Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Momordica balsamina
(common balsam apple)

Duenas-Lopez M A, 2019. Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple) [updated from Duenas-Lopez M A, 2019]. Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.34677.20203483171

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Datasheet

Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 06 August 2020
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Momordica balsamina
  • Preferred Common Name
  • common balsam apple
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Momordica balsamina is native to South Africa and tropical Africa, tropical Asia, Arabia, India and Australia. It is a trailing or climbing annual or perennial tendril-bearing herb. Introduced in parts of the Neotropics and North America...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Habit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Habit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Habit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
HabitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Habit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Developing Fruit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Developing Fruit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Developing Fruit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
FruitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Developing Fruit. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripening Fruits. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripening Fruits. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripening Fruits. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.
FruitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripening Fruits. Staffort, Germany. July 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripe fruit starting to split open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripe fruit starting to split open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripe fruit starting to split open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
FruitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Ripe fruit starting to split open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Fruit splitting open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Fruit splitting open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Fruit splitting open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
FruitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Fruit splitting open. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Split fruit with seeds. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
TitleFruit
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Split fruit with seeds. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Split fruit with seeds. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.
FruitMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Split fruit with seeds. Staffort, Germany. August 2009.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Female flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
TitleFemale flower
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Female flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
Copyright©Ton Rulkens/via Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Female flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
Female flowerMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Female flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.©Ton Rulkens/via Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Male flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
TitleMale flower
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Male flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
Copyright©Ton Rulkens/via Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Male flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.
Male flowerMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Male flower. Pemba, Mozambique. November 2010.©Ton Rulkens/via Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Flower (male?). Staffort, Germany. July 2011.
TitleFlower
CaptionMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Flower (male?). Staffort, Germany. July 2011.
Copyright©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0
Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Flower (male?). Staffort, Germany. July 2011.
FlowerMomordica balsamina (common balsam apple); Flower (male?). Staffort, Germany. July 2011.©H. Zell/via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Momordica balsamina L.

Preferred Common Name

  • common balsam apple

Other Scientific Names

  • Momordica involucrata E.Mey. ex Sond.
  • Momordica schinzii Cogn. ex Schinz

International Common Names

  • English: African cucumber; balsam apple; balsam pear; balsamina; southern balsam pear
  • Spanish: balsamina
  • French: concombre balsamite; courgette africaine; momordique commune; pomme de merveille margose

Local Common Names

  • Cuba: cundeamor
  • Germany: Balsamapfel; Gemeiner Balsamapfel; Gemeiner Balsamkuerbis; Wunderapfel
  • Italy: pomo balsamo
  • Mozambique: cacana
  • Nigeria: garafuni
  • Pakistan: jangli karela; keerelo-jangro
  • Portugal: balsâmina-de-purga
  • Saudi Arabia: mokah
  • South Africa: intshungu; intshungwana yehlathi ; mohodu; nkaka
  • Sweden: balsamgurka
  • USA: southern balsampear; wonder-apple

EPPO code

  • MOMBA (Momordica balsamina)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Momordica balsamina is native to South Africa and tropical Africa, tropical Asia, Arabia, India and Australia. It is a trailing or climbing annual or perennial tendril-bearing herb. Introduced in parts of the Neotropics and North America  and Pakistan, M. balsamina has been introduced intentionally, occurring in the wild as an escapee from cultivation. This species is used for medicinal purposes. M. balsamina is reported as an invasive species in India. It is very invasive in northern Australia, where it is found in highly disturbed habitats, outcompeting native vegetation. In Florida, gardeners have reported it as a noxious weed in gardens and allotments.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Violales
  •                         Family: Cucurbitaceae
  •                             Genus: Momordica
  •                                 Species: Momordica balsamina

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Momordica (gourd family, Cucurbitaceae) is an Old World genus comprising 59 species, the majority of which are perennial climbers (Schaefer and Renner, 2010) spread nearly worldwide. They are mostly tropical (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019) with  the majority of them in tropical Africa (Welman, 2004). Species of the genus are characterized by seeds that are always enveloped in a bright red pulp and male flowers are often subtended by prominent bracts (Welman, 2004). The Cucurbitaceae is one of the most economically important families of plants (Schaefer et al., 2009). Momordica (Cucurbitoideae) belongs to a South African clade (Schaefer et al., 2009, Schaefer and Renner, 2010). The genus name Momordica – from the Latin mordicus, biting – alludes to the sculptured seed surfaces and margins, giving a bitten appearance (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019). The specific epithet balsamina, from the Latin balsamum, refers to one of the medicinal uses of this plant (Welman, 2004).

