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Moringa oleifera, the Drumstick Tree, is a mid-sized slender deciduous tree which can reach heights up to 12 meters (39 feet), though generally when in cultivation they are kept pruned shorter for easier harvest. The fruit and seeds ripen during the warmest and wettest time of year, the pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons in their native Indian climate (Sahni 1998).

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Several times per year the beautiful Moringa flowers can be seen: barely 2.5 cm (less than 1 inch) across, the white petals and yellowish sepals form a vertical line of symmetry, bending gracefully to offer up its anthers and stigma to bees and other pollinators (Jyothi et al. 1990). The flowers are clumped in panicles and when the pod-like fruit develops, the tree’s branches droop under the weight of the heavy clusters. About 9 seeds develop in each elongated fruit; when the capsule dries and splits the seeds are dispersed in the wind, assisted in their travels by their three-cornered winged structure (Pandey et al. 2010).

Moringa oleifera: M. oleifera winged seeds
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Due to its nutritious and valuable seeds, leaves, and roots, M. oleifera is cultivated in gardens or as a crop throughout India, Pakistan, and the continent of Africa. Growing naturally the tree is one of the many components in the mixed broad leaved/coniferous subtropical forests to the south of the Himalayas, among other communities (Pandey et al. 2010). In areas where it is not native, it has been observed flourishing in disturbed areas, such as along roadways and on the edges of logged tracts of forest (Flora of North America 2010).

Humans are not the only species which values the tree as an excellent food source. The small elliptic compound leaves are a favorite snack of passing camels. Monkeys and sambar deer break off and chew on the slender branches. The soft roots, similar in taste to those of the horseradish plant, are excavated by pigs and porcupines (Sahni 1998). M. oleifera serves as a buffet of diverse flavors for the denizens of the forest and beyond.

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Rose Clarke, Oregon State University

Source: BOT 323 Flowering Plants of the World, Oregon State University

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