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Vernicia montana - Lour.

Common Name Abrasin oil tree
Family Euphorbiaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The whole plant is poisonous. Animals, including cattle, horses and chicken that have eaten the leaves or seed cake show haemorrhagic diarrhoea accompanied by anorexia. In severe cases, they become emaciated and may die in 1 - 3 weeks[299 ]. The fruits are attractive in appearance and taste, but ingestion by humans of even a single seed causes severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea and general exhaustion after 3 - 5 hours[299 ].
Habitats Disturbed places and margins of evergreen forest, or in depleted forest along the road, in dry, sandy soils, at elevations up to 1,200 metres in Laos[443 ].
Range E. Asia - southern China, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Vernicia montana Abrasin oil tree

Tatiana Gerus from Brisbane, Australia flickr
Vernicia montana Abrasin oil tree
Tatiana Gerus from Brisbane, Australia flickr


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A plant species in the spurge family that is native to Southeast Asia, southern China, and Taiwan, Mu Oil Tree or Vernicia montana is a deciduous tree about 20 m in height. It has large leaves with three lobes. The trunk is straight and can be up to 25 cm in diameter. The flowers are white arranged in clusters. The fruit is a globular drupe, wrinkled, and green to yellow in color. Each fruit is consist of three seeds that are rich in oil. Said oil is used as wood varnish or finish. It is also used in the manufacture of paints and Chinese black ink, for waterproofing cloth and paper, caulking and painting ships, as a lamp oil, and for insulating electric wires. It can also be processed into soap or linoleum. Whole plant is poisonous hence no plant part is edible. Medicinally, the oil is used to treat skin diseases. The wood is only suitable for simple construction, core-stock for plywood, paper pulp, and for fuel. The tree is planted in some areas as an ornamental or shade tree.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Vernicia montana is an evergreen Tree growing to 12 m (39ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Bees, Butterflies. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Aleurites montanus (Lour.) E.H.Wilson Aleurites vernicius (Corr?a) Hassk Dryandra vernicia Corr?a El

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Oil
Edible Uses: Oil

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Parasiticide  Purgative  Skin

The oil is used to treat parasitic and other skin diseases and is a strong purgative[299 ]. It is a component of nearly all Chinese plasters[299 ]. The oil contains eleostearic acid, which is a virulent purgative when taken internally[299 ]. Other components of the fruits include tannins, phytosterols and a poisonous saponin[299 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Fertilizer  Fuel  Ink  Insulation  Lighting  Oil  Paint  Paper  Parasiticide  Tannin  Varnish  Waterproofing  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: Young trees are often intercropped with food crops such as maize, groundnut or soya bean in China. In Malawi intercropping with annuals or planting of cover crops is common. Prolonged intercropping with annual crops may cause damage to the shallow root system, but in China even mature trees are sometimes intercropped with winter crops[299 ]. Other Uses The seeds contain 14 - 20% of a quick-drying oil, called 'abrasin oil' or 'Chinese wood oil'[266 , 299 ]. (The original text was somewhat misleading, saying that the fruit contained 14 - 20% oil, which was found in the seed, which made up 33% of the fruit. This could easily mean that the seeds themselves contain 42 - 60% oil[K ].) Because of its similarity to 'tung oil' (from Vernicia fordii), the oils are often treated together as tung oil[299 ]. The oil is used traditionally in the manufacture of paints and Chinese black ink; for waterproofing cloth and paper; caulking and painting ships; and as a lamp oil[299 ]. It was also formerly used for insulating electric wires[299 ]. Currently, its main use is in the production of paints and inks, while low-quality oil is processed into soap or linoleum. Teak oil which is sold for maintaining fine furniture is usually refined tung oil[299 ]. Developments in environmental and health regulations have led to an increasing use of tung oil to line containers for food, beverages and medicines with an insulating coating[299 ]. The main fatty acid of the oil is alpha-eleostearic acid . In eleostearic acid, the 3 double bonds are conjugated making them highly reactive. Under the influence of light or catalysts such as sulphur and iodine, alpha-eleostearic acid converts to beta-eleostearic acid, which is even more reactive and spontaneously polymerizes into a solid mass.[299 ] The fatty acid composition of the oil is: _-eleostearic acid 75 - 80%, palmitic acid 4%, stearic acid about 1% and oleic acid 15%[299 ]. Traditionally, the fruits are collected when still green, placed in heaps and covered with straw or grass. The fruit pulp is allowed to rot until the seeds can be easily removed. The seeds are then crushed in a mill and roasted for a short time in shallow iron pans. The crushed mass is then thoroughly steamed and subsequently the fluid is pressed out of the cake yielding commercial wood oil[299 ]. In modern processing, hulling of fruits is done by hand or mechanically. The seeds are then dried and shelled mechanically, after which the kernels are ground with some shell added to facilitate oil extraction. Cold-expression is done in screw presses yielding a clear, light-coloured oil[299 ]. The cake may subsequently be warm-pressed or solvent-extracted to increase the yield, but the product is of lower quality[299 ]. The press cake, after extraction of the oil, is a good fertilizer, but it is poisonous and cannot be used as animal feed[299 ]. The wood is white, soft and perishable. It is only suitable for simple construction, core-stock for plywood, paper pulp[299 ]. The wood is used for fuel[299 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Medicinal  Industrial Crop: Oil  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

