Uses and Production of Bignay (Antidesma bunius)

The colorful bignay, Antidesma bunius Spreng., is called bignai or bignay in the Philippines; buni or berunai in Malaya; wooni or hooni, in Indonesia; ma mao luang in Thailand; kho lien tu in Laos; choi moi in Vietnam; moi-kin and chunka by the aborigines in Queensland. Among English names are Chinese laurel, currant tree, nigger's cord, and salamander tree.


The tree may be shrubby, 10 to 26 ft (3-8 m) high, or may reach up to 50 or even 100 ft (15-30 m). It has wide-spreading branches forming a dense crown. The evergreen, alternate leaves are oblong, pointed, 4 to 9 in (10-22.5 cm) long, 2 to 3 in (5-7.5 cm) wide, dark-green, glossy, leathery, with very short petioles. The tiny, odorous, reddish male and female flowers are produced on separate trees, the male in axillary or terminal spikes, the female in terminal racemes 3 to 8 in (7.5-20 cm) long. The round or ovoid fruits, up to 1/3 in (8 mm) across, are borne in grapelike, pendent clusters (often paired) which are extremely showy because the berries ripen unevenly, the pale yellowish-green, white, bright-red and nearly black stages present at the same time. The skin is thin and tough but yields an abundance of bright-red juice which leaves a purple stain on fabrics, while the pulp, only 1/8 in (3 mm) thick is white with colorless juice. Whole fruits are very acid, much like cranberries, when unripe; are subacid, slightly sweet, when fully ripe. Some tasters detect a bitter principle or "unpleasant aftertaste" which is unnoticeable to others. There is a single, straw-colored stone, an irregular, flattened oval, ridged or fluted, very hard, 3/8 in (1 cm) long, 1/4 in (6 mm) wide. P.J. Wester mentions a "very distinct and superior variety" as reliably reported from the Mountain Province, Philippines.

Origin and Distribution

The bignay is native and common in the wild from the lower Himalayas in India, Ceylon, and southeast Asia (but not Malaya) to the Philippines and northern Australia. It is an abundant and invasive species in the Philippines; occasionally cultivated in Malaya; grown in every village in Indonesia where the fruits are marketed in clusters.


The tree is not strictly tropical for it has proved to be hardy up to central Florida. It thrives in Java from sea-level to 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It grows well and flowers but does not set fruit in Israel.


Many seeds are non-viable in Florida, perhaps because of inadequate pollination. Since seedlings may turn out to be male, and female seedlings may not bear for a number of years, vegetative propagation is preferred. The tree is readily multiplied by cuttings, grafting or air-layering. The air-layers have borne fruit in 3 years after transplanting to the field. Ochse recommends grafting in the wet season because scions will remain dormant in dry weather. Most female trees will bear some fruit without the presence of a male because many of the flowers are perfect.


The trees should be spaced 40 to 45 ft (12-14 m) apart, each way. And one male tree should be planted for every 10 to 12 females to provide cross-pollination. Wind-protection is desirable when the trees are small. Otherwise they require very little cultural attention.


Yield varies greatly from tree to tree if they are grown from seed. A mature tree in Florida has produced 15 bushels of fruit in a season. One very old tree at the home of Dr. David Fairchild produced 22 bushels yielding 72 gals (273 liters) of juice.


In Indonesia, the trees flower in September and October and the fruits mature in February and March. The fruiting season is July to September in North Vietnam. In Florida it extends from late summer through fall and winter because some trees bloom much later than others.

Pests and Diseases

The tree is attacked by termites in Southeast Asia. In Florida, the leaves may be heavily attacked by mealybugs and by scale insects and sooty mold develops on their excretions. Here, also, the foliage is subject to green scurf and algal leaf spot caused by Cephaleuros tirescens.

Food Uses

In Malaya, the fruits are eaten mostly by children. Indonesians cook the fruits with fish. Elsewhere the fruits (unripe and ripe together) are made into jam and jelly though the juice is difficult to jell and pectin must be added. Some cooks add lemon juice as well. If the extracted bignay juice is kept under refrigeration for a day or so, there will be a settling of somewhat astringent sediment which can be discarded, thus improving the flavor. For several years, the richly-colored jelly was produced on a small commercial scale in southern Florida. The juice makes an excellent sirup and has been successfully fermented into wine and brandy.

In Indonesia and the Philippines, the leaves are eaten raw or stewed with rice. They are often combined with other vegetables as flavoring.


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