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Gnetum gnemon L. (Gnetaceae)

by Norzielawati Bt. Salleh

Gnetum gnemon is an evergreen tropical tree from the family Gnetaceae which is grouped under the Gymnosperms together with conifers, cycads and ginkgo. It is known locally as belinjau or melinjau and well-known among local people for the product 'keropok belinjau' which are crackers with a slightly bitter taste. The crackers are made from the seeds of the tree by first removing the pulp, then pounding the kernels into flat discs before sun-drying and finally deep frying (National Parks, 2009). Besides the seeds, the leaves are also edible; in traditional Malay cooking they are cooked together with fish or shrimp in 'gulai masak lemak' (Adnan, M. et al., 2018). Apart from that, its wood is used for making boats and wharfing rafts (Nparks Flora Fauna website, 2019). It is also planted as an ornamental plant; it has a narrow crown that is suitable for smaller gardens and limited roadside spaces.‚Äč

Gnetum gnemon is distributed from Assam, through Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, to Sumba, Celebes, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. The Latin name, Gnetum gnemon, is derived from the Moluccan name of the tree, ganema. This species is considered Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN Red List version 3.1, 2011. It can be commonly found growing near stream banks in lowland and secondary forests. Because of its association with the ectomycorrhizal fungus, Scleroderma sinnamariense, this plant is able to access phosphorus and some micro-elements more readily for its growth and development (Barua et al., 2015).

The tree has a narrow, conical to columnar crown, with short drooping branches. It has dark green leaves with simple and opposite arrangement. The flowers are separated between male and female, borne on different trees, and are called cones. A cone consists of a cone axis, where nodes and internodes are present. In the nodes, whorls of circular bracts are arranged one above the other to form cupulas or collars. The flowers are borne in these collars. The male flowers are alternately arranged in definite rings above each collar on the nodes; sterile ovules are borne in the rings above the male flowers. The female flowers are light yellowish-green in colour and bear 4-10 ovules on a single ring above each collar. The seeds are olive-shaped and change from green to yellow, then orange and finally red when ripe. It is pollinated by insects (moths) (Gong et al., 2015; Kato et al., 1995) while the seeds are probably dispersed by birds.

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