A plant of the subtropics and tropics, in tropical areas it is usually grown at elevations from 800 - 2,000 metres. It grows best in areas that are frost-free, with an average annual temperatures in the range 15 - 27°c; and where the mean annual rainfall is 850 - 2,000mm[299 ]. The plants requirement for low temperatures in order to initiate flowering is less than that of Vernicia fordii[299 ]. Prefers a slightly acid soil, tolerating a pH in the range 5.5 - 8[299 ]. Adequate soil fertility is needed for good production. It is often grown on slopes, but grows well on flat land provided it is well-drained[299 ]. Harvesting by manual collection of the fallen fruits is the most common method, but in China green fruits are also picked from the trees[299 ]. Careful selection of clones can extend the harvesting season. During the rainy season, fruits should be collected every 10 days, and during the dry season about once a month[299 ]. Average yields of seeds are 3.5 tonnes per hectare in China and 1.8 tonnes in Malawi. In Malawi annual yields of air-dry seed of the best clonal material gradually increase from 280 kg/ha in 3 - 6-year-old plantations to 2.200 kg/ha in 11 - 14-year-old plantations and 3,000 kg/ha in 20-years-old plantations; yields of plantations of unselected seedling material are about half these amounts[299 ]. Plantations with a close planting system reach maximum production at an earlier age, but the maximum yields are the same as those from trees that are more widely spaced[299 ]. Regular weeding around the plants is needed for ease of harvesting[299 ]. In hedgerow systems, pruning and training are recommended to obtain a frame of a few main branches and open crown[299 ]. There are two main forms of this species, recognized in Malawi as types A and B. Similar types are also recognized in Indonesia as the Indo-China type and the China type:- Type A is a fast-growing tree with a tall, straight trunk forming tiers of 5 spreading branches at regular intervals. Secondary branches form at relatively long intervals. The trees take 3 - 5 years to come into bearing[299 ]. Type B is more shrub-like. When the main stem has produced 1 or 2 tiers of branches, it loses its dominance. Secondary branches are formed at short intervals. The trees come into bearing after 3 years. Several high-yielding vigorously growing clones have been selected from this form[299 ]. This species can hybridize with Vernicia fordii in the wild[299 ]. Occasionally monoecious, but more normally a dioecious species, in which case both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required[299 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Medicinal  Most pharmaceuticals are synthesized from petroleum but 25% of modern medicines are based on plants.
  • Industrial Crop: Oil  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, biomass, glycerin, soaps, lubricants, paints, biodiesel. Oilseed crop types.
  • 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 - best sown as soon as it is ripe, when it will germinate quickly. Stored seed develops a hard seedcoat and may benefit from scarification before sowing in order to speed up germination. This can usually be done by pouring a small amount of nearly boiling water on the seeds (being careful not to cook them!) and then soaking them for 12 - 24 hours in warm water. By this time they should have imbibed moisture and swollen - if they have not, then carefully make a nick in the seedcoat (being careful not to damage the embryo) and soak for a further 12 hours before sowing. When the loop of the hypocotyl becomes visible above the ground, seedlings are transferred from the germination bed to the nursery. Seedlings are transplanted into the field when they are 1 year old[299 ]. In Malawi budding is done in the nursery. The simple shield method of budding at a height of 5 - 7.5 cm above the ground is commonly applied.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

abrasin, abrasin-oil-tree, arbre à l'huile de bois, cantonese wood-oil-tree, chinese tung-oil-tree, chinese wood-oil-tree, chinesischer tungölbaum, falso-castanheiro, mu you tong, mu-oil-tree, mu-yu, wood-oil-tree

China ; Myanmar; Thailand; Viet Nam

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
Vernicia fordiiTung Tree, Tung NutTree7.0 8-11 MLMHSDM134

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.


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Botanical References

Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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