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Morton, J. 1987. Bignay. p. 210–212. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Antidesma bunius Spreng.

When Corner referred to this member of the Euphorbiaceae as a "shady, rather gloomy tree", he could not have been viewing it in fruit, a spectacle that has always aroused enthusiasm. The colorful bignay, Antidesma bunius Spreng., is called bignai in the Philippines; buni or berunai in Malaya; wooni or hooni, in Indonesia; ma mao luang in Thailand; kho lien tu in Laos; choi moi in Vietnam; moi-kin and chunka by the aborigines in Queensland. Among English names are Chinese laurel, currant tree, nigger's cord, and salamander tree.

Plate XXVI: BIGNAY, Antidesma bunius

The tree may be shrubby, 10 to 26 ft (3-8 m) high, or may reach up to 50 or even 100 ft (15-30 m). It has wide-spreading branches forming a dense crown. The evergreen, alternate leaves are oblong, pointed, 4 to 9 in (10-22.5 cm) long, 2 to 3 in (5-7.5 cm) wide, dark-green, glossy, leathery, with very short petioles. The tiny, odorous, reddish male and female flowers are produced on separate trees, the male in axillary or terminal spikes, the female in terminal racemes 3 to 8 in (7.5-20 cm) long. The round or ovoid fruits, up to 1/3 in (8 mm) across, are borne in grapelike, pendent clusters (often paired) which are extremely showy because the berries ripen unevenly, the pale yellowish-green, white, bright-red and nearly black stages present at the same time. The skin is thin and tough but yields an abundance of bright-red juice which leaves a purple stain on fabrics, while the pulp, only 1/8 in (3 mm) thick is white with colorless juice. Whole fruits are very acid, much like cranberries, when unripe; are subacid, slightly sweet, when fully ripe. Some tasters detect a bitter principle or "unpleasant aftertaste" which is unnoticeable to others. There is a single, straw-colored stone, an irregular, flattened oval, ridged or fluted, very hard, 3/8 in (1 cm) long, 1/4 in (6 mm) wide.

P.J. Wester mentions a "very distinct and superior variety" as reliably reported from the Mountain Province, Philippines.

Origin and Distribution

The bignay is native and common in the wild from the lower Himalayas in India, Ceylon, and southeast Asia (but not Malaya) to the Philippines and northern Australia. It is an abundant and invasive species in the Philippines; occasionally cultivated in Malaya; grown in every village in Indonesia where the fruits are marketed in clusters.

The United States Department of Agriculture received seeds from the Philippines in 1905 (S.P.I. #18393); twice in 1913 (S.P.I. #36088 and #34691), and again in 1918 (S.P.I. #46704). Quite a few trees have been planted in southern Florida in the past and the fruits were formerly appreciated as a source of juice for jelly, commercialized in a limited way, but are rarely so used today. There are specimens in experimental stations in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Hawaii.


The tree is not strictly tropical for it has proved to be hardy up to central Florida. It thrives in Java from sea-level to 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It grows well and flowers but does not set fruit in Israel.


Many seeds are non-viable in Florida, perhaps because of inadequate pollination. Since seedlings may turn out to be male, and female seedlings may not bear for a number of years, vegetative propagation is preferred. The tree is readily multiplied by cuttings, grafting or air-layering. The air-layers have borne fruit in 3 years after transplanting to the field. Ochse recommends grafting in the wet season because scions will remain dormant in dry weather. Most female trees will bear some fruit without the presence of a male because many of the flowers are perfect.


The trees should be spaced 40 to 45 ft (12-14 m) apart, each way. And one male tree should be planted for every 10 to 12 females to provide cross-pollination. Wind-protection is desirable when the trees are small. Otherwise they require very little cultural attention.


Yield varies greatly from tree to tree if they are grown from seed. A mature tree in Florida has produced 15 bushels of fruit in a season. One very old tree at the home of Dr. David Fairchild produced 22 bushels yielding 72 gals (273 liters) of juice.


In Indonesia, the trees flower in September and October and the fruits mature in February and March. The fruiting season is July to September in North Vietnam. In Florida it extends from late summer through fall and winter because some trees bloom much later than others.

Pests and Diseases

The tree is attacked by termites in Southeast Asia. In Florida, the leaves may be heavily attacked by mealybugs and by scale insects and sooty mold develops on their excretions. Here, also, the foliage is subject to green scurf and algal leaf spot caused by Cephaleuros tirescens.

Food Uses

In Malaya, the fruits are eaten mostly by children. Indonesians cook the fruits with fish. Elsewhere the fruits (unripe and ripe together) are made into jam and jelly though the juice is difficult to jell and pectin must be added. Some cooks add lemon juice as well. If the extracted bignay juice is kept under refrigeration for a day or so, there will be a settling of somewhat astringent sediment which can be discarded, thus improving the flavor. For several years, the richly-colored jelly was produced on a small commercial scale in southern Florida. The juice makes an excellent sirup and has been successfully fermented into wine and brandy.

