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Morinda citrifolia L. 1753
pronounced: moh-RIN-duh sit-rih-FOH-lee-uh
(Rubiaceae — the gardenia family)
common names: Noni, Indian Mulberry, Cheese Fruit, Vomit Fruit
Morinda is a word formed from the Latin morus (mulberry) and indicus (Indian), because of the similarity of its fruit to Morus indica, a synonym of Morus alba, the white mulberry; citrifolia indicates that its leaves are like those of citrus trees.
There are about 80 species of Morinda, seven of which are found in tropical Australia. Morinda citrifolia is a native of South East Asia and northern Australia, but has been extensively spread by man throughout India and on to many of the Pacific Islands, and even on some islands in the West Indies. It is possible that, in the distant past, it may even have been brought by man to Australia. This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).
It is a large shrub or a medium tree, varying in height between about 3 and 12 m. The simple leaves are oval-shaped, up to about 30 cm long, dark green, shiny and deeply veined. It flowers and fruits all year round, but mainly in summer and autumn. The white flowers are small, occurring in the leaf axils in clusters. The flowers are followed by a multiple fruit that has a pungent odour when ripening, which explains why it is often called cheese fruit or vomit fruit. It grows up to about 7 cm in length. It is green at first, then turns yellow or almost white as it ripens. Its smell as it ripens attracts fruit bats, who aid in the dispersal of the seeds.
Despite its strong odour and bitter taste, the fruit is eaten curried in South Asia, and was eaten raw with salt by Australian aborigines. The seeds are edible when roasted. The plant is grown as a crop on some Pacific islands.
The juice from the fruit is regarded as medicinal, and a small industry has been built up to grow, harvest and produce it commercially. The juice is rich in vitamin C, and there is quite a high demand for it in alternative medicine for a host of illnesses. Cures have been claimed for it in the treatment of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental depression, menstrual difficulties, drug addiction, and many other conditions.
The timber is used in light construction and carving, although it must be dried very carefully – it is prone to excessive splitting. The heartwood is yellow when fresh, and darkens to a yellow-brown or a dull olive as it ages. It has a musk-like odour. It has a very close grain, sometimes wavy, making it an attractive-looking wood for turned products such as bowls; and it polishes well. It is often described as a softwood because it is easy to work, but the heartwood of some trees can be quite hard. The roots of the tree are sometimes used for woodcarving. Traditionally, the timber was used for making canoe parts and paddles, tool handles, and for digging sticks. It is sometimes used as firewood, although it can be difficult to ignite.
There are numerous Noni trees on the island, including a fascinating clump of them in the midst of the Casuarina forest in Florence Bay.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Florence Bay, Picnic Bay and on the West Point road, 2008-2015
Page last updated 31st December 2016