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Manilkara bidentata - (A.DC.) A.Chev.

Common Name Balata, bulletwood, bully tree
Family Sapotaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Moist coastal and limestone forests to lower mountain forests at elevations from near sea level up to 600 metres[379 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas; C. America - Panama; Caribbean.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Manilkara bidentata Balata, bulletwood, bully tree

Manilkara bidentata Balata, bulletwood, bully tree
© Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


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A native to northern South America, Central America, and the Carribean is a large tree of up to 45 m tall known as Balata or Manilkara bidentata. The bole can be up to 2 m in diameter and branchless for up to 18 m. It has broad and rounded buttresses at the base. Balata has a dense crown of horizontal branches. Its leaves are shiny green above and light brown underneath, alternate, elliptical, and 10-20 cm long. Flowering occurs at the beginning of the rainy season. The flowers are small and white or yellow. The fruits are edible yellow berries containing one or two seeds. The leaves are used in the treatment of limb paralysis. The stem yields latex known as balata gum which is used in the treatment of dysentery. It also has a wide range of uses such as for the core of golf ball, filling material inside tooth fillings, ‘mourning’ jewelry, etc. The wood is used as construction material and for making furniture. It is extremely hard, heavy, tough, and strong. It is highly resistant to fungi, dry borers, and termites, but is susceptible to marine borers. Balata tree is slow growing and highly tolerant to strong winds.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Manilkara bidentata is an evergreen Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 25 m (82ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Achras nitida Sessé & Moc. Kaukenia globosa (C.F.Gaertn.) Kuntze Kaukenia surinamensis (Miq.) Kuntze

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Sap
Edible Uses: Gum  Milk

Fruit - raw[379 ]. The globose berries about 25mm in diameter, and usually contain a single, shiny, black seed, surrounded by a sweet, gummy pulp[379 ]. Although no specific information has been seen for this species, the sap from some of the other species within the genus can be used as a substitute for cow's milk[379 ]. The latex has the consistency and taste of cream, but overindulgence in it can result in severe constipation[379 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Dysentery  Emetic

A latex obtained from the stems is used as an effective cure for dysentery[348 ]. The bark is emetic. A decoction of the bark, combined with the barks of Hymenaea sp. and Humiria sp., is used as an effective cure for dysentery[348 ]. The leaves are used for treating paralysis of the limbs[739 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Furniture  Gum  Latex  Wood

Other Uses The tree is tapped for its milky latex, the source of balata gum - a non-elastic rubber which is similar to gutta-percha[362 , 379 ]. In some areas, trees have yielded sap for more than 25 years[379 ]. The latex is coagulated by fire or dried in the sun, and souvenirs or novelties are then fabricated from it[379 ]. Gutta-percha is a natural latex obtained from the sap of the tree. Allowing this fluid to evaporate and coagulate in the sun produces a hard and durable latex which can be made flexible again with hot water, but which does not become brittle. Prior to the advent of synthetic materials, gutta-percha had a wide range of uses - most particularly as an insulating material for electricity wiring and for underwater telegraph wires, a purpose for which it is very well suited since it is bio-inert and so is not attacked by marine plants or animals. Gutta-percha can be moulded into any shape and has been used to make items such as ornate furniture, pistol grips, acid-resistant receptacles and ‘mourning’ jewellery, where its dark colour was an advantage. It has been widely used as the core of golf balls and is still used in modern dentistry where its bio-inertness makes it ideal as a temporary filling for teeth and as a filling material inside tooth fillings[46 , 418 ]. The heartwood is light red when cut and turns to dark reddish brown with purplish shades when dry; it is distinct, but not sharply demarcated from the 4 - 6cm wide band of whitish to pale brown sapwood. It is finely and uniformly textured; usually straight-grained, though sometimes interlocked; sometimes with a characteristic odour when fresh, though this disappears upon drying. The wood is very hard, very heavy, tough, strong, elastic; very durable, even in contact with the soil, being very resistant to fungi, dry wood borers and termites, but susceptible to marine borers. It seasons slowly, with a high risk of checking and distortion; once dry it is poorly stable in service. The wood has a fairly high blunting effect, stellite-tipped and tungsten carbide tools are recommended; it rates excellent for boring, fair for planing, and poor for turning; it finishes very well; nailing and screwing are good, but require pre-boring; gluing is correct for internal purposes only, and needs to be done with care because of the density of the wood. A strong and attractive wood that resembles mahogany, it is highly valued commercially and is widely used in the tropics for railway sleepers, bridging, heavy construction, furniture, turnery, flooring, violin bows, and billiard cues. Its strength, high wear resistance, and durability qualify the timber for use in textile and pulp mill equipment. Its excellent steam-bending properties make it suitable for boat frames and other bent work[378 , 379 , 848 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Hydrocarbon  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

