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Four Images of Momordica balsamina "Balsam Pear" - Macro Photos 1 of 4 - The Mature Seeds After Fruit Erupts | by emblatame (Ron)
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Four Images of Momordica balsamina "Balsam Pear" - Macro Photos 1 of 4 - The Mature Seeds After Fruit Erupts

This is a climber with bright green leaves that bears striking orange to red spindle shaped ripe fruit. It is a member of the pumpkin family: (Cucurbitaceae). It is the first time I have seen the plant, so it was of some interest to me. These photos were taken in a whole wild growth of many species along a path at Centenary Lakes in Cairns. The plant likes warmer/tropical areas. I saw a map of distribution and it was marked as growing in all the Gulf States of the USA except Mississippi. (


The Balsam Apple, is a curious, tendril-bearing annual vine native to the tropical regions of Africa, introduced and invasive in Asia, Australia, and Central America. Although the pale yellow, deeply veined flowers of the Balsam Apple have a subtle beauty, its round, somewhat warty, bright orange fruits, or "Apples", are its most distinguishing feature. When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with a brilliant scarlet, extremely sticky coating. The Balsam Apple was introduced into Europe by 1568 and was used medicinally to treat wounds. In 1810 Thomas Jefferson planted this vine in his flower borders at Monticello along with larkspur, poppies, and nutmeg Plant. (Wikipedia)


Flowers are solitary, male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious). The balsam pear flowers and fruits throughout the year, but mainly from October to May (Nth Hemisphere). Fruit spindle shaped, dark green with 9 or 10 regular or irregular rows of cream or yellowish short blunt spines, ripening through yellow to bright orange or red, 25-60 mm long, opening automatically more or less irregularly into three valves that curl back (also opens when the tip is touched).


Uses and cultural aspects

The leaves and green fruit are cooked and eaten as spinach, sometimes with groundnuts, or simply mixed with porridge. The young leaves contain vitamin C. The raw ripe fruits are also eaten.

According to Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), the plant contains a bitter principle momordicin. They report that 'overseas a liniment, made by infusing the fruit (minus the seed) in olive or almond oil, is used as an application to chapped hands, burns and haemorrhoids and the mashed fruit is used as a poultice'. This practice probably explains the species name balsamina . Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk also list many medicinal and other uses of M. balsamina in tropical Africa and elsewhere.

Hutchings et al. (1996) report that the Zulu use infusions of this plant for stomach and intestinal complaints. It is also used in a poultice for burns and is reputed to be used to treat diabetes. The Vhavenda take leaf infusions as anti-emetics. There are conflicting reports on the toxicity of the fruit, both green and ripe. The green fruit contains a resin, toxic alkaloids and a saponic glycoside that cause vomiting and diarrhoea; these substances are denatured in the cooking process. The fruit is suspected of poisoning dogs and pigs.

Roodt (1998) states that the medicinal action of the fruit results from the saponic glycosides present. She reports uses in the Okavango delta and elsewhere for abortion, boils, burns, chapped hands and feet, external sores, frostbite, haemorrhoids, headache, and as a purgative.

The leaf sap is said to be an effective metal cleaner. In the past, the green fruit had been used as an ingredient of arrow poison. In the Okavango delta, the fruit can be used in cursing one's enemy; his/her stomach will burst in the same way that the ripe fruit bursts open spontaneously! (


The Latin name of the Balsam-apple (Momordica charantia) refers to the bitten appearance of the uneven seeds and the pointed fruit. There are many closely related plants that add to naming confusion. One of these is a native to east India is known as Balsam Pear, Bitter Cucumber, or Bitter Melon. This plant is an article of food in the Orient, but is mainly grown as a curiosity in the U.S. It is popularly grown as a climbing annual with large ornamental fruit. Another species (M. balsamina) has fruit shaped like a bull's heart, with bright red fruit.


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Taken on July 20, 2008