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Elaeocarpus stipularis Blume
by Phoon Sook Ngoh
Newsletter
Elaeocarpus stipularis Blume
by Phoon Sook Ngoh

Elaeocarpus stipularis is a highly variable species distributed throughout mainland Southeast Asia and extended southwards to Central Malesia. The species grows in a wide range of habitats, in both secondary and primary forest, including riverine, peat and freshwater swamp, low undulating and seasonally flooded vegetation, and it is most common and abundant in disturbed vegetation. Outside Peninsular Malaysia, the species occurs also in kerangas (tropical heath) forest.

The tree of E. stipularis grows up to 40 m tall and is often low-branching. The outer bark is pale grey-brown and often lenticellate when mature, while the inner bark is red-brown, with cream sapwood. The plants are usually densely covered with short brown hairs. The palmate-shaped stipules are one of the key characters for the species, they are persistent, and like the leaves, often turn red when senescing. The petioles are short and usually not kneed. The simple leaves are spirally arranged along the twigs in a single plane rather than clustered at the ends of the branches as is the case in most Elaeocarpus species. The leaf blades are 7–13 x 3.5–6.5 cm, usually thin, often with a toothed margin and dry chartaceous, turning dull pale red to orange red when senescing. The racemose inflorescences grow up to 14 cm long and bear 20–40 flowers per inflorescence. Notably, E. stipularis var. brevipes (Merr.) Coode from Borneo is recorded to have as many as 90 flowers per inflorescence (Coode 2004). The whitish cream flowers have entire sepals, but the petals are much divided and finely fimbriate in the distal half. The yellow-orange disc is prominently 5-lobed. The stamens are numerous (25–30 per flower), with anthers that are not awned. The ovary has 3–5 locules, each with two ovules. The fruits are varied in shape and size. The seeds are enclosed within a hard, either smooth or shallowly sculptured stone, which develops from inner mesocarp.

Nine varieties of E. stipularis are currently recognised (var. alticola Coode, var. atjehensis Coode, var. brevipes (Merr.) Coode, var. castaneus (Merr.) Coode, var. latifolius King, var. longipetiolatus (Merr.) Coode, var. nutans (R. Knuth) Coode, var. rejangensis (R. Knuth) Coode, and var. stipularis), of which only var. latifolius and var. stipularis are recorded in Peninsular Malaysia (Coode 2001).

In Peninsular Malaysia, the species has no known uses. In Borneo, the fruits, which are known as sengkurat (Iban), are edible, although astringent and sometimes bitter in taste. The seed dispersal mechanism has not been recorded in Peninsular Malaysia so far, but in Brunei, according to game hunters, the fruits are favoured by civet cats (musang) and fruit bats (keluang in Malay), and the hunters set up their traps near E. stipularis trees during fruiting season.

Elaeocarpus stipularis belongs to the Section Elaeocarpus, an informal infrageneric section whose members have two ovules per locule. Although the ovary has 3(–5)-loculi, often only one loculus is fertile and develops fully, thus giving a flattened D-shaped embryo in the fruit transverse section. Some unpublished molecular phylogenetic findings suggest that Sect. Elaeocarpus is probably paraphyletic, although this has not been explicitly tested.

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