Curious case of the cannonball trees


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 05 Jul 2020

Ornamental by design: The cannonball tree exploding with fruits at the Penang Botanic Gardens. — ZAINUDUN AHAD/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The cannonball trees are blooming, offering a curious sight to visitors of Penang Botanic Gardens.

Many were seen taking pictures with the brown woody-shelled spherical fruits and pink and reddish flowers blooming from the tree trunks that lined the pathways near the main entrance.

Housewife Sharifah Osman, 41, felt fortunate to witness the blooming of the lovely flowers and the coconut-like fruits.

“After staying home for weeks, it was great to catch sight of the plants and these unique-looking trees.

“We never paid much attention to our environment but this time, we spotted the trees.

“My kids got curious about them and even touched some of the fruits that fell on the ground, ” said Sharifah, who was out for a stroll there with her husband and their four children yesterday.

Sharifah, from Kepala Batas on the mainland, said she had not seen such trees elsewhere.

The cannonball trees (Couroupita guianensis) are tropical plants native to the rainforests of Central and South America.

Penang Botanic Gardens curator Dr Saw Leng Guan said the trees, noted for their unique look and features, were not exclusive to the gardens.

“Some gardens here and in other states have them too.

“In Penang, these trees can also be found at Universiti Sains Malaysia campus, ” he said.

The first cannonball tree here, he added, was likely brought in at a time when the collection of seeds was shared between Penang and Singapore some time ago.

“We do not have a record of it but the seeds were likely sent to Singapore first before some were brought here, ” he said.

Saw described the trees as unusual due to their unique botanical trait called the cauliflory.

“In botanical terms, this means that a plant or in this case, the cannonball tree itself, is able to bear flowers and fruits directly from its main trunk rather than from the branches or shoots.

“And as the flowers look like orchids while the fruits look like cannonballs, people do grow them for their novelty, ” he said.

Saw said the fruits on the trees could last for a longer period compared to its flowers, which bloom for a week or two.

“The trees are also easy to maintain as they survive well in a tropical climate but despite the novelty of the trees, they have no medicinal value that we are aware of, ” he added.

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