Meliosma sumatrana (Jack) Walpers
by Mrs. Nadiah Idris
Meliosma sumatrana (Jack) Walpers
by Mrs. Nadiah Idris

Meliosma is a genus of flowering plants in the family Sabiaceae, native to tropical and warm temperate regions of southern and eastern Asia and the Americas. This genus is quite complicated and taxonomic revision by van Beusekom (1971) and van Beusekom & van der Water (1989) described six species which occur in Peninsular Malaysia and seven species in Borneo, including M. sumatrana. According to taxonomic revision and research carried out, species in the genus can be distinguished by differences in some important macromorphological and micromorphological characters. These include either having simple or compound leaves, type of inner petal, ovary either glabrous or densely covered with simple hairs, and small or large fruits (less or more than 10 mm in diameter).

The genus was named from the Greek word, "meli" meaning honey and "osme" meaning odour, referring to the fragrant or honey-scented flowers. The epithet name, sumatrana, refers to Pulo Nias (sic) (Pulau Nias), Sumatra, the locality where this plant was first discovered (Walpers, 1848). Other than Sumatra, this species is widely distributed in Peninsular Malaysia, West Java, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Philippines. This species can be found growing in primary and secondary forest, from lowlands to mountains up to 1500 m altitude. It usually grows on clay soils along rivers and streams, on hillsides and ridges.

Meliosma sumatrana is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, reaching heights of up to 20 m and 62 cm diameter. This species can be easily differentiated from other species in the genus by having petiolules with a distinct swelling at the base, especially in older leaves. Other diagnostic characters of this species are compound leaves, and lower leaf surface covered by unbranched simple hairs, especially on the midrib and veins. Besides that, the flowers are whitish yellow in colour; the inner petals are elliptic to lanceolate or strap-shaped with wide truncate tip; the ovary is glabrous and the ripe fruits are about 1–3 cm in diameter and red-brownish in colour.

Locally this species is known as mengading besar in Peninsular Malaysia, bulu manok in Sarawak and gapas-gapas in Sabah. The tree is harvested from the wild for local use, such as for food and medicine. It has also been recommended for use in reforestation projects as it is a fast-growing pioneer species. The wood is sometimes used for firewood and the fruits are frequently reported as edible. In Mindanao (Philippines), the leaves and bark are used to treat itchy skin and to clean wounds, or charred and put into water to treat tympanites (Boer & Sosef, 1998).

Taxonomic study of the Sabiaceae family in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo is still in progress. As M. sumatrana has a widespread distribution and can be easily found in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia (in all states except Perlis, Kedah and Kuala Lumpur), the provisional conservation assessment for this species is Least Concern (LC).


  1. Boer, E. & Sosef, M.S.M. (1998). Meliosma Blume. In Sosef, M.S.M., Soerianegara, I. & Wong, W.C. (Eds.), Plant Resources of South-East Asia (PROSEA): Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers, Volume 5 (3). Backhuys Publishers, Leiden. pp. 366-368.
  2. Van Beusekom, C.F. & Van de Water, P.M. (1989). Sabiaceae. In Van Steenis, C.G.G.J. & de Wilde, W.J.J.O. (Eds.), Flora Malesiana. Series 1 - Spermatophyta, Volume 10 (4). Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 679-715.
  3. Van Beusekom, C.F. (1971). Revision of Meliosma (Sabiaceae), section Lorenzanea excepted, living and fossil, geography and phylogeny. BLUMEA 19 (3), 355-524
  4. Walpers, W.G. (1848). Meliosma Blume. Annales Botanices Systematicae , Volume 1. pp. 135
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