Family : Malvaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to Borneo, Java, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra and Thailand where it grows in the pluvial primary forests, often along the water streams banks, up to about 1800 m of altitude.
The genus is honoured to the German botanist and pharmacologist Theodor Friedrich Ludwig Nees von Esenbeck (1787-1837); the specific name is the absolute superlative of the Latin adjective “altus, a, um” = high, with obvious reference.
Common names: ki bengang (Java); bengang, durian (Indonesia); apa-apa, bengang, bungal, dendulang, durian daun, durian tupai, punggai (Malaysia); duyin (Myanmar); si bengang (Sumatra); chang baek (Thailand).
The Neesia altissima (Blume) Blume (1835) is an evergreen tree that may exceed the height of 40 m, in the old specimens in nature, with erect trunk, of up to more than 1,2 m of diameter, with slightly grooved bark of greyish brown colour. The leaves, on a 10 cm long petiole, are alternate, simple, obovate-oblong with obtuse or retuse apex, entire margin and prominent pinnate veins, coriaceous, 25-30 cm long and 10 cm broad, of intense green colour above, green grey and pubescent below. The leaves in the initial phase of the growth are protected by two linear-lanceolate stipules, 2-4 cm long, deciduous. Corymbiform inflorescences at the axil of the fallen leaves bearing small flowers, of 1-1,5 cm of diameter, enclosed in bud by a deciduous epicalyx. Cup shaped calyx and corolla with 5 petals precociously deciduous, oblong with obtuse apex, white-pinkish, and several stamens merged at the base. The fruits are ovoid-pentagonal capsules with pointed apex, woody, externally covered by pyramidal tubercles of dark brown colour, 15-20 cm long and 10-15 cm broad, dehiscent at the apex in 5 valves, containing numerous black ellipsoid seeds with yellow aril; the inner walls are thickly covered by irritating hairs of orange colour.
It reproduces by seed in draining loam, fertile, maintained constantly humid at the temperature of 24-26 °C. Species rarely cultivated outside the origin zones that would deserve a better diffusion thanks to the ornamental foliage, suitable for parks and large gardens of the tropical and subtropical climate zones. It requires an exposition in full sun or sligthly shaded, in particular during the initial phase of growth, and soils kept almost constantly humid.The wood, commercially known as “durian”, light and easy to work, is utilized in the construction of the dwellings for the inner parts, not being too resistant to the atmospheric agents and to the xylophagous insects, for floors, frames and pannellings, is also employed in the realization of furniture, musical instruments, handicrafts of common use and in the fabrication of the plywood.
The fruits are locally utilized in the traditional medicine as diuretics and, together with the leaves, in treating the gonorrhea.
Synonyms: Esenbeckia altissima Blume (1825).