Cherries in a Tree? Strawberry Tree? Have I Heard It Wrongly?





This is my first post on the “ Plants Around My Neighborhood and in Singapore Series”. The rationale of this series is simple, to share with readers what I have discovered around my neighborhood in Singapore. If you follow this series “diligently”, you will be able to find that there are so many nice plants around our neighborhood, including fruit trees. The first post shall be my “childhood tree” Buah Ceri trees or Mutingia Calabura.



“Muntingia calabura, the sole species in the genus Muntingia, is a flowering plant native to southern Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and western South America south to Peru and Bolivia. Common names include (English) Jamaican cherry, Panama berry,Singapore cherry, Bajelly tree, Strawberry tree; (Spanish) bolaina, yamanaza, cacaniqua, capulín blanco, nigua, niguito,memizo or memiso; (Indonesia) kersen; (Vietnamese) Trứng cá (thực vật); and (Filipino) alatris, aratiles, manzanitas and sarisa.” (Source:



Those who lived in the “Kampong” or village may not  be unfamiliar with these little cute cherries that hang beautifully in a tree. Though native in latin America, these trees were widely grown as  shady trees in Malaysian kampongs. They were called “Kampong Ceri” or Village Cherries.

Last week when I brought my kids for a stroll around my neighborhood, I was surprised to find this Muntingia tree that was surrounded by  factory buildings in a light industrial park (near Ubi Avenue 1). It immediately brought back lots of childhood memories when I was in Kuching. In the 1970’s, we lived in Sekama Road, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. There was a huge Muntingia tree at the road entrance to our house. I remembered we used to play under the trees after dinner or lunches as it is very shady. While playing, we would pick and eat the little red cherries that hung beautifully in the trees. It had a rather unique flavor of its own and is extremely sweet. We called the tree “Buah Ceri” tree (literally translated as “Cherry Tree”).

I have not seen these trees for at least 25 –30 years. I can still remember very clearly about the taste of the cherries and its hairy leaves. When I saw the trees, I immediately brought my kids to look for the ripe cherries under the trees and to my disappointment, I only managed to get three ripe cherries on the trees and another three that have fallen to the ground. Surprisingly, all the three ripe cherries that I pluck from the trees were found in branches that almost touched the ground and we have to squat down to pluck the cherries. I believed we are competing with the birds nearby for the cherries in the trees and the bird did not dare to fly too low to eat the cherries those giving us chances to pluck the cherries.



Scientific name: Muntingia calabura L. (Muntingiacea)
Family: Muntingiaceae
Common name(s): Jamaica Cherry, Strawberry Tree, Bajelly trees, Buah Ceri (Malaysia) or Kampong Ceri, Kersen (Indonesia),
Chinese name: 南美假櫻桃, 麗李, 文定果

Muntingia is a fast grower and produces an abundance of small red fruit with a sweet and unique flavor. It is a small tree 7–12 meters tall with tiered and slightly drooping branches and has serrated leaves 2.5–15 cm long and 1–6.5 cm wide.


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The flowers are small, white and resemble strawberry flowers and the fruit (about 1-1.5cm) resembles little red cherries, hence its common names, Strawberry Tree and Jamaican Cherry.



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The fruits are edible, sweet and juicy and contains a large number of tiny (0.5 mm) yellow seeds. It fruits nearly all year long and the green immature fruit ripens quickly, changing to a solid red color within a day.   The cherries are very sweet and taste similar to cotton candy. They also taste like strawberries that are very ripe.


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  • The fruits can be eaten raw, directly pluck from the trees or processed into jams (for tarts) and the leaves can be used for making tea.
  • The fruits are sold in Mexican markets. In Brazil, they are considered too small to be of commercial value but it is recommended that the tree be planted on river banks so that the abundance of flowers and fruits falling into the water will serve as bait, attracting fish for the benefit of fishermen. In Malaya, the tree is considered a nuisance in the home garden because fruit-bats consume the fruits and then spend the day under the eaves of houses and disfigure the porch and terrace with their pink, seedy droppings.
  • In nations where the climate is inhospitable to the Muntingia, these cherries are considered luxury imported items and sold at a premium.
  • Scientific researches have shown that fruits extracts of Muntingia posses anti-oxidant activity and anti inflammatory activities. These scientific results have provide an affirmative piece of evidence with regards to the therapeutic uses of Muntingia fruits in folk medicine.



Buah Ceri trees is a tree that brought fond memories of my childhood. We used to pay under it, we climb up the trees, we fight for the cherries, and we just eat out of hands immediately after plucking. It had been looked down as compared with other fruit trees as it can survive in a very poor habitat and can produce fruits in abundance. Not many people will appreciate these wild fruits and not many people would have noticed such a tree around your neighborhood. In a city life, I wonder how many kids dare to eat the fresh fruits directly pluck from a road side tree…..How can a “fake” cherries compared to the “true cherries” that were sold in the supermarkets..

Hope this post will give reader some additional information on this plant and appreciate its presence in this concrete world!

Happy Reading!



5 thoughts on “Cherries in a Tree? Strawberry Tree? Have I Heard It Wrongly?

  1. Your article brought me fond memories of my childhood days too. Wonder where else these ‘cherry trees’ be found?

  2. Wah! Cool post! I hope you do write more in this series! Love to rediscover trees that used to be so prolific!! So much history and memories! 🙂

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