Common Plants of the Maldives

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series 1
series 1
Common plants
of the Maldives
Common Plants of the Maldives is a starting point for people interested
in learning about trees and shrubs of the Maldives. It contains
descriptions and photographs to help identify local plants as well as
information on traditional uses in the Maldives and throughout the
world. Whether you’re relaxing in your deck-chair or exploring the
island vegetation, you will come to learn that all plants, within every
ecosystem are not only beautiful but important for our survival as
they provide food, medicine, soil stability, fresh air and water.
books in this series are:
Common Plants of the Maldives,
Common Birds of the Maldives and Life on the Beach, Maldives.
series 1
series 1
series 1
Common plants
Common birds
life on the beach
of the Maldives
Environmental Education
of the Maldives
Common plants
of the Maldives
Common plants
of the Maldives
Environmental Education
Haa Alifu Atoll
The Maldives
1190 islands in the
Maldives with some
form of vegetation on
Haa Dhaalu
Shaviyani Atoll
Noonu Atoll
Raa Atoll
Lhaviyani Atoll
200 are inhabited
islands and 990 are
are 26 distinct
geographical atolls.
These are divided
into 20 administrative
regions, with the
capital Male’ making
up a separate
administrative unit.
Baa Atoll
Maldives is
860km long and
130km wide.
than 99% of
the country is water
(115,000km2) with
less than 0.3% land
Kaafu Atoll (Malé Atoll)
Alifu Alifu Atoll
Alifu Dhaalu Atoll
Vaavu Atoll
Faafu Atoll
Meemu Atoll
Dhaalu Atoll
Thaa Atoll
Laamu Atoll
Gaafu Alifu Atoll
Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll
Gnaviyani Atoll
Seenu Atoll
Section 1
The Importance of Plants
Plants in the Maldives
Plant Conservation
Guidelines for Collecting Plants
Types of Plants
Main Features of Plants
The Flower
Fruits and Seeds
Plant Names
Section 2
Coconut Palm
Sea Hibiscus
Beach Gardenia
Banyan Tree
Indian Almond Tree,
Tropical Almond
Red Sandalwood
Portia Tree
Lantern Tree
Sea Lettuce
Tree Heliotrope
Sea Trumpet
Alexandrian Laurel
Poison Bulb
Beach Morning Glory
Grey Nickernut
Neem Tree
Coffee Senna
Heenaa Tree
Breadfruit Tree
Indian mulberry/ Noni
Lime Tree
Pond Apple
Pandanus/ Screw pine
Custard Apple/ Sweet Apple
Bilimbi, Cucumber Tree
Papaya, Papaw
Peacock Flower
Section 3
Useful Websites and Plant Databases 46
Section 1
Plants belong to the kingdom Plantae. They are one of
the most evolved and diverse living organisms on Earth.
Approximately 270,000 plant species have been recorded
throughout the world, with more being discovered and
identified all the time. Plants are the only organism capable
of producing their own food using solar energy, and the direct
and indirect role they play in sustaining life on earth is vital.
The benefits derived from plants and plant communities are
endless and people, having managed their plant resources
for millennia, are the custodians of unique cultural and
geographical knowledge of plants and their uses.
Common Plants of the Maldives is a starting point for people
interested to learn about the trees and shrubs found in
the Maldives. The book contains plant descriptions and
photographs to facilitate identification followed by a
number of their traditional uses recorded in the Maldives
and throughout the world.
The fruit from the
Breadfruit tree (Ban’bukeyo)
is prepared and eaten in
many different ways in the
The Importance of Plants
The acidic juice from
the fruit of the Bilimbi
tree (Bilimagu) was
traditionally used to clean
metal, tarnish brass and
remove stains from cloth.
Without plants, life on Earth would not be possible. As the
foundation to all ecosystems, plants provide humans with
direct and indirect benefits. They are an essential resource
providing food; industrial products such as timber and
clothing; pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, biotechnology and
pest control. They provide aesthetic value, recreation, and help
people to relax, to be creative and to increase productivity.
They hold cultural, spiritual and religious significance and
provide important wildlife habitats. Plants provide many goods
and services which save people and Governments enormous
amounts of money each year through clean water, climate and
hydrological regulation, pollination, soil stability and nutrient
cycling as well as forming the basis of wildlife habitats.
Oxygen and good air quality come from photosynthesis - the
process through which plants make food. Land plants take
carbon dioxide from the air, water from the soil and energy
from the sun and convert them into sugar and starch.
The process of photosynthesis releases oxygen into the
atmosphere which is vital for our survival. Through the intake
of carbon dioxide, plants lessen the greenhouse effect caused
by burning fossil fuels.
Plants in the Maldives
The Maldives is an island nation in the Laccadives - Chagos
submarine ridge in the Indian Ocean. It has a warm and
humid tropical climate with two monsoon periods. 583 plant
species have been recorded in the Maldives, of which 323 are
cultivated and 260 are native or naturalized species. This is a
relatively large number considering the islands geographical
isolation, harsh climatic conditions, the absence of large
land masses and the poor and infertile nature of island soil.
Southern islands are known to have greater plant diversity
than northern islands, but the limited documentation of
island ecosystems could mean that many more plants remain
to be identified. The proximity of land to sea has resulted
in plant species that are highly adapted to island conditions
such as infertile and saline soil, drought, flooding and salt
spray. Native plants play an important role in the prevention
of beach erosion and protect against large waves. Relative
isolation and slow island development has meant that a
wealth of plant knowledge has developed over time as people
have depended directly upon their natural resources to fulfill
basic livelihood needs such as food, construction materials
and medicine; for example, 300 plant species are used in
traditional medicinal practices in the Maldives.
Plant Conservation
Today, the affects of human-kind on the environment are
more evident than ever and increasing. Population increase,
societal changes and the fast pace of development have
resulted in habitat loss, natural resources over exploitation,
invasive species introduction and climate change.
Firewood is collected and
used daily on local islands.
The sweet fruit from
the pandanus tree
(maakashikeyo) is eaten
and the leaves are used to
make mats.
Out of the 270,000 plant species worldwide, one in eight is
threatened with extinction; a possible food source, the cure
to a disease or a keystone species within an entire ecosystem.
The extinction of plants and entire ecosystems is followed
by the loss of traditional knowledge and wisdom among
people to protect and respect our environment.
Despite the importance of plant biodiversity for the
well-being of present and future generations, putting a
halt to the disappearance of species poses a great challenge
to the international community. Today
Governments, organizations, communities
and individuals are making efforts to ease
the threats to plants around the world. This
is being done through in situ conservation:
the designation and management of
protected areas, tackling invasive species,
the promotion of sustainable plant use and
habitat restoration, and ex situ conservation:
the maintenance of living organisms (whole
plants, seeds, pollen, tissue and cell cultures)
outside their natural habitat (in botanical
gardens); rescuing threatened germ plasm,
removing and reducing pressure from
wild harvesting and making material for
conservation education available to people.
yy If the root is the desired part of the
plant, leave some in the ground to
ensure new growth. Removing the entire
root system will kill the plant leaving
one less plant in the ecosystem! If the
roots are not required, ensure to take
only what’s above the ground.
Guidelines to
Collecting Plants
yy Before collecting, know which plants
are rare and which are commonly found.
Here are a few guidelines to help make
learning about and collecting plants safe
for you and the environment.
yy Do not touch or consume any plant
you are unfamiliar with. Plants and their
inner latex can cause skin irritations,
sting or make you ill if eaten.
