tree or Tamarind
Where seen? This tree with pretty orchid-like flowers and
famous fruits is sometimes seen wild on our shores. It is also planted
as a roadside tree.
The tree is a native of East Africa and West Asia but is now widespread
throughout the tropics. It does best in sandy soil near the sea. It
drops its leaves after dry weather, after which new leaves and flowers
appear. To thrive, the tree needs a monsoon climate and is thus not
a conspicuous or 'successful' tree in Malaya, according to Corners.
According to Burkill, the Arabs called the tree the Indian date (tamar)
from which the name Tamarind came about.
Features: A tall tree (20-25m).
The compound leaves (6-12cm long) are made up of little leaflets.
The leaflet tips are minutely notched and the leaflets fold together
at dusk. The beautiful small flowers are rose red in the bud and when
blooming is pale yellowish with pink veins. The sausage-shaped pods
(4-20cm long) are scurfy brown, according to Corners, and pithy green
inside when unripe. When ripe it contains a soft acidic pulp and many
Human uses: The Asam tree has plenty of uses. Burkill shares
how the pulp is processed and used: the ripe pods are cracked, and
pulp and seeds squeezed out. A little salt or sugar might be added
and the pulp is ready to use for cooking in condiments such as chutney
and deserts, sweets and chilled drinks. It is an important ingredient
in the local favourite: asam fish! Boiled with an equal weight of
sugar, the pulp becomes a jam. A syrup can also be made.
The pulp also has medicinal uses. It is a gentle laxative, sometimes
the roots are used instead. Burkill says the salted pulp may also
be made up into balls and steamed then dried in the sun and then 'exposed
at night to the dew for a week'. They are then packed into earthenware
jars which are 'well closed'. A liquid, running thickly like oil,
drains from them in storage, especially if the jars are allowed to
stand in the sun. The liquid is used for medicinal uses such as treating
The starchy seeds may be eaten after the outer skin is removed by
roasting or soaking. The seeds are boiled or fried, and sometimes
made into flour. The flowers and leaves may be eaten as a vegetable.
The bark is used in treating sores, ulcers, boils and caterpillar
rash. Leaves may be used to treat fever and young leaves to treat
rheumatism and sores and wounds. The tree is even used to treat elephants!
The bark and fruit for elephant tummy aches, and to make an elephant
Heritage Tree: There is one Asam
tree with Heritage
Tree status. It is at Surin Ave Park with a girth of 3.5m and
Pulau Ubin, Dec 09
indica on Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online: photos
and fact sheet.
- Hsuan Keng,
S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The
Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons.
Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
- Tee Swee
Ping and Wee Mei Lynn (eds). 2001. Trees of our Garden City.
National Parks Board. 202 pp.
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.
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.