Muntingia calabura, the sole species in the genus Muntingia, is a flowering plant native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and western South America south to Peru and Bolivia. Common names include (English) Jamaican cherry, Panama berry, Singapore cherry, Strawberry tree; (Spanish) bolaina yamanaza, cacaniqua, capulín blanco, nigua, niguito, memizo or memiso; (Indonesia) kersen; and (Filipino) aratilis, aratiles, manzanitas.
It is a small tree 7-12 meters tall with tiered and slightly drooping branches. It has serrated leaves 2.5-15 cm long and 1-6.5 cm wide. The flowers are small ,white and slightly malodorous. It gives rise to 1-1.5 cm light red fruit. The fruit is edible, sweet and juicy, and contains a large number of tiny (0.5 mm) yellow seeds.
It is a pioneer species that thrives in poor soil, able to tolerate acidic and alkaline conditions and drought. Its 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. As a pioneer plant, it could help condition the soil and make it habitable to other plants. However, it might also be considered as an invasive species since it might out-compete indigenous plants.
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. 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. It is compact, durable and lightweight and can be used for carpentry. It could also be used as firewood. The bark can be used to produce ropes and fiber 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, it is used in urban gardens for its ability to grow fast and attractiveness to small fruit eating birds such as the flowerpeckers. It is also commonly planted in parking lots.
In Malaysia this tree grows very easily and is widespread. With enough sun and water it grows with little or no tending. The Malaysian common name "Ceri Kampung" means "village cherry" in English. In Malaysia, the muntingia tree is found in many urban areas lining the sides of streets in front of row houses. There the muntingia produces great quantities of fruit. Buying the fruit at stores impossible, because people eat the free fruit that grows along the streets. Children climb these trees to pick the fruit and fill tubs for themselves and their family to eat. Fruit from Muntingia is also harvested for export overseas. In nations where the climate is inhospitable to the Muntingia the fruit is considered a luxury and sold at a premium.
These cherries are very sweet. The sweetness brings with it an excellent taste, because it has a lovely fragrance that makes people keep on eating them. These cherries are often eaten by children because they taste quite like cotton candy. They are just delicious. In fact, they are so delicious you might become addicted to eating them.
This is a fast growing fruit tree. It rarely stops growing. After the flowers are pollinated, there will be lots of the berries growing. Once they ripen, the flowers start to bloom again. After one crop of berries is harvested, the flowers will pollinate back into fruit. The fruit tree will grow for many years
The Cherry Tree is named for its sweet sticky fruits, juicy and full of tiny seeds. They are a favourite with birds and bats, which disperse the seeds, and children too! The leaves are covered with tiny sticky hairs.
Although it provides good shade, it is not a popular wayside tree because the birds and bats that visit the tree also leave their droppings under the tree.
The tree flourishes in poor soil, tolerating both acid and alkaline conditions and quite drought resistant. However, it doesn't tolerate salty conditions and so is not a true mangrove associate.
Uses as food: The fruits are eaten in Mexico and sold in markets there. Fruits are also made into jams and used in tarts. The leaf is made into a tea. In Brazil, they are planted on river banks so their fallen fruit attracts fish which are then caught.
Other uses: The reddish-brown timber is compact, fine-grained, moderately strong, light in weight, durable, and easily worked. It is used to make small boxes, casks, and general carpentry. The dried timber is valued as firewood for cooking as it lights quickly and produces intense heat with little smoke. In Brazil, it is being considered as pulp for paper making. The bark is stripped to produce strong soft cord made into ropes. Because of its ability to grow quickly on poor soils and rapid dispersal by birds and bats, the Cherry Tree is being considered as a candidate for reforestation projects.
Traditional medicinal uses: The flowers are used as an antiseptic and to treat spasms. It is also taken to relieve headaches and colds.
Role in the habitat: As a pioneer species on poor soils, it helps provide shade for other plants to establish themselves. Its fruits provide food for birds and bats, and it provides shelter for small creatures.