A herb is a non-woody
plant. It has a soft stem
e.g. periwinkle.
yy Wild plants are perishable and fragile;
take care not to damage plants in your
day to day activities.
yy Collecting wild plants can put significant
stress on plant populations. Vary your
collection sites so the same species are
not repeatedly collected from the same
Types of Plants
There are many different types of land and
aquatic plants. Within these categories are
trees, herbs, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses,
mosses, green algae and epiphytes. This
booklet focuses solely on a number of
land plants.
A shrub is a woody plant.
It has multiple stems and
is low to the ground e.g. sea
A vine is a climbing or trailing
plant with curling stems or
tendrils e.g. beach morning
Main Features of Plants
Embryophytes or land plants are the most commonly
known group of plants. Land plants come in all shapes and
sizes but their basic structure is very similar. The external
parts of the plant are called organs; the roots, stem, flowers
and leaves. The roots anchor the plant to the ground and
allow it to absorb water. Roots are usually underground but
can sometimes be found above ground also, as with the
banyan tree. The stem carries the water and minerals to
other parts of the plant. It grows upwards and bears leaves.
On a tree, the stem is called the trunk with branches that
extend to the leaves. Plants reproduce and disperse through
their fruit and seeds.
The leaves are an important part of the plant as they aid the
processes of transpiration and photosynthesis. Transpiration is
the process by which water evaporates from the leaves while
the stomata or pores of the leaf are open for the passage of
carbon dioxide and oxygen. It is also the mechanism through
Bee pollinating the flower
of tree heliotrope (boashi).
Flowers can be all different
colours and shapes.
which the plant keeps its leaves cool and draws up water
and minerals from the roots. Leaves are the main organ of
photosynthesis. Photosynthesis uses the sun’s light to convert
carbon dioxide into food-sugar and starch. It is during this
process that oxygen is released into the air. Leaves also
serve to protect the plant.
Leaves can be all shapes and sizes, with smooth and severed
margins and with different venation. For example, look at the
difference in shape between the coconut palm leaf and the leaf
of the breadfruit tree. With so much individuality and detail,
leaves are one important way in which a plant can be identified.
The leaves of deciduous plants change colour, fall off and
re-grow according to the seasons of the year, while
coniferous, or ever-green plants, never shed their leaves.
The Flower
Flowers are often the most attractive part of the plant.
They are intricate, colourful and scented making them
another important means of identification. They also contain
the plant’s reproductive organs. All parts of the flower - the
petals, stamen, stigma, pollen and nectar work together to attract pollinators (birds
and insects), and ward off predators. Once
pollinated, the plant can produce fruits and
seeds. Some flowers must be pollinated
by a pollinator, while others complete the
process on their own.
Plant Names
Fruits and Seeds
3. Local name(s) e.g. midhili
Plants are dispersed by their fruit and
seed. This happens in a number of ways:
exploding, being eaten, attaching to
animals, drifting through the air or floating
in water. The structure of the fruit or seed
often depends upon its mode of dispersal.
Some fruits taste sweet, encouraging
animals to eat them and carry their seed.
Others have a hard coat, or are covered in
spikes and inedible. The coconut seed can
float extensive distances in water.
Fruit and seed of a coconut.
A plant can be called by its:
1. Common name e.g. Indian almond
2. Scientific name e.g. Terminalia catappa.
Scientific names are usually written
in italics.
The formal system of naming plant species
is through the binomial classification system.
Instead of using the seven-category system
of kingdom-phylum-class-order-familygenus-species, scientific names are formed
using only the genus name, and the specific
name or epithet. The genus name always
begins with a capital, the specific name
does not. The full name is often written in
italics. Botanical scientific names are usually
followed by the abbreviated surname
of the scientist who first published the
classification, this is never italicized
e.g. Guettarda speciosa L.
Section 2
Plant descriptions
In the following pages you will find some of the most
commonly found and utilized native plants of Maldives.
A new plant description is given on each page with
information about its global distribution and habitat, key
features to help you identify the plant and its many uses in
the Maldives and abroad. A terminology page is provided at
the back of the book on page 44, to ensure that your interest
to learn about Maldivian plants is made easy and enjoyable.
Whether you’re relaxing on the beach or exploring the forests
and natural vegetation, you will be amazed by the versatility
of plants and the many things they offer from delicious fruits
to medicine, nutritious foods, firewood and construction
materials, religious and ritualistic significance to soil stability
and so much more.
Coconut Palm
Scientific name: Cocos nucifera L. (family Arecaceae)
Dhivehi name: Dhivehi ruh
Distribution: The coconut is a pantropical
plant found across Africa, South America
and Asia. Its wide distribution has been
aided by humans and the ability of the
coconut seed to drift extensive distances
across water. In the Maldives, the coconut
palm is a pioneer species, quickly growing
and colonizing new land. Today it is found
and used throughout the country.
Description: The coconut is a tall palm
reaching between 20 – 30 m in height.
It has a smooth grey bark marked with leaf
scar rings. The leaves can be 6 m in length
and are pinnate with bright green leaflets.
Male and female flowers are on the same
inflorescence. Female flowers are larger than
male flowers. They are yellow and sweetly
scented. The fruit is large and ovoid.
The seed is surrounded by a thick fibrous
husk. Inside the seed is a white fleshy layer
and a liquid (coconut water/milk). Fruits are
greenish-yellow at first turning brown
when mature.
Uses: The coconut palm is considered to
be one of the ten most useful trees in the
world, giving it the name, ‘The Tree of Life’.
Throughout the tropics, the coconut is an
important source of food: sprouting seeds,
the thick flesh and watery milk. From the
stem a starch is extracted and made into
flour. The fibers, called coir, are woven into
rope, mats, and bags or used for padding
in mattresses. The hard fine grained shell
is often carved into decorative pieces or
burned as charcoal on the fire. The palm
wood is carved into ornamentals. The leaves
are also woven into mats or baskets and
the leaf fibers used to make clothing.
The root can be used as a dye. The root
and the coconut are also used medicinally.
The coconut palm is a keystone species
in the Maldives. It is one of the principle
agronomic crops, and almost all parts of the
coconut palm can be used. It is an important
food source for people, animals and insects.
As the national tree of the Maldives, the
coconut has become an integral part of
Maldivian life. In Dhivehi, names have
been given to each stage of the coconut
e.g. eh, maa, gobolhi, miri, kurumba,
gabulhi, kaashi, kurolhi.
Sea Hibiscus
Scientific name: Hibiscus tiliaceus L. (family Malvaceae)
Dhivehi name: Dhiggaa
Distribution: The sea hibiscus is
widespread throughout the tropics and
sub-tropics. In the Maldives, it is found
along the seashore, in forests and
residential areas.
Description: Sea hibiscus is an evergreen
tree or large bush. It can grow between
8 – 10 m in height and just as wide if not
pruned. The tree can vary greatly in form,
leaf and flower colour. The short trunk
extends and entwines to form a dense
thicket of branches and foliage. The bark
is grey to light brown and fissured with
horizontal cracks. The leaves are simple,
heart-shaped and large. The upper surface
is usually bright green while underneath
they are greenish-grey. The flowers are
cup-shaped with a corolla of 5 bright
yellow petals and a crimson base. They
are short lived, falling on the same day
they open. Before falling, the flowers will
fade to a dull orange or reddish colour.
In winter there may be few or no flowers
in mild-tropical or subtropical climates,
but the flowers may remain on the tree
for more than a single day, creating an
interesting effect as both yellow and
reddish flowers can be seen on the trees at
the same time. The fruit is a brown ovoid
capsule that splits into 5 segments and ten
cells of seeds when mature.