Description

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The following description is based on Jeffrey (1967) and Jeffrey (1978). Stems prostrate or scandent, to 2·7 m, finely, rather sparsely crispate-pubescent, especially at nodes. Leaf-lamina 1–9 × 1·2–12 cm, broadly ovate to suborbicular in outline, deeply cordate, minutely punctate and laxly pubescent on veins beneath, very shortly sparsely setulose especially on veins above, deeply palmately 5–7-lobed, lobes sharply to obtusely 3–5-lobulate or sometimes merely sinuate-dentate, acute to rounded or subtruncate, apiculate. Petiole 0·3–6·1 cm. Tendrils simple. Flowers monoecious, solitary. Male flowers: peduncle 1·6–10·5 cm; bract 2-18 mm, broadly ovate to suborbicular, sessile, apiculate, pallid with dark green veins and tip; pedicel 2–5 mm. Receptacle-tube 2–4·5 mm, lobes 4–9 mm, ovate, broadly ovate or obovate, acute to rounded, bluntly acuminate or apiculate, blackish or green. Petals 1·0–1·9 cm, pale yellow, cream or white, green-veined, dark at the base, obovate-oblong, rounded or slightly retuse, apiculate. Female flowers: peduncle 2–5 mm; bract 1·5–5 mm, green; pedicel 0·4–2·7 cm; ovary 4–13 × 2–4 mm, ovoid, rostrate, sparsely tuberculate, puberulous; receptacle-tube 0·5–1 mm, lobes narrow, 1–5 mm; petals 0·5–1·3 cm. Fruit 2·5–6·2 × 1·8–2·8 cm, ovoid, rostrate, tuberculate, bright orange-red or red, dehiscent into 3 valves; fruit-stalk 0·6–2·0 cm long. Seeds 8·5–11·2 × 5–6·6 × 2–3 mm, enveloped in red foetid pulp, ovate in outline, more or less compressed, faces with slightly depressed centers and elevated sculptured edges; margins grooved.

Plant Type

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Annual
Broadleaved
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Vine / climber

Distribution

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Mormodica balsamina is native to Africa (Jeffrey, 1978) where it is widespread throughout the drier parts of South Africa and tropical Africa (Bosch, 2004), particularly in coastal areas, except the Western Cape (Welman, 2004); it is also present in Arabia, tropical Asia, India and Australia, but not on the Indian Ocean islands (Welman, 2004; Thakur et al., 2009; African Plant Database, 2020). M. balsamina has been introduced in parts of the Neotropics (Jeffrey, 1967; Hyde et al., 2019) and known to be naturalized in the USA (Holm et al., 1977; Randall, 2012) and Pakistan (Flora of Pakistan, 2019). In Australia, it is distributed in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland (Atlas of Living Australia, 2019). M. balsamina is considered alien in Western Australia (Western Australian Herbarium, 2020). There is conflicting information on the origin status of M. balsamina in Australia. It has been assigned native status in South Australia (Kellermann, 2013) and in some other parts of the Australian continent (Telford, 1982) but is also considered to be introduced, as no species of Momordica is indigenous to Australia (Lazarides et al., 1997; Bean, 2007). In Australia, M. balsamina is known only in disturbed habitats; it is very invasive, often smothering riparian shrubs, and has expanded its range over the past century (Bean, 2007). It has been cultivated in gardens in Europe since the 1800s (Welman, 2004).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

AngolaPresentNative
BeninPresentNative
BotswanaPresentNative
Burkina FasoPresentNative
CameroonPresentNative
ChadPresentIntroduced
EritreaPresentNative
EswatiniPresent, WidespreadNative
EthiopiaPresentNative
MaliPresentNative
MauritaniaPresentNative
MozambiquePresentNative
NamibiaPresentNativeCaprivi Strip
NigerPresentNative
NigeriaPresentNative
SenegalPresentNative
SomaliaPresentNative
South AfricaPresent, WidespreadNativeLimpopo, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape
SudanPresentNative
TanzaniaPresentNative
ZambiaPresentNative
ZimbabwePresentNative

Asia

ChinaPresentNative
-GuangdongPresentNative
IndiaPresentNativeInvasivenorthwestern Indo-Gangetic Plains
-GujaratPresentNative
-PunjabPresentNative
IndonesiaPresentNative
IsraelPresentNative
JordanPresentNative
NepalPresentNative
OmanPresentIntroduced
PakistanPresentIntroducedFairly common in Sind and Punjab
Saudi ArabiaPresentNative
YemenPresentNative

