Tree sorrel

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Averrhoa bilimbi
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Averrhoa bilimbi dsc03692.jpg
Plant Info
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Scientific classification
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Kingdom: Plantae
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Division: Magnoliophyta
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Oxalidales
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Superfamily: {{{superfamilia}}}
Family: Oxalidaceae
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Genus: Averrhoa
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Species: A. bilimbi
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Binomial name
Averrhoa bilimbi
Trinomial name
Type Species

Averrhoa bilimbi, commonly known as bilimbi, bimbli, belimbing, blimbling, biling (and also bimbiri in Sinhala ), cucumber tree or tree sorrel is a close relative of the carambola, of genus Averrhoa, family Oxalidaceae.


Distribution and habitat

Originated seemingly from the Moluccas, the species is cultivated or found semi-wild throughout Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is common in other Southeast Asian countries. In India, where it is usually found in gardens, the bilimbi has gone wild in the warmest regions of the country.

Out of Asia, the tree is cultivated in Zanzibar. In 1793, the tree was introduced to Jamaica from Timor and after several years, was cultivated throughout Central and South America. Introduced to Queensland at the end of the 19th century, it has been commercialized in the region since then.

This is essentially tropical tree, less resistant to cold than the carambola, growing best in rich and well-drained soil (but also stand limestone and sand). It prefers evenly distributed rainfall over the year, but with a 2- to 3-month dry season. Therefore the species is not found, for example, in the wettest part of Malaysia. In Florida, where it is an occasional curiosity, the tree needs protections from wind and cold.

Tree description

The bilimbi tree is long-lived, reaches 5-10 m in height. Its trunk is short and quickly divides up into ramifications. Bilimbi leaves, 30-60 cm long, are alternate, imparipinnate and cluster at branch extremities. There are around 11 to 37 alternate or subopposite oblong leaflets. The leaves are quite similar to those of the Otaheite gooseberry.

Flower and fruit description

Its flowers, like its fruits, are found in hairy panicles that directly emerge from the trunk as well as from the oldest, most solid branches. The yellowish or purplish flowers are tiny, fragrant and have 5 petals.

The bilimbi fruit's form ranges from ellipsoid to almost cylindrical. Its length is 4-10 cm. The bilimbi is 5-sided, but in a less marked way than the carambola. At the stem's end, the fruit is capped with a star-shape calyx. If unripe, it is bright green and crispy. It turns yellowish as it ripens. The flesh is juicy, green and extremely acidic. The fruit's skin is glossy and very thin.

Bilimbi seeds are small (6 mm) and brown. Their form is disc-like and flattened.


Bilimbi does not seem to have varieties. However it has been reported to have a sweet variety in the Philippines.

Nutritional value for 100 g of edible portion

Culinary interest

Too sour to be eaten raw, the uncooked bilimbi is prepared as relish and served with rice and bean in Costa Rica. In the Far East, where the tree originates, it is sometimes added to curry. Bilimbi juice (with a pH of about 4.47) is made a cooling beverage. It can replace mango in making chutney. In Malaysia, it also is made into a jam, which is rather sweet.[1]

Besides, the fruit can be preserved, which reduces its acidity. The flowers are also sometimes preserved in sugar.

Medical interest

In the Philippines, the leaves serve as a paste on itches, swelling, rheumatism, mumps or skin eruptions. Elsewhere, they are used for bites of poisonous creatures. A leaf infusion is efficient against or as an after-birth tonic, while the flower infusion is used for thrush, cold, and cough. Malaysians use fermented or fresh bilimbi leaves to cure venereal diseases.

Other uses

In Malaysia, very acid bilimbis is used to clean the kris blade.


  1. [1]

External links

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