Sarawak) where it grows in the forests along the water streams on clayey soils, up to about 500 m of altitude.

The name of the genus is the combination of the Greek terms “lepis” = scale, flake and “anthos” = flower, with reference to the scales at the apex of the petals; the name of the species is the Latin adjective “alatus, a, um” = winged with reference to the winged rachis.

Common names: Chinese averrhoe, Johore fruit, malaysian lepisanthes, trengganu cherry (English).

The Lepisanthes alata (Blume) Leenh. (1969) is a shrub or a 4-10 m tall tree with trunk up to about 30 cm of diameter and greyish bark.

The leaves, on a 2-10 cm long petiole, are usually odd-pinnate, 20-50 cm long, with 3-6 pairs of opposite or sub-opposite leaflets, sessile or sub-sessile, lanceolate with long pointed apex and central nervation protruding below, 8-15 cm long and 2-5 cm broad, initially of pale purple colour, then green, the terminal leaflet, if present, is of an extremely reduced size; petiole and rachis are provided with the margins of two up to 0,8 cm broad wings.

Usually drooping inflorescences carrying unisexual flowers on the same plant of about 8 mm of diameter, with 5 obovate, about 4 mm long, sepals and 5 orbicular petals, almost of the same dimensions, of purple colour.

The male inflorescences are axillar, 20-30 cm long, with sessile fascicles of 3-5 flowers, the female inflorescences, axillar or directly from the branches or from the trunk, are up to 50 cm long, with generally solitary flowers on an about 1 cm long pedicel.

The fruits are 3-4 cm long obovoid berries of 2,5-3 cm of diameter, with pointed apex, of red to glossy dark purple colour when ripe, containing 1-4 ellipsoid seeds with white fleshy aril.

It reproduces by seed in organic loam, with addition of coarse sand or agri-perlite for a 30% to improve the drainage, maintained humid at the temperature of 25-28 °C, with germination times of 2-4 weeks and first blooming starting from the fourth year of age.

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The even 50 cm long female inflorescences usually have solitary flowers on an about 1 cm long pedicel. Fruits are tasty edible berries with little pulp © Giuseppe Mazza

Fairly diffused species in south-eastern Asia more for its ornamental characteristics than for its fruits, even if edible, with pleasant taste when perfectly ripe, but with little pulp, are on the contrary particularly appreciated by the birds which provide to their dissemination; in some zones of Thailand the new leaves are consumed cooked as vegetable.

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Close-up of the purplish flowers and the fruits, shiny and flamboyant when ripe to attract the attention of the birds who care the seeds dispersion © Giuseppe Mazza

Cultivable in the humid tropical and subtropical climate zones in full sun or slight shade on soils rich of organic substance, draining, maintained almost constantly humid.

Synonyms: Otophora alata Blume (1847).


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