Europe

FrancePresentIntroduced
GermanyPresentIntroduced
SpainPresentIntroduced
SwedenPresentIntroduced

North America

Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced
CubaPresent, WidespreadIntroduced
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced
HaitiPresentIntroduced
JamaicaPresentIntroduced
MexicoPresentIntroducedBaja California
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced
United StatesPresentIntroduced
-AlabamaPresent, Few occurrencesIntroduced
-ConnecticutPresentIntroduced
-District of ColumbiaPresentIntroduced
-FloridaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced
-LouisianaPresentIntroduced
-MassachusettsPresentIntroduced
-New JerseyPresentIntroduced
-New MexicoPresentIntroduced
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced
-OklahomaPresentIntroduced
-TexasPresent, Few occurrencesIntroduced

Oceania

AustraliaPresentInvasiveReported to be invasive in northern Australia. Sources differ as to whether the species is native or introduced
-New South WalesPresent, WidespreadSources differ as to whether the species is native or introduced
-Northern TerritoryPresent, WidespreadSources differ as to whether the species is native or introduced
-QueenslandPresent, WidespreadSources differ as to whether the species is native or introduced
-Western AustraliaPresentSources differ as to whether the species is native or introduced

South America

BoliviaPresentIntroduced
ColombiaPresentIntroduced
PeruPresentIntroduced

History of Introduction and Spread

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Momordica balsamina is native and widespread in the drier parts of South Africa and tropical Africa (Jeffrey, 1967). It is mainly collected from the wild and occasionally cultivated (Von Müller, 2010). It is planted close to homesteads, often growing over fences and huts (Hutchinson and Dalziel, 1954; Bosch, 2004). M. balsamina is grown as a vegetable but is less important in this respect than M. charantia (Schaefer and Renner, 2010). It is cultivated mainly for medicinal purposes (Singh, 2017), this being the main reason for its introduction in tropical America, where it occurs in the wild, having escaped from cultivation (Bosch, 2004). M. balsamina along with M. charantia are spreading into the New World tropics by human mediation (Schaefer and Renner, 2010). It is possible that M. balsamina was introduced into America from Africa with the slave trade, as has been suggested was the case for M. charantia (CABI, 2020). It has been cultivated in gardens in Europe (Thakur et al., 2009) since the 1800s (Welman, 2004), but no further information on this is available. In 1956, M. balsamina was introduced into Chad, where its spread was recorded in 2012 as being limited to only a few locations (Brundu and Camarda, 2013). It is naturalized in Cuba where it is spreading (Oviedo et al., 2012).

Risk of Introduction

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Mormodica balsamina has been introduced and cultivated on a small scale in tropical areas as a vegetable but mainly as a traditional medicinal plant. It has escaped from cultivation and naturalized in some of the introduced areas. The likelihood of this species being introduced into new tropical countries is therefore high.

Habitat

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In tropical Africa, M. balsamina grows in drier regions (Hutchinson and Dalziel, 1954). It occurs in coastal bushland on sand (Jeffrey, 1967), in woodland, wooded grassland and riverine fringes (Jeffrey, 1978; Retief and Herman, 1997; Retief and Meyer, 2017; Hyde et al., 2019) and on river banks and in dry river beds (Bosch, 2004). In India, M. balsamina occurs naturally in forests in the rainy season (Thakur et al., 2009). It is also found in disturbed areas, hammocks, roadsides and fencerows (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Natural
LittoralCoastal areas Principal habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The chromosome number reported for M. balsamina is 2n = 22 (Bosch, 2004; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019). Its sporophytic count is 22 (Roy et al., 1966) and gametophytic count, 11 (Jha et al., 1989). Some partial DNA sequences have been determined for this species, as reported in the Genbank database (Atlas of Living Australia, 2019).

Reproductive Biology

The Momordica genus is monoecious (Schaefer and Renner, 2010). Male flowers are borne singly or in few-flowered umbels in leaf axils throughout the flowering season. Female flowers are produced towards the end of the season and always singly. In addition, the amount of oil in female flowers tends to be lower than that in male flowers (Vogel, 1990), and in some species, female flowers are entirely without reward (Schaefer and Renner, 2010). Male flowers in Momordica (except those of M. balsamina, M. charantia, and M. dioica) produce nectar, pollen and fatty oil while female flowers produce fatty oils only (Vogel, 1990). Pollination in Momordica is by entomophily (probably anthophorine bees, Apidae) (Schaefer and Renner, 2010).

