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The Bunga Tanjung Tree

by Vanessa Ting

As a sweet fragrance steals through the grounds of Third College during the evening of a hot day, you might be forgiven for imagining yourself at the scene of a Sanskrit epic. The Bunga Tanjung Tree (Mimusops elengi) has a recurring role in classical Indian literature, including the Mahabhrata and the Ramayana. As befitting an ancient species, it has many traditional medicinal uses.

Besides Third College, you can find this tree all around campus, with a couple at the carpark of the Main Library, and a whole row of them at the carpark of Rimba Ilmu. A small to medium-sized tree, the Bunga Tanjung's dense, evergreen foliage makes it a favourite for shade.

Its cream-coloured, star-shaped flowers are small and hidden, but release a lovely scent that lingers even after they have fallen and dried. They are woven into garlands for religious festivities, and can also be used to perfume clothes and pillows. Just place a few flowers into your wardrobe or under your pillow.

The leaves are dark green and glossy, oval in shape, with smooth and slightly wavy edges. When made into a poultice, they can be applied to the head and eyes to cure aches and pain. The leaves can also be burnt, and its smoke inhaled to cure nose and mouth infections, and in desperate times, drive out demons.

Its fruit is oval and one inch in length, about the size of an olive. The flavour ranges from astringent (kelat) to slightly sweet. It might be that us city-folk have forgotten that it is edible - currently the tree at the Main Library is fruiting, but many of the attractive, red fruit, about the size of olives, fall to the ground and go to waste.

The bark is greyish-brown and rough, becoming more fissured as the tree ages. In prehistoric times, the powdered bark was used as toothpaste, and is still used for dental and gum ailments.

The timber is strong with a rich, deep red colour, which makes it popular for a wide range of uses in construction and musical instruments, but we prefer to enjoy it at its best: a beautiful, shady tree, fragrancing our steps and days.

Happiest when surrounded by books, Vanessa Ting finds herself thriving in the no-less-fascinating world of conservation biology. This mostly involves exponential (learning and topographical) curves, tagging behind ardent, energetic botanists and zoologists. She can be reached at

#mimusopselengi #tanjung #treesofum #articles #vanessating

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