Originating from the Malay Peninsula, the Malay apple or Otaheite apple is a handsome evergreen tree bearing edible fruit. It is typically 10 to 15 m (33 to 50 ft) tall with a slim, straight trunk and a low-branching structure forming a densely leafy pyramidal crown. The bark is pale brown and smooth.
The leaves are a large oval shape, 15 to 38 cm (6 to 15 in) long, dark lustrous green and have a thick, leathery texture.
Flowering follows the rains at the start of the rainy season, the timing and frequency of which varies between regions. In areas with two rainy season events a year, flowering follows each event and in areas with perpetually wet conditions flowering and fruiting is intermittent to continuous.
The flowers resemble powder puffs, with long pink-red filaments standing erect. They fall to the ground when spent, creating a pink-red carpet beneath the tree. There is also a less common white flowering and fruiting variety.
The fruit are pear-shaped, 5 to 13 cm (2 to 5 in) long, light green becoming red to purple-red or white when ripe, depending on the variety. The thin edible skin is easily scraped to reveal spongy white pulp beneath. Each fruit contains a single, largish round seed.
Although widely appreciated for its shapely form, lush foliage and striking flowers, the tree is mainly cultivated for its fruit. These are usually eaten fresh, at different stages of maturity depending on local preferences. Fully ripe fruit are eaten out-of-hand, added to fruit salads or are cooked, often with sugar and spices, such as cinnamon, as a credible substitute for cooked apples used in apple pies and other fruit pastries. A single tree produces between 20 and 80 kgs (44 to 176 lbs) of fruit per year, depending on the age of the tree and the growing conditions.
Grows naturally in moderately humid to very humid subtropical and tropical lowland climates, generally frost-free areas with annual lows of 19 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 34 °C, annual rainfall of 1200 to 3700 mm (or more) and a dry season of 5 months or less.
New plants can be grown from seed or vegetative material. However, fruit quality is highly variable among the different varieties, with unpredictable results from seedling-grown trees. The most reliable results come from using semi-hardwood cuttings taken from superior varieties know to produce good quality, flavoursome fruit. These can be grafted onto established trees or can be started off in a container with a free-draining potting mix. Air-layering or circumposing methods also give reliable results.
Fruiting age trees that are too heavily shaded can result in bland, poorly flavoured fruit. However, young plants need light shading for the first few years after being planted out, to protect them from sun scorching. Good practice is to plant under a short-lived perennial, such as Banana, to provide the short-term shade that is needed. Trees begin flowering and fruiting at an age of 6 to 8 years.
Performs best on moist, free- to slow-draining clay and loam soils of an acid to slightly alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 4.5 to 7.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure.
It is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication and is reported to have naturalised in Puerto Rico, but there does not appear to be any records of it being a serious weed anywhere, despite its widespread introduction and cultivation. It is assessed as a low weed risk species for Hawaii by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA).
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