Details of flowering biology are known only for the bitter gourd, M. charantia, which is an important crop species in parts of Asia and Africa. In this species, the first flowers appear 45–55 days after sowing and, under long-day conditions, male flowers bloom two weeks before the first female flowers; the female to male flower ratio is about 1 in 25, and flowering lasts about six months (Palada and Chang, 2003).

Physiology and Phenology

Mormodica balsamina is perennial and flowers between August and November in Pakistan (Flora of Pakistan, 2019), from May to September in the USA (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019), and from June to July in Australia (Western Australian Herbarium, 2020).

Associations

Mormodica balsamina is found associated with deciduous Acacia-wooded grasslands (Retief and Meyer, 2017).

Environmental Requirements

Mormodica balsamina is a plant of the tropics that can be grown in subtropical and warm temperate areas. In southern Africa, it grows from about sea level to an altitude of 1465 m, in dry to wet areas with annual rainfall of 200-1200 mm. M. balsamina appears to be frost hardy ((Bosch, 2004Welman, 2004). It grows in white, yellow, red and grey sandy soils, as well as loam, clay, alluvial, gravelly and calcareous soils (Welman, 2004) but mainly in sandy soils (Jeffrey, 1978; Bosch, 2004; Retief and Meyer, 2017; Singh, 2017). In its introduced range, M. balsamina can be found at elevations of up to 300 m in Pakistan (Flora of Pakistan, 2019), 600 m in Nepal (Press et al., 2000) and between 10–200 m in the USA (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Preferred > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
57 34

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall2001200mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Bimodal
Summer
Winter

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Dacus ciliatus Herbivore Fruits|pods not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Dacus ciliatus (Diptera, Tephritidae) is a serious pest of Cucurbitaceae including M. balsamina (EPPO, 2018). D. ciliatus is widespread in Africa and Asia (EPPO, 2018).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

The family Cucurbitaceae may be frequently adapted for transport by wind (Whitaker and Carter, 1954).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Fruits of M. balsamina are eaten by ants, probably by some mammals (though not recorded), and by humans (Welman, 2004), but dispersed mainly by birds (Whitaker and Carter, 1954).

Accidental Introduction

There is no evidence that the propagules of M. balsamina have any means of causing accidental introductions through contamination.

Intentional Introduction

M. balsamina has been introduced intentionally in various countries in tropical America where it occurs in the wild having escaped from cultivation (Bosch, 2004). This species is spreading exclusively by human mediation (Schaefer and Renner, 2010) for medicinal use (Singh, 2017).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Escape from confinement or garden escapeDeliberate Yes Bosch (2004)
Medicinal useDeliberate Yes Singh (2017)

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Positive

Environmental Impact

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Momordica balsamina is reported in India as an invasive species in the northwestern Indo-Gangetic Plains (Singh, 2017); it is considered to be very invasive in northern Australia in highly disturbed habitats, outcompeting native vegetation (Bean, 2007). Gardeners in Florida have reported it as a noxious weed in gardens and allotments (Dave's Garden, 2019).

Social Impact

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While the bitter young fruits of M. balsamina are reported as edible, ripe fruits cause vomiting and diarrhoea and can be poisonous; however, the bright red pulp is consumed in Namibia (Bharathi and John, 2013). According to Diaz (2016), the red seed covering or aril is edible, but the fruit and peeled seeds are poisonous; when ingested raw or cooked, a delayed muscarinic toxidrome is observed characterized by nausea, salivation, emesis, diarrhoea, and, less commonly, hypoglycaemia (Diaz, 2016). Consumption of the fruit is thought to have caused the deaths of pigs in Queensland in 1941 (Morton, 1967) and dogs (Steyn, 1934, Morton, 1967). 

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Fast growing
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - shading
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally

Uses

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Mormodica balsamina has been used for several hundred years as a food and a bitter flavouring, and for a wide range of medicinal and veterinary purposes in many countries (Bean, 2007) and as livestock fodder (Flora of Pakistan, 2019). Leaves and young fruits are eaten cooked as a leafy vegetable in Cameroon, Sudan and southern Africa, and contain high levels of ascorbic acid and minerals with a high antioxidant activity. They are often mixed with groundnut meal or added to porridge (Welman, 2004Behera et al., 2011). The use of M. balsamina as a leafy vegetable is being promoted in poor rural communities as a protein supplement for cereal-based diets (Thakur et al., 2009). Leaves and stems have been used to feed camels, goats and sheep but horses avoid it (Bosch, 2004; Flora of Pakistan, 2019).

