Nephelium lappaceum, rambutan, is a tropical evergreen tree in the Sapindaceae (soapberry family) native to and long cultivated in Malaysia and now cultivated throughout southeast Asia and in parts of Central America, Australia, and Madagascar for its edible fruits, which are similar to other fruits in the same family, including lychee, longan, and akee (Litchi chinensis, Dimocarpus longan, and Blighia sapida, respectively).
Rambutan trees, which have been previously classified as Euphoria nephelium and Dimocarpus crinita, typically grow to 15 to 25 m (50 to 80 ft) in height, with straight narrow trunks (to 60 cm, or 2 ft, wide) and dense spreading crowns. The alternate leaves are pinnately compound, with 1 to 4 pairs of opposite to subopposite leaflets, each 5 to 20 cm (2 to 8 in) long, on a reddish rachis (leaf stem). The small yellow petal-less flowers are borne in many-branched hairy panicles (clusters) in the axils (where leaf meets stem) or may appear to be terminal (but are not). The fruit is oval to elliptical, 3.4 to 8 cm long (1.3 to 3.125 in), with a thin, leathery rind covered with tubercles (warty protuberances) tipped with soft, hairlike spines (the fruit gets its name from its hairy appearance, from the Malay word “rambut” for hair). The fruit ripens to yellow or red on the exterior, within which is a thin layer (less than 1 cm or 3/8 in thick) of white to rose-colored, translucent juicy flesh covering a somewhat flattened oval seed.
Rambutan fruits, which are high in vitamin C, are generally eaten fresh on their own or in fruit salads. They are sometimes made into jams, cooked in stews, or preserved by canning. They were previously used for the black dye that could be obtained from the fruit peels.
(Flora of China Morton 1987, van Wyk 2005.)
- Flora of China. 2007. 15. NEPHELIUM Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., ed. 12, 2: 623; Mant. Pl. 1: 18, 125. 1767. Flora of China12: 18. Accessed 2012 July 13 from http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/china//PDF/PDF12/Nephelium.pdf.
- Morton, J. 1987. Rambutan. p. 262–265. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. Accessed 13 July 2012 online: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/rambutan.html.
- van Wyk, B.-E. 2005. “Nephelium lappaceumFood Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 263.
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