Use: The plant serves as a coastal windbreak and boundary plant. In the Maldives,
it is used for boat building, tools and
firewood. The bark contains strong,
water resistant fibers which are used for
mat-weaving, rope and fishing nets.
The wood of the plant is hard and rich
in colour and widely used in household
Sea hibiscus tolerates a wide variety of
soils ranging from coralline, skeletal soils
to waterlogged swampy soils of medium to
heavy texture. It also tolerates aerosol salt
spray, brackish water and shallow flooding.
Beach Gardenia
Scientific name: Guettarda speciosa L. (family Rubiaceae)
Dhivehi name: Uni
Distribution: Beach gardenia is found in
the Indo-Pacific region. It is present on
all islands in the Maldives. It grows in
abundance along coastlines, in dune
scrub, on sand and rock, and on edges
of mangroves.
Description: Beach gardenia is a small to
medium sized shrub reaching between
5 – 10 m in height and 3 m in width. The
bark is a creamy-grey colour and smooth.
The leaves are large and ovate with a blunt
tip and rounded or heart-shaped base.
They are dark green with prominent
venation. The upper surface is smooth
while underneath there is a velvety
pubescence. The small, tubular flowers are
2.5 – 5 cm. long and grow from the leaf
axils. The corolla is creamy white, yellow
or greenish white in colour and scented.
The flowers are sensitive to the sun and so
bloom in the evening and fall before dawn.
The fruit is rounded, faintly ribbed and
about 1.5 cm. in diameter. They are green
when unripe and brown when mature.
Mature seeds can float and are dispersed
by ocean currents.
Uses: The white, durable, hard wood of
beach gardenia is used in the construction
of houses and boats. In the Maldives, it
is said that heating the wood before use
strengthens it. To keep its freshness for
future use, the wood is buried under the
sand near the sea. The wood is used as
firewood and in lacquer work, for which
Baa Atoll is famous. The latex of the plant
is used medicinally to treat wounds and
the flowers are used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Considered as one of the most sweetly
scented flowers in the Maldives, people
have been known to hang their clothes
over the trees at night to absorb the scent.
Throughout the Pacific, beach gardenia
is used in agroforesty and it is a good
bioshield for coastal areas.
Scientific name: Pemphis acidula J. R. Forst. & G. Forst. (family Lythraceae)
Dhivehi name: Kuredhi
Distribution: The wind and salt-resistant ironwood is found
along tropical coastlines, close to high tide line of coral
islands and at the edge of mangroves.
Description: This is an evergreen shrub that grows in dense
thickets. The leaves are opposite and decussate; small, fleshy
and succulent; oblong-ovate shaped; attenuate at the base
and with entire margins. The flowers are small and solitary
with 6 petals. The petals are elliptic, shortly clawed or sessile,
white-pink tinged. The flowers are pollinated by bees, and
are produced throughout the year. The seeds are a dehiscent
capsule that float and are dispersed by water.
The plant retains water in the leaves making it well adapted
to arid climate and soil conditions. Ironwood is a very strong
shrub and can withstand the harsh forces of nature. If it is not
given a regular spray of sea water, the tree can become weak
and die.
Use: The wood is very hard and resistant to warping.
It is used in house construction, boat building and the
making of tools and ornamental objects.
Banyan Tree
Scientific name: Ficus benghalensis L. (family Moraceae)
Dhivehi name: Nika
Distribution: The banyan tree originated from India and
Pakistan but is now naturalized and found across Asia.
It is an important tree in the Maldives.
The tall Banyan is said
to have been a guide for
Maldivian boatmen when
out at sea.
Description: The banyan tree is an evergreen tree
approximately 25 m in height. The bark is smooth and grey.
The leaves are alternate, ovate to elliptical in shape with a
blunt tip and heart shaped base; the margin entire and
puberulous. It is characterised by the aerial roots that extend
down from the branches. This can make it spatially very large.
The seeds germinate on other trees from which large strong
roots grow and extend gradually choking the host tree.
When the roots reach the ground, they take root and grow
into woody trunks that can become indistinguishable from
the main trunk. The fruit, a fig, is paired, small and downy.
The seeds are most commonly spread by local birds and bats
that feed on the fruit.
Use: In the Maldives, the aerial roots alhoa, are used for making
yard which support the sail of dhoni - known as farumaan in
Dhivehi. The wood is also used for boat construction. The
tree is commonly planted for shade in residential areas, and
soil conservation. The fruit is eaten with sugar or rihaakuru
(tuna fish paste). According to Ayurvedic and Unani sytems
of medicine, almost all parts of the plant, the leaves, bark,
latex, fruit and the roots have medicinal properties.
Indian Almond
Scientific Name: Terminalia catappa (family Combretaceae)
Dhivehi name: Midhili
Distribution: The Indian almond is native to Southeast Asia
where it is common throughout the area. It also found in
Australia, Polynesia, India and Pakistan, Africa and South
and Central America.
Description: The Indian almond is a deciduous tree
approximately 20 – 30 m tall. The bark is dark grey or brown
and fissured; the branches are arranged in tiers. The leaves are
alternate, clustered at the branch tips and arranged in rosettes.
They are obovate, thinly leathery, shiny, glabrous, varying in
colour from green, orange, yellow and red. The flowers appear
in long spikes, primarily male with few bisexual flowers at the
base. They are small and greenish-white. The fruit is ovoid
and turns from green to orange or red when ripe. The seed
is surrounded by a thick juicy flesh.
Use: The bark, leaves, root and green fruit of the Indian
almond provide a black dye, used for tanning leather, dying
cotton and as pen ink. The timber is used for house furniture.
The seed and fruit are eaten. Oil is extracted from the seed
and administered as a medicine. The leaves and bark also
have medicinal uses. The tree is also planted to provide shade.
Red Sandalwood
Scientific name: Adenanthera pavonina L. (family Mimosaceae)
Dhivehi name: Madhoshi
Distribution: Red sandalwood is found throughout the
Description: This is a large tree reaching 30 m in height
with a trunk about 90 cm in diameter. The bark is smooth
with brown-grey fissures. The leaves are pinnate with 3 – 6
pairs of pinnae, 4 – 9 pairs of leaflets per pinna. Leaflets are
ovate-oblong and downy. Leaves are pale green turning yellow
with age. The inflorescence is a raceme with small, yellow star
shaped flowers. Flowers are scented. The fruit is a brown pod
that spirally contorts before opening. It bears 6 – 10 scarlet
seeds. The red sandalwood flowers and fruits throughout
the year.
Red sandalwood grows in
a variety of soil types but
prefers neutral-acidic soils.
It can quickly form colonies
in moist closed forests.
Use: This tree is used as an ornamental and shade tree for
cultivated tree crops. In the Maldives, the red wood is used
in boat building. Raw seeds are toxic but roasted seeds are
commonly eaten and ground into coffee. The young leaves
are eaten as a vegetable. The seeds are collected by children
for games such as Ohvalhugondi and Thinhama. It is said that the
seeds were previously used to weigh gold, as almost all the
seeds have a uniform weight of 0.25g. The tree fixes nitrogen
and improves soil fertility.
Portia Tree
Scientific name: Thespesia populnea L. Soland. Ex Correa (family Malvaceae)
Dhivehi name: Hirun’dhu
Distribution: The portia tree is found in coastal areas
throughout the tropics.
Description: This evergreen tree is bushy when young but
thins out with age. It grows to 13 m with a spread of 3 – 6 m.
