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Garcinia , saptree, is a genus of around 450 species of tropical trees and shrubs in the Clusiaceae family, mostly native to the Old World (tropical and South Africa, Madagascar, southeastern Asia, including China, northeastern Australia, and western Polynesia), with a few species in the tropical regions of the Americas, probably best known for the delicious fruit produced by G. mangostana, the mangosteen, (although most of the species produce edible fruits). Various Asiatic species are also used for their yellow resin or latex, which is harvested for medicinal use (as a cathartic or stimulant) and as a dye or artist’s pigment. Many species are important timber species, used for construction and furniture.

Members of the genus vary considerably in size and form, but generally have opposite leaves (occasionally whorled), entire (untoothed or lobed), which are generally evergreen, often thick and leathery but occasionally papery, with prominent secondary veins. The flowers, often fragrant, generally have 4 or 5 parts, and occur in singly or in clusters of up to 5, which may be terminal (at branch tips) or axillary (where leaf meets stem). The fruit is a berry with a thin to leathery skin and 1 to 5 seeds (or more) embedded in a fleshy or pulpy, often edible, aril.

In addition to mangosteen, which has been called the “prince of tropical fruits,” other species in the genus noted for their edible fruits include the following:

1. G. atroviridis, G. gummi-guta, and G. hombroniana, which have sour fruits that are dried and used as a spice (similar to tamarind, Tamarindus indica, in flavor).

2. G. dulcis, from the Molucca Islands, which as a fruit that can be eaten raw or cooked, and is often made into jam.

3. G. kola, Central African false kola, which is chewed for its stimulant properties (similar to those of kola, Cola acuminata and C. nitida).

4. G. livinstonei, African mangosteen or imbé, widely used in Africa as a fresh fruit and for brewing beer.

Gamboge, a pigment that ranges from deep saffron to mustard yellow in color, and is traditionally used to dye the garments of Buddhist monks, is made from the following species: G. elliptica and G. heterandra (Myanmar); G. hanburyi (Cambodia and Thailand); and G. morella (India and Sri Lanka).

(Bailey et al. 1976, Flora of China 2012, van Wyk 2005, Wikipedia 2012.)


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