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Medinilla speciosa Blume 1831
pronounced: med-in-ILL-uh speck-ee-OH-suh
(Melastomataceae – the Melastoma family)
common name: Showy Asian Grapes
Medinilla is named for J. de Medinilla, who was the governor of the Mariana Islands in the 1820s; speciosa is from the Latin speciosus, showy, beautiful, handsome.
This spectacular plant occurs naturally in Borneo, Java, and the Philippines. It is typically found in the mountain forests, preferring shaded areas and moist soils. Its natural habitat is generally between 300 and 750 m altitude.
Although the genus mostly consists of tropical shrubs, some species can also climb on trees like vines, or even grow entirely on a tree. These are not parasites, but use convenient spaces, like those between branches, where there is some moss growing, or dead leaves have amassed, the compost providing some moisture.
Medinilla speciosa grows to a height of 45-60 cm. It is an evergreen, with woody branched stems and opposite leathery green leaves that can be up to 20 cm long by 15 cm wide, with prominent veins.
The blossoming is followed by showy berries, at first pink and then purple-blue when ripe.
If the plant is to be grown in a pot, it should be kept in bright filtered light after planting, with perhaps some early morning sun, for a couple of weeks until it becomes acclimatized, and then it should be slowly moved to more morning sun with protection from the hot afternoon sun. The roots are quite fast-growing, so it will need repotting from time to time. Occasional pruning after the bulk of the flowering has finished will result in a more compact plant.
Opinions seem divided as to the edibility of the berries. On the one hand, it was listed in The Poisonous Plants of the Malay Peninsula (1898). On the other hand, I have found several websites that reckon that not only the berries are edible, but also the leaves, flower buds and flowers. The berries are said to be very sweet and soft when ripe, but other parts of the plant rather sour. It is reputed to be used instead of tamarind in parts of the Philippines. It can, they say, be eaten fresh, chopped and added to salads, or used for cooking in soups, stews, stir-fries or any other meal that you want to add some sourness to. It can be also shredded and added to drinks instead of lemon.
There are reported to be medicinal uses of the plant. Its leaves contain saponin, tannin, flavonoid, glycoside, steroid and alkaloid compounds. In parts of the Philippines, it is said that the flowers are eaten by pregnant women in order to strengthen the embryo. In Sabah, Malaysia, it is believed that eating the fruits might protect against eye diseases.
Whether to eat or not to eat must be left to the reader. Personally, I wouldn’t, as I always err on the side of caution. Much more research needs to be done.
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.
Photographed in Arcadia, April 2018
Page last updated 14th April 2018