It grows rapidly under favourable conditions. The bark is
brown-grey and fissured. The leaves are arranged spirally,
simple and entire. They are heart-shaped, shiny green, usually
ranging in size from 5 – 20 cm in length. The flowers are
solitary in leaf axis. The corolla is large, with 5 yellow petals
and maroon spots at the base. Towards the end of the day,
the flowers can turn purple. They are produced intermittently
throughout the year in warm climates. The fruit is a globose
capsule that contains many seeds. It is yellow-brownish green
when mature. The fruit can float in water and is dispersed by
ocean currents.
Use: The portia tree is an important timber species throughout
its area of distribution. The fine-grained, durable wood is used
in the Maldives for construction and boat making, furniture and
household items. In other parts of the world it is also used to
make jewellery, musical instruments, decorative paneling, toys
and ornaments. The flowers and fruit make a yellow dye. Fibers
from the bark are used to make cordage. Most parts of the plant
are used in traditional medicinal practices. The portia tree acts
as a natural boundary, is ornamental and provides shade.
The Lantern tree
Scientific name: Hernandia nymphaeifolia (C.presl) Kibitzki (family Hernandiaceae)
Dhivehi name: Maskan’dhu
Distribution: The lantern tree occurs throughout the
tropics and is abundant in forested areas of the Maldives.
Description: This coastal tree can grow above 20 m
in height. It has a large trunk with grey-brown bark
that is flaky and slightly fissured. The leaves are large,
peltate, simple and heart-shaped; shiny and alternate
in arrangement. Flowers are greenish-white with male
(3 petals) and female (4 petals) flowers separate. The
flowers are scented. The fruit is round and has one seed.
The surrounding flesh is waxy white or red. The seed is
dispersed by bats.
Use: The wood of the lantern tree is soft and less durable,
however, it is easy to carve and manipulate and is therefore
used in Maldives to make handicrafts such as souvenir
dhonis. Trunks and large branches were commonly used for
rolling dhonis into the sea. Poles are made to support betel
vine. The leaves, root and bark are used to prepare ruhgalu
beys a treatment for bone fractures. The flowers are known
to alleviate headache.
Sea Lettuce
Scientific name: Scaevola taccada (Gaertner) Roxb. (family Goodeniaceae)
Dhivehi name: Magoo
Distribution: Sea lettuce is found from Madagascar across
Southeast Asia and throughout the Pacific. It is also cultivated
in the United States. In the Maldives, it is commonly found
along the seashore.
Description: Sea lettuce is a spreading shrub that grows up
to 7 m tall. Branchlets are smooth, cylindrical and tapering.
Leaves are thin and fleshy; alternate, sessile and crowded
at the end of the branches; they are spatulate in shape with
sinuate to dentate margins and relatively smooth. They
have a wax layer which helps them to survive the salt spray.
Inflorescence is axillary, cymose, branched and slender with
few flowers. Flowers are white or pale yellow, scentless and
have 5 petals. The fruit is a fleshy 2-seeded drupe, white when
ripe. The seeds are carried by birds and can float in seawater.
In the ancient days they were used as firewood.
Use: The leaves, stem and root have been used medicinally
throughout Asia and the Pacific. In the Maldives, sea lettuce
was traditionally used for rafters and roofing strips on houses.
It is considered a ‘famine food’ as the leaves have been eaten
during times of food shortage. It is used as firewood and for
making handicrafts. Medicinally, the juice from the leaves has
been applied to reduce swelling and eye infections. It also has
ornamental value, and is used for soil stabilization and wind
and salt spray protection.
Tree Heliotrope/
Octopus Bush
Scientific name: Heliotropium foertherianum Sy: Tournefortia argentea (family Boraginaceae)
Dhivehi name: Boashi
Distribution: Tree heliotrope is found on Africa’s East coast
and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is a strand
plant, restricted to coastal environments hence it tolerates
saline conditions, nutrient-poor and rocky soils.
Description: Tree heliotrope is a spreading tree that grows
6 – 12 m in height. It is anchored to the ground even in the
harshest of coastal conditions by its strong vertical and lateral
root system. The bark is grey-brown with deep ridges and
grooves. The branches are stout with prominent leaf scars.
The leaves are at the end of the branches. They are spirally
arranged, oblanceolate, grey-brown and velvety on both sides;
sessile or with short petiole. Inflorescence is cymous with
numerous flowers; sessile or with small petiole. Calyx (plural
of sepal) is long and velvety. The petals are white and as long
as, or just shorter than the calyx. Its flowers bloom almost
continuously throughout the year. The small green fruit is
globose, ribbed and turns brown when mature. Inside are
2 – 4 seeds.
Use: Ecologically, tree heliotrope is an important species on
islands. It serves as a nesting site for sea birds and is valuable
in coastal protection such as screening against salt spray, as
a windbreak and soil stabilizer. The trees are an important
source of mulch. As it flowers almost all year, it is important
bee forage and attracts butterflies, both of which are
important for a healthy ecosystem. On Pacific Ocean Islands,
the leaves were traditionally used as fish bait and fish poison.
Tree heliotrope has also featured prominently in the cultural
ecology and ritual of many islanders. The leaves can be eaten
raw and used as animal fodder. The wood is harvested for
canoe and house construction, making handicrafts and tools,
and for fuel. It is also valued for its medicinal properties.
The meristem and inner root bark are used to treat children
suffering from dermatitis and diarrhea, or to stop the bleeding
of wounds. The leaves are put in a bath as a restorative for
women after childbirth. A mixture of the inner root bark and
coconut is used to treat hemorrhoids. An infusion from the
leaves is ingested to treat food poisoning. They also produce
a red dye. The leaves were traditionally used as a deodorant
and to preserve and reduce odor of corpses. Ritually, the wood
close to the ground is used to cure diseases caused by the
violation of sea taboos, and the immature flower stalk is used
in love magic. Tree heliotrope also serves as an ornamental
and shade tree in home gardens.
Tree Heliotrope makes a
good habitat for shrubnesting seabirds like the
Grey heron.
Sea Trumpet
Scientific name: Cordia subcordata (family Boraginaceae)
Dhivehi name: Kaani
Distribution: The sea trumpet can be found on beaches on
the African East coast and throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
It inhabits all Maldivian islands.
Description: Sea trumpet can grow into a tree of 15 m with
a wide canopy. The leaves are light green, alternate, ovate to
circular in shape, usually glabrous or with some minute flat
lying hairs. Older plants can be pubescent and dotted with
groups of cystoliths (concretion of minerals). Inflorescence is
cymose and loosely branched. Flowers are long, funnel shaped
with 5 – 7 wrinkled lobes and joined near the apex. They are
orange in colour and scentless. The fruit is circular, smooth
and shiny, green when young, brown and hard when ripe.
Use: The wood is fine-grained, soft and durable. In the
Maldives, the timber is used for house and boat building and
handicraft making. The leaves are used to make a dye that is
applied to fish nets and lines to make them less visible to fish.
It has also been used medicinally.
Alexandrian Laurel
Scientific name: Calophyllum inophyllum L. (family Clusiaceae)
Dhivehi name: Funa
Distribution: The Alexandrian laurel is found in Africa and
throughout the Indo-Pacific region. It is abundant on islands
in the Maldives.
Description: It is a low-branching and slow-growing tree with
a broad and irregular crown. It usually reaches 8 – 20 m in
height. The flower is white and fragranced, 25 mm wide and
occurs in a racemose or paniculate inflorescence consisting
of 4 to 15 flowers. The fruit (ballnut) is a round, green drupe
reaching 2 – 4 cm in diameter and having a single large seed.
