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Syzygium aqueum (Burm.f.) Alston 1929
pronounced: siz-ZY-ghee-um ACK-wee-um
(Myrtaceae – the gum family)
synonym: Eugenia aquea Burm.f. 1768
pronounced: yoo-JEE-nee-uh ACK-wee-uh
common name: Water Apple
Syzygium is derived from the Greek συζυγιος (syzygios), joined, referring to the paired leaves; aqueum is from the Latin aqueus, like water. In the synonym, Eugenia was named for Prince Eugene of Savoy, an 18th century Austrian general.
This is a tree commonly found in Asia, many of the Pacific Islands and also, as an exotic invasive species, in North Queensland rainforests. There would also appear to be a native Australian Syzygium aqueum, which has somewhat smaller leaves, among other characteristics, than the commonly planted exotic species. More work needs to be done to establish whether the Australian species is different enough to warrant separating it from the Asian, but there does appear to be a widely held view among botanists that the two trees are clearly different. The tree is cultivated in parts of Asia, particularly in Indonesia, both for its wood and its fruit. The wood is hard, and is used to make tools, and for handicrafts. The bark of the tree is sometimes used in herbal medicines. The leaves are edible, and are sometimes used to wrap food.
The foliage of this handsome evergreen tree, that grows to about 8 m tall, is a glossy green, and fruiting trees have been selected to produce large seedless fruit. The tree trunk is short and crooked, branching close to the ground, and the open crown is non-symmetrical. The opposite leaves, on very short, thick petioles, are obovate or oblong-elliptic, cordate at the base and clasping the twig; blunt and notched or short-pointed at the apex. They are 5–25 cm long by 2.5–16 cm wide; a dull light green above, and yellowish green beneath. They are leathery, and not aromatic (or only slightly so) when crushed. The flowers, which are faintly fragrant, are borne in loose terminal or axillary clusters of 3 to 7, mostly hidden by the foliage. The 4-parted calyx and 4 petals are pale yellow, yellowish white or pinkish, and there are numerous concolorous stamens about 2 cm long. Thin-skinned and shining, the fruits vary from white to light red or red, pear-shaped with a narrow neck and broad apex. They are up to 2 cm long by about 3 cm wide. The apex is concave; it bears the thick calyx segments and the protruding slender, bristle-like style. The flesh is white or pink, mildly fragrant, may be dry or juicy, crisp or spongy, and usually with a faint sweetish flavour. There may be anything up to 6 small seeds, but generally the fruits are seedless.
These fruits are refreshing to eat, but have a very severe laxative effect. If you must eat them, I suggest that one will be sufficient!
In Indonesia, two forms are recognized: one white-fruited and the other red, the colour of the latter developing from the base upward. Much variation is seen in the fruits of different trees in Malaya, and the flavour of some types is quite acid. Much depends on where the tree is growing – it prefers a fairly low altitude and a climate that has rain well-distributed through most of the year. In Malaya there are two crops a year, one in the spring and a second in the autumn. In Indonesia the tree frequently blooms in July and again in September, the fruits ripening in August and November.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2011
Page last updated 4th March 2018