A plant of lowland moist to wet areas in the tropics and subtropics[379 ]. It grows best in areas where the mean annual rainfall ranges from 1,500 - 4,000mm, though it has been grown in areas with up to 7,000mm[379 ]. It prefers a mean annual temperature within the range 16 - 31°c[379 ]. It is not tolerant of frost[379 ]. Although it grows faster in a sunny position, the plant is extremely tolerant of shade[379 ]. The plant is not exacting as to soil type, though it seems to dislike pure sands and to prefer moist but well-drained conditions[378 ]. Trees are very wind tolerant[379 ]. The trees grow slowly - 5 year old trees in the wild are around 4.5 metres tall[379 ]. Good flowering and fruiting years are usually every 3 - 4 years[379 ]. Except when very young, the tree cannot be coppiced[379 ]. Young plants quickly develop a tap root. Mature trees have a strong, moderately deep root system and are wind firm[379 ]. The tree grows best in Puerto Rico on alluvial plain where it may reach the age of 400 years[317 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Hydrocarbon  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, rubber, biomass products gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, butane, propane, biogas. Plants are usually resprouting plants and saps.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - it has a very short viability and is best sown as soon as it is ripe. Germination rates can be as low as 10%, though when sown immediately up to 60% have germinated[379 ]. Germination is slow and irregular over a long period, with some seed germinating in the second year[379 ]. The seeds should be sown in moist leaves because they are not capable of emerging from the soil[379 ]. 'Limited success' has been achieved with bare root plantings after I year in the nursery, but if seedling are left too long in the beds, the taproot proves to b a problem[379 ]. Seedlings in the wild are capable of growing under heavy shade and in herbaceous cover. Average height at the end of the first year is 12 cm, and after 5 years about 4.5 metres[379 ]. Artificial regeneration is best attained by direct sowing of fruits or transplanting of potted seedlings Ausubo In experimental work at the Institute of Tropical Forestry, seeds were sown in nursery beds in the su and under shaded conditions. After 10 months, those in the sun were twice as tall as the shade specimens. Direct out-planting of potted seedling under heavy shade in the limestone forest on the north coast showed survival rates greater than 9 percent after 10 months. The seedlings, however were sensitive to drought. Most had wilted and yellowed after a prolonged period without rain.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

balata - Spanish (Caribbean), bulletwood - Spanish (Caribbean), bullytree - Spanish (Caribbean), balata - Swedish. Nispero, Nispero de montana, Balata, venezuelan chicle.

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Guyana; Puerto Rico; Trinidad and Tobago; French Guiana; Suriname; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Colombia; Ecuador; Peru; Panama; Bolivia, Plurinational State of; Dominican Republic; Brazil; Guadeloupe; Martinique, Antilles, Barbados, Brazil, Central America, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Guiana, Guyana, Haiti, Mexico, North America, Panama, Peru, South America, St Lucia, Suriname, Tobago, Venezuela, West Indies,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Manilkara discolorRed milkwood, Silvery milkwoodTree20.0 10-12 MLMHSNDM402
Manilkara huberiCow Tree, Massaranduba. Black balataTree40.0 10-12 MLMHNM303
Manilkara zapotaSapodilla, NisperoTree25.0 10-12 SLMHNDM524

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(A.DC.) A.Chev.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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