When ripe, the fruit is wrinkled and its color varies from
yellow to brownish-red. It has been cultivated successfully in
inland areas at moderate altitudes. It tolerates varied kinds
of soil, coastal sand, clay or even degraded soil.
Use: Besides being a popular ornamental plant, its wood is
hard and strong and has been used in construction and boat
building. Traditional Pacific islanders used Alexandrian laurel
wood to construct the keel of their canoes while the boat sides
were made from breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) wood. The seeds
yield thick, dark green oil for medicinal use or hair grease.
Active ingredients in the oil are believed to regenerate tissue
making it sought after by cosmetics manufacturers for skin
creams. The nuts should be well dried before cracking, after
which the oil-laden kernels are further dried. The nuts used
to prepare madhan, a caulk applied to boats.
Poison Bulb
Scientific name: Crinum asiaticum L. (family Amaryllidaceae)
Dhivehi name: Maakan’dholhu
Distribution: The poison bulb can be found across India and
Southeast Asia, Australia and Polynesia.
Description: Poison bulb is a herb, 1 - 1.8 m in height that
grows from an underground bulb. It has numerous leaves,
narrowly to broadly elliptical, 50 – 150 cm x 3.5 – 20 cm;
leaf margins are entire. The inflorescence is an umbel; twenty
to fifty flowers are formed on top of thick succulent stems
that rise above the foliage and become scented at night. The
corolla tube is straight and long; white-pink. The anthers are
also long and straight; yellow at first turning purple. The fruit
is circular with a fleshy pericarp. It is yellowish-green with
1 – 5 seeds.
Use: The entire plant is known to be poisonous however,
across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the leaves, root and
stem have been widely used in traditional medicine.
Beach Morning Glory
Scientific name: Ipomoea pes-caprae (L.) R. Br, Syn. Ipomoea biloba (family Convolvulaceae)
Dhivehi name: Thanburu
Distribution: Beach morning glory can be found on all
tropical beaches. It appears just behind the flood-line of
beaches, often colonizing entire spaces. It can also be found
on road sides and ditches.
Description: This is a perennial, glabrous vine. The stems,
5 – 30 cm long, grow flat along the ground, sometimes
twining. They contain a milky juice and often root at the
nodes. The leaves are variable; they can be ovate, elliptical,
circular and reniform in shape, deeply two lobed. The flower
is peduncle, leathery, corolla funnel-shaped; purple to reddish
purple with a dark center. The fruit is circular, glabrous and
leathery with 4 seeds.
Use: Throughout Southeast Asia, the leaves, root and seeds
have been used medicinally to treat bladder infection, jellyfish
sting, stomach ache, ulcers and boils. It is also an excellent
sand binder and highly useful in preventing beach erosion.
Grey Nickernut
Scientific name: Caesalpinia bonduc L. Roxb.(family Leguminosae)
Dhivehi name: Kashikunburu
Distribution: Grey nickernut is pantropical and is commonly
found in coastal areas.
Description: It is a woody, vine-like shrub with stems of up to
15 m in length with robust prickles. Leaves are opposite and
bipinnately compound with 6 – 11 pairs of pinnae. Each pinna
has 6 – 12 leaflets. Leaflets are opposite and rounded to acute
with short hairs on the midrib and margins. Flowers are large
and yellow; petals are free and unequal, clawed, the upper
one different in shape and size. The fruit is an oblong shaped
pod covered with stiff hairy prickles. Each pod has 1 – 2 hard,
smooth seeds.
Grey nickernut grows well
in sandy soils; it is saline
tolerant and grows into
dense thickets along the
shoreline. For this reason,
it makes a good wind and
wave break and is good
for conservation of coastal
Use: Throughout Africa, tropical Asia and Pacific Ocean
islands, the leaves, roots and seeds of grey nickernut are
commonly used in traditional medicine - the seeds are
nicknamed ‘poor man’s quinine’ for their application in the
treatment of malaria. In the Maldives, tips of the shoots are
given to women to hasten postnatal recovery. Oil from the
seeds is used in cooking. The seeds are also used as beads,
weights and counters in indoor games.
Scientific name: Azadirachta indica A. H. L. Juss. (family Meliaceae)
Dhivehi name: Hithigas
Distribution: Neem is pantropical, and has been noted
as being one of the fasted spreading trees in the world.
It is cultivated and naturalized in Southeast Asia, Australia,
the United States and South and Central America.
Description: Neem is a small to medium sized tree. It can grow
up to 20 m in height, but in the Maldives it rarely grows above
10 m. It has a large round crown with dense foliage. The bark
is brown, grey and flaky in old trees. It is thick and deeply
fissured with small scattered outgrowths. It has a colourless
sticky sap. The leaves are green, alternate and crowded near
the end of branches with 8 - 19 glossy lanceolate shaped
leaflets. The flowers are small and white, arranged in panicle
flower heads; they arise from the corner of the leaves. The
fruit is an oblong drupe, greenish, green-yellow or purple
when ripe. The fruit contains a single ovoid seed.
Use: Neem is a multipurpose plant. Neem provides shade,
shelter, timber and fuel; it improves poor soils, controls
erosion and is used as a windbreak. It is found in Ayurvedic
and Unani schools of medicine; used widely across Africa
in traditional medicinal practices and in modern medicine,
antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory effects have been
demonstrated. Neem is a good biopesticide. Oil from the
seeds is used in soap manufacturing. The durable and highly
pest-resistant wood is used for boat building.
Neem cannot tolerate
water-logging but it grows
in many types of soil: dry,
sandy, acidic, alkaline,
shallow soils, clayey soils
and tolerates saline and
drought conditions.
Coffee senna grows best
in high moisture, acidic
to neutral soil types.
Coffee Senna
Scientific name: Cassia occidentalis L. (family Leguminosae)
Dhivehi name: Dhigu thiyara
Distribution: Coffee senna is a common weed throughout the
tropics and subtropics. It is common in the Maldives, usually
found near houses.
Description: Coffee senna is an erect, woody herb of
approximately 2.5 m. The stem is often richly branched; the
roots are black. The leaves are pinnately compound, arranged
spirally. Each pinna has 3 – 6 pairs of leaflets. Leaflets are
ovate to ovate-oblong with a rounded base and pointed tip;
margins are entire. Each leaf has a distinct spherical-shaped
gland located 0.5 cm from the base of the petiole. Flowers are
yellow and scented. The fruit is a flattened cylindrical legume
(seedpod), 8 – 12 cm long, brown with pale margins. Each
legume contains 30 – 45 flatted, brown seeds.
Use: The roasted seeds of coffee senna can be used as a coffee
substitute. The young leaves and root are eaten as a vegetable.
Foliage can be used as green manure. Animals do not eat
coffee senna and the seeds are poisonous if eaten in large
quantities. It is considered a panacea with numerous medicinal
applications. In Maldives it is used as a medicine to alleviate
asthma and to calm those suffering from hysteria. The leaves
are also eaten raw or mixed with coconut, chili and onion.
Henna Tree
Scientific name: Lawsonia inermis L. (family Lythraceae)
Dhivehi name: Heenaa Heenaagas
Distribution: Henna can be found across Southern Asia,
the Middle East and Africa. It is cultivated for commercial
production in India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Niger and
Sudan but most commonly grown in home gardens.
Description: Henna is a much-branched shrub or small tree
approximately 6 m tall. The bark is greyish-brown; older trees
sometimes displaying spine-tipped branches. The leaves are
opposite, simple and entire; elliptic to broadly lanceolate in
shape. Inflorescence is a large pyramid shaped cyme with
numerous small, whitish (sometimes reddish) flowers. Flowers
have 4 crumpled petals and are scented. The fruit is a circular
purple-green capsule with many thickly coated seeds.
