Characteristics of Pongam Oiltree (Millettia pinnata) in the Wild

Millettia pinnata
Pongam oiltree or Indian beech is a tree species in the family Fabaceae, native to tropical eastern Asia, from India to Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, then north and northeast Australia, and several other Pacific islands.

This tree has been distributed widely throughout the world, including in humid and subtropical climates.

Pongam oiltree can grow in the lowlands to the highlands. It is often found growing at altitudes ranging from 300-1,200 m above sea level in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Pongam oiltree is a strong tree, it can live in various types of soil, ranging from sandy, calcareous, to rocky soils. It is also tolerant of cold and hot temperatures. In some subtropical regions, the Pongam oiltree can withstand temperatures slightly below 0 °C, while in hot tropical regions it can survive temperatures of 47 °C.

Due to its toughness, this tree is very suitable to be planted in tropical regions that have intense heat with full sun.

Its large and long roots can enter the ground to search for water sources up to tens of meters, which is what makes Pongam Oiltree able to survive in dry areas that have extremely hot temperatures.


Characteristics of Pongam Oiltree Leaf

Millettia pinnata Leaf
Source : M Ralley

The leaves are oval or ovate and shiny.


Characteristics of Pongam Oiltree Flower

Millettia pinnata Flower
Source : Khare

The flowers are fragrant, small, clustered, white, purple, pink, and 15-20 mm long. Pongam oiltree can flower after it reaches 4 years or more.


Characteristics of Pongam Oiltree Fruit

Millettia pinnata Fruit
Source : Coast Regional Botanic Gardens

The fruit appears on trees 5-6 years old. The fruit is a pod containing brown seeds, thick skin, smooth, slightly flattened and elliptical.

Inside the pods, 1-2 seeds are brownish red like nuts. The seeds are about 1.5-2.5 cm long with fine hairs that are brittle, oily, and are not favored by herbivores.


Characteristics of Pongam Oiltree

Millettia pinnata Tree
Source : B. Friday

Pongam oiltree can grow to 20 meters tall with a thick and wide canopy. The main stem can be up to 80 cm in diameter with a blackish gray, vertically cracked, and rough skin.


Pongam oiltree is often planted for landscape purposes, windbreak trees, or for shade because of its wide, dense canopy.

The sap has historically been used to treat wounds caused by poisonous fish.

The quality of the wood is not good, and can only be used for firewood and charcoal.

The oil that is extracted from the seeds of the fruit is known as Pongamia oil. It is the single most important asset of Pongam oiltree and has been used as a patch lamp oil, soap-making ingredient, and as a lubricant for thousands of years.

The fruit and seeds are used in many traditional medicines.


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