In Indonesia and the Philippines, the leaves are eaten raw or stewed with rice. They are often combined with other vegetables as flavoring.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
Moisture 91.11-94.80 g
Protein 0.75 g
Ash 0.57-0.78 g
Calcium 0.12 mg
Phosphorus 0.04 mg
Iron 0.001 mg
Thiamine 0.031 mg
Riboflavin 0.072 mg
Niacin 0.53 mg

*According to analyses made in Florida and the Philippines.


The bark contains a toxic alkaloid. The heavy fragrance of the flowers, especially the male, is very obnoxious to some individuals.

Other Uses

Bark: The bark yields a strong fiber for rope and cordage.

Wood: The timber is reddish and hard. If soaked in water, it becomes heavy and, according to Drury, "black as iron". It has been experimentally pulped for making cardboard.

Medicinal Uses: The leaves are sudorific and employed in treating snakebite, in Asia.

Related Species

Herbert River Cherry
Fig. 55: The Herbert River Cherry of Australia (Antidesma dallachyanum) is less showy than the bignay but the fruits have more flesh.

The Herbert River cherry, A. dallachyanum Baill., is a bushy tree, seldom over 25 ft (7.5 m) in height. The young shoots are slightly hairy. Mature leaves, almost hairless, are ovate to lanceolate-elliptical, 2 to 6 in (5-15 cm) long; deep-green above, bright-green beneath; thick and leathery. The odoriferous male flower spikes are hairy, generally in panicles in the leaf axils, occasionally solitary, more or less interrupted. The greenish female flowers are borne in racemes. The fruits, single or in clusters of 4 to 30, are round to obovoid, up to 3/4 in (2 cm) wide, rich-red when unripe, dark purple-red (nearly black) when ripe and very acid. They ripen fairly evenly in the cluster.

The tree is native to coastal North Queensland, growing on the borders of rain forests and on the banks of streams and lagoons. Seeds were imported by the University of Florida Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, Florida, in 1941 and the seedlings grew and bore well. The seeds germinate readily and seedlings begin to fruit at about 6 years of age when they may be 8 ft (2.4 m) tall. Multiplication may also be by cuttings, air-layering or grafting. One nursery in Florida offered grafted plants for sale but they did not become popular and the species is still rare.

In Australia, the trees bloom from December to February and again in September and the fruits mature in their fall and winter months. In Florida, blooming takes place from April to June and the fruit is in season in September and October.

The extracted juice is very dark-red, nearly black, but it yields, with the addition of pectin, a deep-red jelly.

The tree, like that of the bignay, is prone to infestation by mealybugs and scale insects and associated sooty mold.

The black currant tree, A. ghaesembilla Gaertn. (syn. A. pubescens Roxb.), called dang kiep kdam in Cambodia, chop moi, choi moi, chua moi or chum moi in Vietnam, is a deciduous shrub or bushy tree up to 26 or, at most, 40 ft (8-12 m), with short, russet hairs on the young branches, rosy new foliage and inflorescences. The mature leaves are broad-ovate or nearly circular, 1 1/2 to 3 in (4-7.5 cm) long, glossy on the upper surface. Male flower spikes, purplish or light-yellow with pollen, are dense, 1 to 2 in (2.5-5 cm) long; the erect female shorter and not as compact. Both types occur in terminal panicles or rarely solitary. Some trees bear both male and female flowers but on separate branches. The trees flower off and on during the year but mostly March to May in Asia.

The fruit is velvety, dark-red or very dark-purple, obliquely ovoid with one seed or occasionally double with 2 seeds. The seed kernels are sharply angular. When fully ripe the fruit is subacid to somewhat sweet.

This species has a wide natural range: in tropical Africa, and from the moist tropical lower Himalayas in northern India through Ceylon, southern China, Southeast Asia and Malaysia to the Walsh River region of Queensland. Generally the fruits are eaten mainly by children, but they are appreciated as thirst-quenchers by forest people of Thailand. They were made into jam by early settlers in Australia. In Malaya and Indonesia, they are made into a kind of relish, and the very young leaves are added as acid flavoring to various foods.

The wood is red, hard, close-grained, smooth and used for light rafters in huts, but for little else. Small branches are lopped twice a year for fuel. In India, the leaves are used to treat fever, headache and swollen abdomens. In Cambodia, various parts of the tree are valued in native medicine. The bark, combined with tobacco, is applied on wounds of animals. Combined with the bark of other species, it is boiled and the decoction given to halt diarrhea. The leaves and wood are similarly employed. A decoction of young branches and papaya roots is considered an effective emmenagogue. Crushed leaves are applied on the head of a newborn infant.