Use: Henna is one of the oldest cosmetics in the world.
It is used to colour fingernails and paint hands and feet; it
is universally used as a hair dye with colours ranging from
reddish-blond, chestnut brown to intense black. In India,
Pakistan and Egypt the scented flowers are used to make
perfume. The fine-grained hardwood has been used to
make tools and as firewood; the fibers of the branches are
used in basketry. Medicinally, it is applied to treat skin and
nail complaints; the leaves and root has been used to treat
diarrhoea, to promote childbirth and treat parasites.
Breadfruit Tree
Scientific name: Artocarpus altilis (family Moraceae)
Dhivehi name: Ban’bukeyo
Distribution: The breadfruit tree can be
found throughout the humid tropics.
Description: Breadfruit is a tree 30 m in
height. It is semi deciduous in monsoon
climates. It has a straight, thick trunk
with large spreading branches that have
pronounced leaf scars. The leaves are large
and deeply lobed; thick, leathery, dark
green and shiny above, pale green and
rough below. Male flowers are yellow and
drooping, the flowers are minute with a
single stamen; female flowers are stiffly
upright, circular and green. It has a fleshy
round fruit, 10 – 30 cm in diameter with a
yellowy-green rind; inside is a pale yellow
juicy pulp. Most cultivated breadfruits
are seedless, those that do seed are called
breadnuts. The edible pulp is replaced by
the brown seeds.
Use: The ripe fruit and seeds of the
breadfruit are edible. It can be boiled,
baked, roasted or fried. In the Maldives, it
was traditionally roasted in an underground
stove. Maldivians peel firm-ripe fruits, slice
the pulp and cook it in sugar syrup or palm
sugar until it is crisp and brown. The pulp
is also diced, mixed with coconut milk
and sugar and baked to make a pudding
called Bambukeylu Bondibai. Theluli keyo (fried
breadfruit) is a famous Maldivian dish
commonly served at buffets. Roasted sweet
and savory chips are sold and have good
market value. The light wood is also used
to make doors, boxes, tools and surfboards;
gum from the tree is used for caulking
boats, as a glue to catch birds and as a
chewing gum. Diluted with water, latex
from the trunk is used medicinally to treat
diarrhoea; the leaves are also thought to
lower blood pressure, relieve asthma and
counteract food poisoning. The leaves
and fallen fruits make good animal fodder.
Breadfruit trees are also planted for shade
and as windbreaks.
Indian Mulberry/ Noni Tree
Scientific name: Morinda citrifolia L. (family Rubiaceae)
Dhivehi name: Ahi
Distribution: Indian mulberry is native to Australia. It can
now be found throughout Southeast Asia, wild and cultivated.
It is naturalized in the Caribbean region. It is found
throughout the Maldives, mostly in forested areas.
Description: Indian mulberry is an evergreen shrub or small
tree reaching between 3 – 10 m. The bark is grey or yellowbrown, shallowly fissured, glabrous. The leaves are opposite
and simple, elliptic-lanceolate and entire. The inflorescence
is globose, the flowers are funnel shaped, scented and white.
The fruit is yellow-white in colour, fleshy and cone like in
shape. Each fruit has many seeds, each enclosed in a
distinct air chamber.
Use: All parts of the Indian mulberry, the leaves, root, bark
and fruit, are used. Before synthetic dyes, the red dye taken
from the root bark was very important. It is used widely
throughout Southeast Asia for its medicinal properties.
The roots have been used to treat stiffness, tetanus and
arterial tension; the bark is antiseptic and applied to skin
lesions, ulcers and wounds; the leaves treat dysentery, nausea
and convulsions. Studies suggest that Indian mulberry is
adaptogenic, increasing the body’s resistance to stress, trauma,
anxiety and fatigue. The fruits and leaves can be eaten raw or
prepared and are highly nutritious. The fruit pulp is used to
cleanse hair, steel and iron.
Scientific name: Citrus aurantifolia (Christm. & Panzer) Swingle (family Rutaceae)
Dhivehi name: Lun’boa
Distribution: Lime tree originated in Southeast Asia.
Although it can now be found in all parts of the world,
it prefers warm tropical climates. In the Maldives, it is
commonly grown in home gardens.
Lime tree can grow in
infertile and sandy soils.
It requires proper drainage
and does not tolerate
water logging.
Description: Lime is an evergreen shrub or tree up to 5 m
tall. It has many branches covered in short spines or thorns.
The leaves are green, oblong-ovate, alternatively arranged
on branches. The leaf stalk is narrowly winged, leaf margins
crenulated (round toothed). The leaves can be both blunt and
sharply pointed. Flowers are small and white. The number
of petals can vary between 4 and 6. The fruit is a round-oval
berry with a green or yellow peel characterized by a large
number of minute glands. The flesh is yellow, very acidic, juicy
and fragrant. The seeds are small, smooth and ovoid in shape.
It fruits throughout the year.
Use: The fruit is edible. The juice and concentrate are
commonly used by soft drink companies. Pectin is produced
from the peel, and the peel and leaves are used to make
aromatic citrus oils. Lime is widely used to make pickle. In the
Maldives, it is commonly used in food dishes such as garudhiya
(tuna soup), rice and lime and lonu lumbo, a pickle prepared by
ripening the lime in salt water and drying it in the sun until
brown. The leaves and fruits also have medicinal and nutritional
value. Some believe that limes drive evil spirits away.
Pond Apple
Scientific name: Annona glabra L. (family Annonaceae)
Dhivehi name: Kalhuhuththu meyvaa
Distribution: Pond apple is native to tropical and
subtropical America and west tropical Africa. It is now
naturalized throughout the tropics. In the Maldives,
it is commonly found in home gardens.
Description: Pond apple is a semi-deciduous tree reaching
13 m in height. It has a single trunk, but seedlings often grow
in clumps giving the appearance of a multi-stemmed tree.
The bark is grey and fissured with prominent lenticels.
The leaves are glossy, oblong-elliptical and alternate along
the branch. The upper surface of the leaf is dark green, the
bottom is pale. Flowers are large and single and creamy yellow
white in colour. They have 3 outer petals and 3 inner petals
with a red inner base. The fruit is cylindrical in shape and
smooth. It is yellow orange with a salmon coloured pulp and
a strong aroma. Each fruit contains many small brown seeds.
Pond apple requires
moist soils and sunlight.
It can tolerate freshwater
Use: The fruit is commonly eaten or made into a juice in the
Maldives, particularly during Ramazan. In tropical America,
the leaves are used in traditional medicine. The bark is an
ideal habitat for orchids and other air plants.
Pandanus / Screw Pine
Scientific name: Pandanus odoratissimus (family Pandanaceae)
Dhivehi name: Maakashikeyo
Distribution: Pandanus is found in West
Africa, across Southeast Asia, the Pacific
as far as Hawaii. The genus Pandanus has
600 species. It is abundant in the Maldives,
commonly found on beaches.
Description: It is an erect evergreen tree of
15 m in height with elongated basal prop
roots. The branches are often prickly with
leaf scars. The leaves are sword shaped
and spiraled in three series at the tips of
branches. The midrib is usually bent with
the upper part of the leaf hanging giving
the pandanus a drooping appearance.
On the underside of the leaf on either side
of the midrib are two pale green stripes.
The margins of the leaf and midrib are
prickled. Plants are unisexual, having either
male or female flowers but not both. The
male inflorescence (staminate) bract is
cream, flowers are small and fragranced.