M. balsamina is closely related to M. charantia, which shows various medicinal properties. The leaves, fruits, seeds and bark of M. balsamina contain resins, alkaloids (momordin II, rosmarinic acid), flavonoids, glycosides, steroids, terpenes, cardiac glycosides and saponins which have shown antiviral, anti-inflammatory, shigellocidal, anti-diarrhoeal, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties (Bosch, 2004; Behera et al., 2011; Pofu and Mashela, 2013). M. balsamina is commonly used as an anthelminthic, and in the treatment of fever, uterine bleeding, syphilis, rheumatism, hepatitis, skin disorders, and stomach and intestinal complaints. Other uses include as an abortifacient (Roodt, 1998), a lactogenic food source (Bharathi and John, 2013) and in the treatment and prevention of hypertension and diabetes mellitus (Makuse and Mbhenyane, 2012). Stem bark extracts have been shown to exhibit hypoglycaemic properties in rats (Geidam et al., 2007). The fruit pulp of M. balsamina has been used as an antiviral agent for poultry and even to treat human AIDS in Nigeria (Behera et al., 2011). In vitro studies using human blood cells showed M. balsamina aqueous fruit pulp extracts have anti-HIV properties (Bot et al., 2007); CD4+ lymphocytes counts significantly increased compared to untreated peripheral blood mononuclear cells indicating the ameliorative role of pulp extracts. Momordin from the fruit pulp extract of M. balsamina is capable of inhibiting the growth of HIV and other viruses (Thakur et al., 2009). The leaf and fruit extracts of M. balsamina also show antiplasmodial activity and are used against malaria in African traditional medicine (Thakur et al., 2009). 

The leaf sap of M. balsamina is apparently a useful metal cleaner and has been used as a soap. In the past, the whole plant has been used as an ingredient in arrow poison with Strophanthus (Bosch, 2004).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed

Environmental

  • Amenity

Human food and beverage

  • Fruits
  • Vegetable

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore
  • Veterinary

Ornamental

  • garden plant

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Mormodica balsamina can easily be mistaken for M. charantia. They can be distinguished, however, by the fact that M. balsamina has bracts towards the top of the flower stalks; its fruits do not split open at maturity (CABI, 2020), and the fruit size is 2.5–4(–7) cm (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

No specific methods of control are known for M. balsamina. The methods of control described for M. charantia should be applied (CABI, 2020).

References

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Distribution References

Atlas of Living Australia, 2019. Atlas of Living Australia. In: Atlas of Living Australia. Canberra, ACT, Australia: GBIF. www.ala.org.au

Bean A R, 2007. A new system for determining which plant species are indigenous in Australia. Australian Systematic Botany. 20 (1), 1-43. http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/150.htm DOI:10.1071/SB06030

Brundu G, Camarda I, 2013. The flora of Chad: a checklist and brief analysis. PhytoKeys. 1-17. http://www.pensoft.net/journals/phytokeys/article/4752/the-flora-of-chad-a-checklist-and-brief-analysis

Dave's Garden, 2019. Dave's Garden. In: Dave's Garden. El Segundo, California, USA: Internet Brands. http://davesgarden.com

Encyclopedia of Life, 2019. Encyclopedia of Life. In: Encyclopedia of Life. http://www.eol.org

Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019. Flora of North America North of Mexico. In: Flora of North America North of Mexico. St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria. http://www.efloras.org/flora_page.aspx?flora_id=1

Flora of Pakistan, 2019. Flora of Pakistan/Pakistan Plant Database (PPD). Tropicos website. In: Flora of Pakistan/Pakistan Plant Database (PPD). Tropicos website. St. Louis, Missouri and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria. http://www.tropicos.org/Project/Pakistan

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Jeffrey C, 1978. Cucurbitaceae. In: Flora Zambesiaca, 4 [ed. by Launert E]. London, UK: Flora Zambesiaca Management Committee. 414-419.

Lazarides M, Cowley K, Hohnen P, 1997. CSIRO handbook of Australian weeds. Collingwood, Vic. Australia: CSIRO Publishing. vii + 264 pp.

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Contributors

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06/10/2019 Original text by:

Manuel Angel Duenas-Lopez, Consultant, UK

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Duenas-Lopez M A, 2019. Momordica balsamina (common balsam apple). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.34677.20203373916