Facts about Barringtonia

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Barringtonia Quick Facts
Name: Barringtonia
Scientific Name: Barringtonia asiatica
Origin Mangrove habitats in the tropics from Madagascar, to Malesia, Taiwan, Philippines, northern Australia and Polynesia
Colors Green when young turning to brown as they matures
Shapes Broadly pyramidal, 4–5 angled, indehiscent, smooth, 9–11 cm in diameter, apex tapering and crowned by calyx
Health benefits Beneficial for stomach-ache, coughs, influenza, sore throats, bronchitis, headache, diarrhea, malaria, chickenpox, tumors, tuberculosis and many more
Barringtonia asiatica commonly known as fish poison tree, putat or sea poison tree is a species of genus Barringtonia and Lecythidaceae family. The plant is native to mangrove habitats on the tropical coasts and islands of the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean extending from Zanzibar in the east to Taiwan and the Philippines (where it is locally known as botong or bitoón), Japan’s Yaeyama Islands and Ogasawara Islands (where it is locally known as gobannoashi), Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesiain the west. The plant is grown along streets for decorative and shade purposes in some parts of India, for instance in some towns on the southeastern shore.

The plant has got several common names including Balubiton, Barringtonia, Box Fruit, Butong, Butun, Fish Poison Tree, Fish-Killer Tree, Fish- Poison Tree, Fish-Poison-Tree, Langasat, Lugo, Motong-Botong, Pertun, Putat Laut, Sea Poison Tree, Sea Putat, Vuton, Asian barringtonia, Beach Barringtonia, Mango bark, Mango pine and Box Fruit tree. It is also known as Box Fruit due to the distinct box-shaped fruit it produces. The local name futu is the source of the name for the Polynesian island Futuna.  The genus Barringtonia was named in honor of Hon. Daines Barrington (1727-1800). The specific epithet asiatica Asian: referring to the natural distribution of the plant.

Plant Description

Barringtonia is a small to medium-sized, evergreen, perennial tree that grows about 7–20 m high with a cylindrical bole of 30 cm diameter. The plant is found growing in littoral sandy beaches, coral sand flats or river banks, in mangrove swamps at sea level and also inland near rivers on limestone hillsides. It grows best in a fertile, humid and well-drained soil. Bark surface off the plant is slightly grooved and longitudinally fissured, cracked or scaly, thick, lenticels often distinctly diamond-shaped, brown, red-brown or grey, sometimes tinged with pink; inner bark finely, firmly fibrous, yellow-brown to pink or white with yellowish streaks, without exudate.

Leaves

Leaves are opposite to sub-opposite, sessile, simple, dark green above, paler dull green below, obovate to obovate-oblong, 20–40 cm long and  10–20 cm wide, leathery, shiny, base cuneate, margin entire, apex obtuse or broadly rounded with pinnate venation. Young leaves may be pinkish olive with pink veins. Older leaves wither yellow or pale orange.

Flowers

Flowers very showy with four white petals and lots of fine, pink-tipped stamens forming a pom-pom shape (10-15cm). According to Corners “the buds beginning to swell at noon, but the petals and stamens do not unfold until nearly sunset when the heavy perfume becomes noticeable”. By sunrise the next day, the entire circle of stamens and petals fall off the tree.

Fruit

Fruits are broadly pyramidal, 4–5 angled, indehiscent, fibrous, smooth, 9–11 cm in diameter, apex tapering and crowned by calyx; pericarp spongy, fibrous. They hang from branches, and have a tough, corky-fibrous husk that aids in their dispersal by water. The fruit floats and the softer outer layers rot in the water, so the fruit is stranded on a faraway shore as a fibrous basket surrounding the seed. Fruits are green when young turning to brown as they mature. The fruit consists of seeds that are oblong, 4–5 cm long.

Traditional uses and benefits of Barringtonia

  • Various parts of the tree are used in folkloric medicine in its native area of habitation.
  • Leaves are heated and applied externally for stomach-ache in Philippines.
  • Fresh fruit is scraped and applied topically to sores in Bismarck Archipelago.
  • Dried fruit is ground and mixed with water and taken for coughs, influenza, sore throats and bronchitis.
  • Externally it is applied to wounds and a swollen spleen.
  • The aborigines used the plant as a fish poison and sometimes to alleviate headache in Australia.
  • Decoction of the leaves is used to treat hernia in Fiji.
  • Bark decoction is used for constipation and epilepsy.
  • Fresh leaves are topically applied against rheumatism, and the seeds are used as a vermifuge.
  • Fruit or seed is used as a fish poison in Indonesia and Philippines.
  • Externally it is applied to wounds and a swollen spleen after an attack of malaria.
  • Backaches and sore joints can be treated using the bark, leaves, and fruits.
  • Rheumatism can be treated using the fresh leaves, while their juices are used to treat diarrhea.
  • Fruits are applied externally as a treatment for sores.
  • Used externally, the fresh nut is scraped and applied to a swollen spleen after an attack of malaria.
  • Bark is used externally for treating sores.
  • Leaf material of this species was active against some tumors.
  • Pounded leaves are said to cure chickenpox.
  • An infusion of the leaves and bark has been used by aborigines in Australia to treat chest pains and fever.
  • Juice of the wood was formerly used to blacken teeth in Kalimantan.
  • Pacific Islanders treat inflammation of the ear and headache by using the leaves of B. asiatica.
  • Fruit of B. asiatica is poisonous to fish, and the juice is used to control scabies.
  • Juice of the fruit is used to treat parasitic skin problems.
  • Bark is used to treat tuberculosis.
  • Juice of the bark is given for chest pains or for vomiting from heart trouble.
  • Sap from the bark has been used for treating ciguatera poisoning, coughs, and urinary infections, and the red-leafed form is used as a contraceptive and for abortion.

Culinary Uses

  • Fruits are eaten as a vegetable after prolonged cooking to remove the saponins in Indo-China.
  • In Indo-China the young fruits are consumed as a vegetable after prolonged cooking.
  • Fruit can be used as a flavoring in food.
  • Young leaves and shoots of some Barringtonia are eaten as a salad or in chutneys.

Other facts

  • Tree is planted as shade and avenue and boulevard trees along the beach.
  • Wood is of little economic value but in some places e.g. in Kediri, Java, in the Nicobars and the Philippines it is used for native huts.
  • Also if impregnated it is suggested that it would make good tiles, paving blocks and cabinets.
  • All parts of the tree are poisonous, the active poisons including saponin.
  • Fruit or seeds are used as fish poison.
  • Ground seeds are used to stun fish for easy capture.
  • Its flowers emit a sickly, sweet smell that attracts bats and moths pollinators at night.
  • It is often planted as a shade tree along boulevards and avenues along the sea.
  • Wood is light and soft and is used for light work, carving and turnery.
  • Oil from the seeds is used for lighting lamps.
  • Wood is used in boat making.
  • Mature trees yield about 500 – 2,000 fruits per year.
  • Wood of Barringtonia is used for local house building, general planking, flooring, boat building, moldings, interior finish, household utensils, agricultural implements, boxes, crates and wooden pallets.
  • In the Nicobar Islands, New Guinea and Pacific islands, the bole is used to make canoes.
  • It can survive afloat for up to fifteen years.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=507272#null

https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/55645/

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/8468

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=BAAS3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barringtonia_asiatica

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