The female inflorescence (pistillate) is a
solitary globose head composed of several
celled carpels. The fruit varies in shape,
elliptical, globose, ovoid and is composed
of wedged fleshy drupes. They are green
when unripe, turning yellow-red when ripe.
The endocarp surrounding the seed is
hard and stony.
Use: Pandanus has many uses in the
Maldives. It is an important food source
and is considered a ‘famine food’ turned
to during times of food scarcity. The red
portion of the fruit can be eaten raw.
A juice called baipainkandhi is prepared
by boiling the fruit with sugar and water.
Kashikeyo foa is a sweet commonly found
in the market. It is prepared by cooking
the fruit with sugar and wheat flour. The
leaves, dried and cleaned of prickles, are
used to make mats called saanthi. The prop
root, alhoa, is used as a paint brush on boats.
The trunks are commonly used to make
holhuashi, a resting platform on the beach.
Custard / Sweet Apple
Scientific name: Annona squamosa L. (family Annonaceae)
Dhivehi name: Dhivehi atha
Distribution: Custard apple is pantropical,
found throughout the Caribbean, Central
and Southern America, Africa, the Middle
East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It is
also found in parts of Europe.
Description: Custard apple is a small semi
deciduous tree about 3 – 6 m tall. It has
a broad crown and irregularly spreading
branches. The bark is light brown with
visible leaf scars. The leaves are single,
alternate, oblong-lanceolate in shape, dull
green on the upper surface and pale green on
the bottom; slightly pubescent underneath
and aromatic when crushed. The fragrant
flowers grow opposite the leaves singly or in
groups of 2 – 4. They are oblong in shape,
never fully opening. They have 3 fleshy
petals, yellow-green on the outside and pale
yellow inside with a purple-red base. There
are 3 tiny inner petals. The compound fruit
is ovoid-conical in shape. It is composed of
many segments and varies in colour from
pale green to grey-green to dull pink. When
ripe, the segments separate revealing the
sweet juicy flesh. Some trees bear fruits with
20 – 40 seeds, others bear seedless fruits.
Use: The fruit is eaten fresh. Oil used in
soap manufacturing is extracted from the
seed kernels. Fiber from the bark is used
for cordage. The leaves produce a blueblack dye. The seeds are hard enough to
be swallowed whole with no ill effects, but
the kernels are extremely toxic. The seeds,
leaves and young fruits are insecticidal
and are used as fish poison and to kill
agricultural pests. Juice from the leaves
and a paste from the seeds are applied to
kill head lice. Contact with eyes however
may cause blindness. Sap from the bark
can cause skin irritation. Medicinally,
the crushed leaves have been sniffed to
overcome hysteria and fainting, and applied
to boils, abscesses and ulcers. The leaves,
bark, unripe fruit and root have been
taken individually or together in cases of
diarrhoea and dysentery. Fragments of the
bark are placed against the gum to relieve
Bilimbi/Cucumber Tree
Scientific name: Averrhoa bilimbi (family Oxalidaceae)
Dhivehi name: Bilimagu
Distribution: Bilimbi can be found throughout the humid
tropics. In the Maldives, it is commonly found in home
Bilimbi prefers seasonally
humid climates and direct
sunlight for growth.
Description: Bilimbi is a small tree growing between 6 – 9 m
tall. It is sparsely branched with thick brownish - red bark.
Leaves are pinnate with a single leaflet at the apex; leaflets
are ovate, entire and downy. Flowers are clustered, petals
free; reddish purple in colour. The fruit is a brightly coloured
lobed berry, 10 x 5 cm. It is green when unripe, turning white
when ripe. The outer skin is glossy, soft and tender; the flesh
is green, juicy and very acidic. There may be 6 – 7 disc-like
smooth brown seeds.
Use: The fruit is used when making curries and chutney;
pickled or preserved in syrup. The acidic juice is used to
clean metal, tarnish brass and remove stains from hands and
cloth. Medicinally, the leaves are applied as a paste on itches,
swellings of mumps and rheumatism; on skin eruptions and
poisonous animal bites. A leaf infusion is taken to treat cough
and as a tonic after childbirth. The leaves, fresh or fermented
are used to treat venereal disease.
Scientific name: Carica papaya L. (family Caricaceae)
Dhivehi name: Falhoa
Distribution: Papaya is widely distributed
throughout the tropical and warm
subtropical region. In the Maldives, it is
commonly cultivated in home gardens.
Papaya grows well in hot, bright places.
It grows in poor, marl and limestone soils,
but performs best in organic rich soils.
Description: Papaya is a fast growing
tree-like herb, 2 – 10 m tall. It is usually
without branches. The trunk is hollow
with prominent leaf scars, a spongy-fibrous
tissue and white latex. The leaves are
spirally arranged, clustered at the top of the
trunk. The hollow leafstalk is up to 1 m in
length, purple-green in colour. The leaf is
large, 25 – 75 cm in diameter, palmate and
deeply lobed. It is glabrous, deeply veined
with broadly toothed lobes. Male, female
or hermaphrodite flowers can be found
on separate trees. Male flowers are yellow
and trumpet shaped, female flowers single
or small cyme, yellow green. The fruit is a
fleshy berry 7 – 30 cm long, oval-spherical
in shape. The skin is thin and smooth,
yellow-orange when ripe; the flesh is
yellow-orange with a mild sweet flavor.
It has numerous circular black seeds.
Use: The papaya fruit is commonly eaten
and available all year round. It is used
to make fruit salad, juice, jam, jelly or
crystallized fruit pieces. Green fruits are
pickled and used as a vegetable. In Java, a
sweetmeat is made from the flowers; young
leaves are sometimes eaten. In the Maldives,
the unripe green fruit are used to prepare
spicy curries, and a traditional sweet dish
called falhoa murubba is prepared by cooking
the ripe fruit in sugar syrup. Medicinally,
seeds are used to expel intestinal worms.
Carpaine, an alkaloid present in papaya
is used as a heart depressant, to kill
parasitic species and as a diuretic. Papain,
a proteolytic enzyme, is extracted from
papaya and used in food, beverage and
pharmaceutical industries: tenderizing meat,
drug preparations for digestive problems
and gangrenous wounds. It is also used to
de-gum silk, bathe hides and soften wood.
Peacock Flower
Scientific name: Caesalpinia pulcherrima (L) Sw. (family Leguminosae)
Dhivehi name: Fa’thangu/ Fathan’gumaa
Distribution: Peacock flower is found throughout the tropics,
cultivated in Southeast Asia and naturalized in some regions.
It is common in the Maldives.
Peacock flower grows well
in all kinds of soil including
sand, clay, and loam, acidic
or alkaline soils. It is highly
drought tolerant but is
intolerant to flooding. It
is moderately tolerant to
aerosol salt and can be
planted along the beach.
Description: Peacock flower is a shrub or small tree reaching
5 m in height. Branches are generally smooth with few
prickles. Leaves are pinnately compound, 5 – 9 pairs of
pinnae, each pinna with 7 – 15 pairs of leaflets. They are
oblong-ovoid and have a smooth margin. Inflorescence is
a cluster of flowers, red, orange or yellow. Each flower has
5 petals, one being significantly smaller than the others.
The fruit is a compressed pod 6 – 12 cm long, green turning
brown when ripe. It has 8 – 10 brown seeds.
Use: It is a popular ornamental plant that blooms throughout
the year. Medicinally, an infusion of the root, bark, leaves
or flowers is used as a laxative and can aid menstruation.
