MANILA Philippines --- The Botong, scientifically known as Barringtonia asiatica, is a noteworthy seashore tree. It has many economic and environmental uses and it's a unique ornamental tree because it grows on sandy and rocky areas. This is the reason why it's a fixture in many beach resorts. Its other common names include Putat and Box Fruit (due to the shape of the fruit). It's also known as the Fish Poison tree as its fruits and leaves are poisonous and are thus used by fishermen to stun the fish in rivers.
The Botong is native to mangrove habitats or near the sea shore on the tropical coasts and islands of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean including Taiwan, the Philippines, Fiji, New Caledonia, Cook Islands, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia and the northern part of Australia.
Belonging to the Lecythidaceae plant family, the Botong has large white flowers with pinkish white stamens measuring about 10 centimeters. The tree usually blooms at night and it produces a sickly sweet odor which attracts bat and moth pollinators. The flowers fall off the following day thus creating a carpet of flowers underneath its canopy. It usually grows in rainforests near the sea. The ovary of the flower later develops into a large four-sided fruit resembling a bishop's hat. These fruits float on water and are often found washed up on the beach.
The tree can be grown and established along streets near coastal areas. It thrives under full sunlight and has a dense foliage or canopy. It is also an ideal wind breaker and can control soil erosion in beach resorts.
The Botong is also easy to propagate as its fruits are dispersed by the ocean current. As it is water-resistant and buoyant, local fishermen sometimes use the fruits as fish net floats. Once soaked in water for many days, the seeds germinate and turn into seedlings.
As mentioned earlier, this tree is poisonous. The leaves and fruits must be pounded, pulped or grated to release the poison. Surprisingly, however, the tree has many traditional medicinal uses. It has properties that can be used to treat fungal infections, burns and wounds. The leaves are heated and used to treat stomach ache and rheumatism. The fruit juice is used for controlling scabies while the seeds are used for the expulsion of intestinal worms. The fruit is also used to treat sores, cough, influenza, sore throat, diarrhea and swollen spleens caused by malaria. The plant can also be used as a treatment to cancer tumors.