Straits Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum )

Melastoma malabathricum

Common name: Senduduk Baldu, Keduduk,senggani, Straits Rhododendron
Botanical name: Melastoma malabathricum
Family: Melastomataceae

This showy bush rapidly colonises wastelands as their seeds are dispersed by birds. As such, the Straits Rhododendron is often considered a weed.

The beautiful flowers last only one day, opening after sunrise, closing the same day, with the petals falling off on the a few days later. The flower has two different kinds of stamens.

The seeds are tasteless and can be eaten, but stains the tongue black. In fact, the word melastoma is Greek for “black mouth”.

Uses: The young leaves are eaten raw or cooked and taste sour. The pulp around the seeds can also be eaten (Indonesia). The seeds are used to produce a black dye, the roots, a pink dye. In some places, the leaves are fed to silkworms.

Traditional medicinal uses: Leaves are used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery (Malaysia, Indonesia); wash for ulcers, to prevent scarring from smallpox; and to treat piles.

Role in the habitat: The fruits are the favourites of birds like the flowerpeckers and doves which also disperse the seeds. Squirrels and monkeys are also fond of the fruits. The plant is the host for caterpillars of butterflies such as the Common Sailor (Neptis hylas) and the Grey Count (Tanaecia lepidea). Being among the first to colonise wasteland, the plant helps prevent soil erosion and to allow regeneration of vegetation in such places.

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