According to the dosage, it can be used as a mouthwash and
remedy for coughs and colds. The leaves are taken to relieve
Scientific name: Manilkara zapota (L.) P. van Royen (family Sapotaceae)
Dhivehi name: Sabudheli
Distribution: Sapodilla is found throughout the tropical
lowlands. In the Maldives, it is commonly grown in
home gardens.
Description: Sapodilla is an evergreen, upright to spreading
tree between 5 – 30 m in height. The trunk is low branched
with rough bark and gummy latex. The leaves are alternate,
ovate to lanceolate in shape, triangular at both ends often
with a shallow notch at the tip. Leaves are entire and slightly
glabrous, glossy dark green with a prominent midrib below.
The flowers are single, green-white and bell-shaped. Fruit
is a round berry. The skin is thin, dull red to yellow brown
covered with brown scurf. The flesh is soft, juicy and sweet;
yellow to red-brown. The fruit has 0 – 12 dark seeds.
Use: Sapodilla is an important source of fruit. It can be eaten
fresh or made into ice-cream, butter or jam. The juice can
be boiled into syrup, fermented into a wine or vinegar. The
trees are tapped for their white latex. The gummy latex is
used in transmission belts and dental surgery. The hard, insect
resistant wood is good for furniture making. Medicinally, the
leaves are antipyretic, reducing fever; the tannin is used to
treat diarrhea. The tannin from the bark is used to dye ship
sails and fishing tackle.
Sapodilla can grow in many
soil types but prefers rich,
well-drained sandy loam.
It is drought tolerant,
withstands saline soils and
salt spray and stands well
against hurricanes.
Section 3
Acute – tapering to a sharp pointed apex
with straight sides along the tip
Carpel – the female reproductive organ
of flowering plants
Alternate – leaves or bud arranged singly
at each node on different sides of the stem
Compound leaf – a leaf whose blade is
divided into two or more distinct leaflets
Anter – pollen bearing part of the stamen
Corolla – the petals of a flower
Apex – the tip of a leaf
Crenulated – having a margin with small
rounded teeth
Axil – the angel between the upper surface
of a leaf stalk or branch and then stem from
which it grows
Axillary – located in or relating to an axil
Basal – located at or near the base of the
plant stem
Bipinnate – having the leaflets divided
into smaller leaflets
Calyx – the sepals of a flower forming
the outer floral envelope that protects the
Capsule – a dry fruit that spreads its seeds
by splitting or through pores
Cyme – a broad, flat topped inflorescence
in which the central flower is the first to
Cymous – having the characteristics of
a cyme
Cystolith – a knob-like deposit of calcium
carbonate occurring in the outer cells
Dentate – edged with tooth-like
Downy – covered with short soft hairs
Drupe – a fleshy fruit usually with a single
hard stone that encloses the seed
Endocarp – the hard inner layer of
the pericarp (the stone)
Perennial – a plant that lives for more
than two years
Glabrous – smooth with no hairs
Pericarp – part of the fruit enclosing the
Globose – spherical
Lanceolate – narrow and tapering to
a point at each end
Latex – colourless or milky sap of some
Lenticels – pores in the stem of a woody
plant allowing the exchange of gases
between the plant and the exterior
Lobed – deeply cut (but not as far as the
Midrib – the central rib/vein of a leaf
Mulch – a protective covering of organic
matter (compost) placed around plants
to prevent the evaporation of moisture,
growth of weeds etc.
Petiole – the stalk from which the leaf
is attached to the stem
Pinna – a leaflet of a compound leaf
Pinnae – plural of pinna
Pinnate – leaflets grow opposite each
other, in pairs on either side of the stem
Pod – the fruit of a leguminous plant (a
long two-valved case containing seeds)
Prop root – a root that grows from the
stem and penetrates the soil to support the
Raceme – an inflorescence in which the
flowers are borne along the same stem,
singly or clustered
Oblanceolate – lance shaped, broadest
above the middle and tapering toward the
Racemose – resembling or borne in a
Palmate – having more than tree lobes or
segments that come from a common point
Tapering – to become gradually narrower
or thinner toward one end
Panacea – a remedy for all ailments
Sessile (leaf) – without a stalk, attached
directly at the base
Panicle – a branched inflorescence with
each flower a raceme – having its own stalk
attached to the branch
Paniculate – growing or arranged in a
Reniform – kidney shaped
Sinuate – having a wavy indented margin
Spatulate – having a narrow base and a
broad rounded apex (tip)
Peduncle – the stalk of a plant bearing an
inflorescence or single flower
Umbel – a flat topped or rounded
inflorescence with the individual flower
stalks arising from the same point
Peltate – the stalk is attached near the
center of the leaf, rather than near the
Yard – a slender rod, tapered toward the
ends, fastened at right angles across a mast
to support a sail
Useful Websites and Plant Databases
yy Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI),
yy The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, Convention on Biological Diversity,
yy Plantlife International,
yy The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
yy International Plant Names Index,
yy Plants Database,
yy Plants for a Future,
yy Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya, Sri Lanka,
yy Plant Resources of South East Asia (PROSEA),
yy Plant database,
yy The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,
yy Australian Plant Name Index (APNI),
yy Plant Resources of Tropical Africa,
yy Trees and Shrubs of the Maldives, Selvam, V. (2007) Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and
Marine Resources & FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand (accessed 15/2/2010).
yy Maldivian Gender Roles in Bio-Resource Manangement, Kanvinde, H. S. (1999)
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand
Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) (accessed 1/3/2010)
Plant database:
(accessed 15/2/2010 – 5/3/2010)
Plant Resources of South East Asia (PROSEA) (accessed
15/2/2010 – 5/3/2010)
Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (accessed 15/2/2010 – 5/3/2010)
The Little Green Book, Anke Hofmeister,
Trees and Shrubs of the Maldives, Selvam, V. (2007) Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and
Marine Resources & FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand (accessed 15/2/2010). (accessed 4/3/2010)
Environmental Education
Developed by Live & Learn Environmental Education, Male’, Maldives
November 2010
Adapted from: The Little Green Book, A. Hofmeister, Soneva Fushi Resort
and Six Senses Spa and Trees and Shrubs of the Maldives (2007) V. Selvam,
Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources & FAO Regional
Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.
Written by: Ariane Factor and Fathimath Shafeega.
Proofed by: Hassan Shakeel and Anke Hofmeister
Photography by: Anke Hofmeister, Ariane Factor, Elaine Glen
Design and layout by: Live & Learn Environmental Education
© Copyright: Live & Learn Environmental Education
This Field Guide was developed with the assistance and support from
many individuals: Anke Hofmeister, Aishath Bushry, Ariane Factor,
Fathimath Shafeeqa, Jady Smith, Maryam Samira, Mariyam Shazna
and Mohamed Zahir.
Information has been sourced from several botanical websites including:,,, and
ISBN 99915-2-855-5
For other publications by Live & Learn Environmental Education:
series 1
series 1
Common plants
of the Maldives
Common Plants of the Maldives is a starting point for people interested
in learning about trees and shrubs of the Maldives. It contains
descriptions and photographs to help identify local plants as well as
information on traditional uses in the Maldives and throughout the
world. Whether you’re relaxing in your deck-chair or exploring the
island vegetation, you will come to learn that all plants, within every
ecosystem are not only beautiful but important for our survival as
they provide food, medicine, soil stability, fresh air and water.
books in this series are:
Common Plants of the Maldives,
Common Birds of the Maldives and Life on the Beach, Maldives.
series 1
series 1
series 1
Common plants
Common birds
life on the beach
of the Maldives
Environmental Education
of the Maldives
Common plants
of the Maldives

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