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coastal plants
Putat sungei
Barringtonia racemosa

updated Jun 2020
Where seen? This tree with hanging garlands of pretty pink fluffy flowers is now rare in the wild. It is, however, being planted in some of our coastal parks and reserves. Wild trees are found in damp places near mangroves, tidal rivers, sandy or rocky shores, freshwater swamps, peat swamp forests. And even banks of tidal creeks and muddy ditches in rice-fields in Malaya.

Features: A shrub or small, straggling tree (5-27m tall).

Leaves (20-30cm) thin leathery, midrib and veins often yellow. The leaves are finely toothed at the edges. Old leaves wither orange to red.

Leaf edge finely toothed.

Blooming flowers on a long hanging spike.

Planted tree.
Chek Jawa, Mar 09

After the stamens have fallen.

Fruits egg- or pear-shaped with angles.
Flowers small (3-5cm) a pom-pom of many short pink stamens with small pink petals. The flowers emerge from a long hanging spike (40-100cm long). According to Giesen, the night-blooming flowers have "a very strong fragrant scent" and are pollinated by moths and small bats. Flowering occurs year round.

Fruit (3-8cm long) egg- or pear-shaped, sometimes weakly angled or with four faint grooves, green ripening to flushed reddish. The fruit floats and may travel in seawater for many months. Each fruit usually contains only one seed (2-4cm long).

It is the food plant for caterpillars of the moths Attacus atlas (Atlas Moth), Gnathmocerodes tonsoria, and Thosea andamanica.

Human uses: The plant contains a toxin called saponin, concentrated mainly in the seeds but also found in other parts of the plant. According to Burkill, the leaves are used in a poultice for itching and chicken-pox, as well as to treat sore throats. The young leaves are eaten raw in Eastern Malaysia, and in the Philippines the fruits are used to poison wild pigs.

Status and threats: It is listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.

Putat sungei on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr


  • Barringtonia racemosa on Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online: photos and fact sheet.
  • Barringtonia racemosa on the NParks Flora and Fauna website: photos and fact sheet.
  • Giesen, Wim and Stephan Wulffraat, Max Zieren and Liesbeth Scholten. 2006. Mangrove Guidebook for Southeast Asia (PDF online downloadable). RAP publication 2006/07 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok.


  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Corners, E. J. H., 1997. Wayside Trees of Malaya: in two volumes. Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
  • Tomlinson, P. B., 1986. The Botany of Mangroves Cambridge University Press. USA. 419 pp.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Burkill, I. H., 1993. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. 3rd printing. Publication Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-1240; volume 2: 1241-2444.
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