Birds and the Indian cherry tree (Muntingia calabura

posted in: Feeding-plants, Plants | 10

The Indian cherry tree (Muntingia calabura) was brought to this part of the world from tropical America in the 19th century. Since then it has become naturalised throughout Southeast Asia. The tree is fast-growing and thrives best in open country. Birds and bats are the two major agents responsible for its spread.

This tree is one of many that attract numerous birds when in fruits. While most other trees flower once or twice per year, the Indian cherry tree is free flowering. What this means is that the tree is in fruits throughout the year. Unfortunately its presence in the more busy urban areas may be frowned upon as hordes of birds that flock to it usually create a mess below with their droppings. However, in Singapore at least, its usefulness in attracting birds back to the urban environment is slowly being recognised again. Still, the tree is not tolerated along many busy roads and definitely not in the city centres.

Recently, Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS documented different bird species feasting on these trees from his base in the Malaysian state of Perak.

The common urban Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier analis) is a common visitor (above left), also the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans) (above right). Other species seen eating the berries include Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata hodgsoni) and the Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis strigata).

In earlier posts, the Yellow-vented Flowerpecker (Dicaeum chrysorrheum) LINK, the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (D. trigonostigma) LINK and the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (D. cruentatum) LINK have been shown to squeeze the soft ripe berries between their mandibles to get at the sweet soft pulp containing hundreds of tiny seeds, discarding the empty fruit shells.

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10 Responses

  1. Many,many years ago, we had one large Indian cherry tree in our compound. Bulbuls tend to frequent it for the cherries, likewise we children. When unripe the cherries with their stems make great ammunition launched with a sturdy rubber from a DIY wooden pistol or rifle. We had many enjoyable gangland wars & casualties with red marks on their arms from close range!! At times the tree is full of green caterpillars the size of your little fingers.

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  2. Great post and I love the birds. Wonderful photos.

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  3. We have an Indian Cherry Tree in my father-in-laws place, we have never been able to taste
    the ripe fruits of the tree as the birds always get there first….

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  4. Where can I find muntingia Calabura in Singapore?

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    • You will generally not find them along our urban roads as they are untidy trees. Try rural areas, especially open areas. Maybe someone can give you a more specific location?

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      • @ BESG: “You will generally not find them along our urban roads as they are untidy trees.”

        Interestingly, Muntingia calabura (Buah Cherry) are often cultivated along urban roads in Bogor, Indonesia. The trees are so large (ie. relative to those seen in S’pore) that they resemble a shorter but bushier version of Raintree. They also have a a clear trunk & a neat appearance — maybe the lower branches are pruned away to lift the crown.

        Perhaps Buah Cherry looks “untidy” in the urbanscape when it is wild-sown, growing from constricted spots (along fences, along construction hoardings, etc.) & unmaintained — as is often the case in S’pore.

        @ BESG: “Try rural areas, especially open areas.”

        Sometimes, certain Buah Cherry trees growing at built-up areas manage to evade the “urban chainsaw” radar for several years before they are chopped down. For instance, until 2-3 years ago, there was a mature Buah Cherry tree below HDB Blk 12 at a corner of the ABC Brickworks Hawker Centre carpark.

        There was also a Buah Cherry tree that used to grow from the concrete ledge of the road-bridge (West Coast Rd) across Sungei Pandan (beside Pandan Reservoir). This tree overlooked the middle of an otherwise treeless canal. I often foraged for ripe fruits from this little tree, before it was removed, although it wasn’t getting in the way of anything or anybody.

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    • A couple of trees can be found at the entrance of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
      They can also be found just outside the Kitchen Garden at Pasir Ris Park.

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    • Sun Chong Hong

      There are two at the Pond Gardens, Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park. They can be found amid a row of saplings planted along the jogging path outside Bishan Park Condo. They are probably two to three years old. Look for them on the opposite side of lamp posts nos. 2-7/2 and 2-10/2.

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    • @ Serene — There is a row of Muntingia calabura (Buah Cherry) trees by the irrigation pond in HortPark. They are located right beside the tarmac road, opposite the prototype glasshouses. This photo shows how the trees looked like back in 2009.

      Some people claim that one of these Buah Cherry trees at HortPark was where Lt Adnan Saidi of the Malay Regiment was purportedly tied to by his legs, before he was bayoneted to death by the invading Japanese army during WWII. However, the Buah Cherry trees at HortPark don’t look that old though.

      There’s also a Buah Cherry tree at Ann Siang Hill Park, with a background view of the city skyline behind it. Here’s a photo of the tree — Capital Tower is visible at the top-right corner.

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  5. [Repost of June 16, 2013 (11:39 pm) comment that disappeared into Moderation Blackhole]

    @ Serene — There is a row of Muntingia calabura (Buah Cherry) trees by the irrigation pond in HortPark. They are located right beside the tarmac road, opposite the prototype glasshouses.

    Some people claim that one of these Buah Cherry trees at HortPark was where Lt Adnan Saidi of the Malay Regiment was purportedly tied to by his legs, before he was bayoneted to death by the invading Japanese army during WWII. However, the Buah Cherry trees at HortPark don’t look that old though.

    There’s also a Buah Cherry tree at Ann Siang Hill Park, with a background view of the city skyline (eg. Capital Tower) behind it. And I recall seeing a Buah Cherry tree near/at the peak of Mount Faber Park, but I’m not sure if it’s still there.

    Elsewhere in S’pore, wild-sown Buah Cherry trees are quite common at construction sites & their boundaries (eg. along hoardings).

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