Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa
|Malaysia||Bilak, bila, bel.|
|English||Bael or bel fruit.|
|Indonesia||Maja, maja batu.|
|Thailand||Matum, tum (Pattani), ma pin (north).|
A. marmelos grows wild in dry forests of the Indian Peninsula, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is an old cultivated tree in that region, mainly found in temple gardens throughout India. It has spread to Indo-China, Southeast Asia (in particular Thailand, northern Malaysia, eastern Java and northern Luzon) and other parts of the tropics.
A. marmelos is a small deciduous tree, 10-15 m tall with trunk of 25-50 cm in diametre. The older branches are spiny and the spines of 1-2 cm long are single or paired.
The leaves are arranged alternately and trifoliolate, with petiole of 2-4 cm long. The lateral petiolules are up to 3 mm long while the terminal up to 15 mm. The lateral leaflets are ovate to elliptic, measuring up to 7 cm x 4.2 cm, while the terminal leaflets are obovate, up to 7.5 cm x 4.8 cm and densely minutely glandular-punctate.
The inflorescences are axillary racemes, 4-5 cm long and clustered. The sepals are broadly deltoid and 1.5 mm long. The petals are oblong-obovate and greenish to white, measuring 14 mm x 8 mm. There are 35-45 white stamens and 4-7 mm long filaments. The ovary measures 8 mm x 4 mm and with very short style.
The fruit is a spherical berry, 5-12.5 cm in diametre and often with a hard, woody shell. It has 8-16(-20) segments, with 6-10 seeds in a clear, sticky and edible pulp.
The seeds are woolly-hairy, each enclosed in a sac of adhesive mucilage which solidifies on drying while its testa is white.
A. marmelos is a hardy, deciduous tree of the subtropics. It grows under harsh conditions, even in extreme temperature, e.g. from 49°C in summer to -7°C in winter in Punjab, up to 1200 m elevation. In Southeast Asia, it only flowers and fruits well where there is a prominent dry season and it is not usually found above 500 m sea level. The tree grows on swampy land as well as dry soils and it tolerates alkalinity.
Plant Resources of South-East Asia No.2: Edible fruits and nuts.