Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Terminalia catappa Linnaeus

Kingdom:Plantae
Phylum/Division:Magnoliophyta
Class:Eudicots
Order:Myrtales
Family:Combretaceae
Genus:Terminalia
Species:T. catappa
Common Names:Sea Almond Tree, Ketapang
Status:Common

Description

It is a native, fast-growing, deciduous tree with a pagoda-like crown with layers of branches spaced at about 1–2 m apart. They can grow up to 25 m tall.

The spirally arranged leaves are egg-shaped with the narrower end towards the leaf stalk. Being a naturally coastal plant, they have leaves that are leathery and glossy. The leaves are a darker green on the top surface and a paler green on the bottom, but they do change colours seasonally. They will go from a dark red to yellow before being shed. New purplish foliage will follow. Shedding of the leaves takes place twice a year.

Flowers are tiny, foetid and greenish-white, and are borne on spikes. The flowers have no petals. The fruit is almond-shaped, with a thin fleshy covering over a corky stone. 

Read more about the Myrtales order.
Read more about the Combretaceae family.

Localities

Found throughout Singapore and its offshore islands.

General Biology

The Sea Almond tree is found in tropical and near-tropical regions, mostly in humid areas. This is a common species found on rocky and sandy beaches, but in Singapore, it is also commonly cultivated along streets and in parks and gardens as a shade tree. It is however less preferred for street planting because it sheds its leaves twice yearly, making a mess.

The fruit has a corky layer which makes it buoyant for water dispersal. The seed can remain viable for a long time even after being dispersed by water for long distances. Bats are also known to eat the fruits and disperse the seeds.

Human Uses

Its bark and leaves are sources of tannin or black dye for tanning leather or dyeing textiles, respectively. Timber from the Sea Almond tree can be used for furniture, flooring and other woodworks, however, it is susceptible to termites. It is a preferred wood for boats though due to its durability in water.

The tannin has been used medicinally to treat rheumatism, headache, colic and diarrhea, among other ailments. Crushed leaves put in a bath can also relieve skin rash. The fruit flesh is edible and so is the seed, which also yields an oil similar to almond oil. The kernel oil is also known to be able to relieve abdominal inflammation. The The fruits and seeds have also been researched for its medical value in diabetic treatment and for sexual dysfunctions in men, respectively.

Fish hobbyists have also made use of the Sea Almond leaves and bark to condition aquarium water for their tropical fishes. When the leaves are soaked, tannins are leached into the water. The tannins are known to be an antimicrobial substance and are believed to have anti-fungal and anti-bacteria properties that will help prevent things like fin-rot in fishes. It is also known to promote healing for injured fishes.

References

Chansue, N. & N. Assawawongkasem, 2008. The in vitro antibacterial activity and ornamental fish toxicity of the water extract of Indian almond leaves (Terminalia catappa Linn.). KKU Veterinary Journal, 18(1): 36-45.

Chong, K. Y., H. T. W. Tan & R. T. Corlett, 2009. A Checklist of the Total Vascular Plant Flora of Singapore: Native, Naturalised and Cultivated Species. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, Singapore. 273 pp.

Morton, J. F., 1985. Indian almond (Terminalia catappa), salt-tolerant, useful, tropical tree with “nut” worthy of improvement. Economic Botany, 39(2): 101-112.

Nagappa, A.N., P.A. Thakurdesai, N.V. Rao & J. Singh, 2003. Antidiabetic activity of Terminalia catappa Linn fruits. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 88(1): 45-50.

Ratnasooriya, W.D. & M.G. Dharmasiri, 2000. Effects of Terminalia catappa seeds on sexual behavior and fertility of male rats. Asian Journal of Andrology, 2: 213-219.

Tan, H.T.W., 2011. Sea almond Terminalia catappa. Pp. 447. In: Ng, P.K.L., R.T. Corlett & H.T.W. Tan (editors), Singapore Biodiversity. An encyclopedia of the natural environment and sustainable development, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 552 pp.

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