Dracontomelon dao (Blanco) Merr. & Rolfe
by Mr. Nik Faizu Bin Nik Hassan & Mrs. Rafidah Abdul Rahman

(Copyright © Rafidah Abdul Rahman)

Argus pheasant tree, Dracontomelon dao (Blanco) Merr. & Rolfe, is the only species of Dracontomelon (Anacardiaceae) that occurs in Peninsular Malaysia. In Malay, the species is known as asam kuang or pokok sengkuang. Sengkuang is also the name of the yam bean or sweet turnip (Pachyrrhizus erosus, Fabaceae). In Greek, drakan means dragon, and melon is a tree fruit. The species name dao is taken from the tree’s name in Tagalog, the common language of the Philippines.

Dracontomelon dao is an emergent tree or a large evergreen canopy tree growing up to 45 m tall, with a dense rounded crown. It has a straight and cylindrical bole, supported by steep and strong plank-like buttresses. The outer bark is greyish-brown, and the inner bark is pink. A wounded bark exudes a slightly sticky and colourless resin that turns pale golden upon air exposure.

The leaves are spirally-arranged, compound-pinnate with terminal leaflets and clustered towards the end of the twigs. The seedling leaflets are opposite with toothed margins, in contrast to the leaves of mature trees that have entire margins. The plant produces very long hanging panicles of flowers. The whitish-yellow flowers are faintly fragrant and are about 1 cm in diameter. Dracontomelon dao has green fruits that turn yellowish-brown when ripe. The fleshy globose drupes are about 20-35 mm across. It has five oval markings or equatorial flecks on the upper side that resemble the markings on the feather of a kuang or Argus pheasant. The stone is hard and covered with a 2-5 mm thick yellow pulp of peculiar sweet and sour taste.

Dracontomelon dao is found in India, South China, Indochina, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Island (POWO, 2023). Globally, it is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Ganesan, 2021). The species is commonly found in lowland forests, along river banks or in forests with very short, intermittent dry periods, usually below 500-1000 m altitude (Orwa, 2009). The species can be seen planted in villages and more commonly in the North. In Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Brunei, after periods of marked dry weather, D. dao shed its leaves briefly before inflorescences are produced at the base of new leaves.

The timber is soft and not durable and is used for veneer, furniture, flooring, interior trim and light frames. The fresh fruit is edible or stewed in honey, although it is not very popular in South East Asia. The flowers and leaves can be eaten as vegetables and also used to flavour food. The bark could be of medicinal value, such as for treating diarrhoea in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. This handsome tree is also planted as a roadside ornamental tree (Kochummen, 1989).

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