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Contributor Francis T. Zee, USDA-ARS, National Clonal Germplasm Repository, Hilo, HI.

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

  1. Common Names
  2. Scientific Names
  3. Uses
  4. Origin
  5. Crop Status
  6. Composition
  7. Botany
    1. Taxonomy
    2. Fruit Morphology
  8. Crop Culture (Agronomy/Horticulture)
    1. Ecology
    2. Cultivars
    3. Production Practices
    4. Rootstock
    5. Propagation
    6. Management
    7. Harvesting
    8. Postharvest Storage
  9. Germplasm
    1. Collections
  10. Key References
  11. Selected Experts

Common Names

English: rambutan
Thai: ngoh, phruan
Malaysian Aborigine: nert, gente
Indonesia and Malaysia: rambutan
Cambodia: saaw maaw
Vietnam: chom chom, vai tieu
Chinese (Cantonese): hooun mo daon; (putonghua): shau tsz

Scientific Names

Species: Nephelium lappaceum L. var. lappaceum
Family: Sapindaceae (Soapberry)


Cultivated primaily for its fresh fruit, but also canned in syrup, cooked for stewed fruit and jams. The colorful fruits are frequently used in displays with flower and fruit arrangements. The pericarp of rambutan contains tannin and saponin and is dried and used medicinally in Java. In Malaysia, the roots are used in a decoction for treating fever; the leaves for poulticing and the bark for an astringent for tongue diseases. Young shoots are used to produce a green color on silk that is first dyed yellow with turmeric. The fruit dye is one of the ingredients to dye silk a black color. The seeds are edible when roasted, they are bitter and said to be narcotic. A tallow similar to cacao butter, with a high level of arachidic acid, can be rendered from the seeds. The rambutan tallow is edible and can be used to make soap and candles. The reddish colored rambutan wood is fairly hard and heavy, and reputed to be resistant to insects but not to fungi, however, trees are usually too small to be valued as timber.


Tropical Old World: probably Malaysia and Indonesia, it is distributed throughout southern China (Yunnan and Hainan), Indo-Chinese region, Malay Archipelago and the Philippines.

Crop Status

A perennial tree cultivated extensively in S.E. Asia for its edible fruits. The approximate areas under cultivation in 1987/88 were reported to be 71,150 hectares in Thailand (448,500 tonnes); 43,000 plus hectares in Indonesia (199,200 tonnes); 20,000 hectares in Malaysia (57,000 tonnes) and 500 hectares in the Philippines. Rambutan is available from February through September, with peak periods between May and August in the northern hemisphere. Thailand exports fresh and canned rambutan to Asian and European countries. In 1983, fresh rambutan exported from Thailand was valued at about US$179,000 as compared to US$2,430,000 for canned rambutan.
Rambutan production is expanding in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Philippines and Hawaii. In Thailand, due to over production and low prices, many rambutan farms are being replaced by durian, Durio zibethinus J. plantings.


A 100 g sample of rambutan flesh is composed of 82.1% water, 0.9% protein, 0.3% fat, 0.3% ash, 2.8 g glucose, 3.0 g fructose, 9.9 g sucrose, no starch, 2.8 g dietary fiber, 0.05% malic acid, 0.31% citric acid, 0.5 mg of niacin, 15 mg of calcium, 0.1 to 2.5 mg of iron, 70 mg of vitamin C, 0.01 mg of thiamine, 0.07 mg of riboflavin, 140 mg of potassium, 2 mg sodium and 10 mg of magnesium. Seeds of rambutan are said to be bitter, narcotic and may be poisonous due to the presence of a saponin. A white edible fat comprises about 37% of the seeds dry weight, which is composed of the fatty acids of arachidic (34.7%), oleic (45.3%), stearic (13.8%), ericosenoic (4.2%) and palmitic (2%). Fully saturated glycerides are about 1.4%.



N. glabrum Cambess., N. chryseum Blume, N. sufferrugineum Radlk. are synonyms to Nephelium lappaceum var. lappaceum. Two botanical varieties of N. lappaceum are identified, they are pallens (Hiern) Leenh, and xanthioides (Radlk.) Leenh. Rambutan is the tropical relative of lychee Litchi chinensis Sonn.

Fruit Morphology

The term rambutan is derived from the Malay word "hair", which describes the numerous, characterizing, long, soft, red or red and green colored spine-like protuberances (spinterns) on the surface of the peel. The pericarp of this attractive oval-shaped fruit can be red, orange, pink, or yellow in color and is removable by a twist of the hands. The edible, pearlish white, juicy, crispy, sweet and subacid flavored flesh (sarcotesta) conceals a single seed with a thin, fibrous seed coat (testa).

Crop Culture (Agronomy/Horticulture)


Rambutan is a tropical fruit tree best grown in the temperature range between 22C to 35C, with 2000 to 3000 mm of well distributed rainfall. It is intolerant to frost, especially during the juvenile stage. Mature trees may survive a brief period of temperatures as low as 4C but with severe defoliation. It prefers clay loam soil, pH 5 to 6.5, but can be grown in a wide range of soil types, even ones with poor drainage, but not water-logged. Flower induction is independent from photo period, but can be induced by water stress. Low relative humidity and wind during fruiting could cause excessive moisture loss from fruit spinterns and result in poor fruit appearance.


Many cultivars are present in the ASEAN region (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam), the principle commercial cultivars are: 'Lebakbulus', 'Binjai', 'Simacan', and 'Rapiah' from Indonesia; 'R134', 'Gula Batu'(R3), 'Muar Gading'(R156), 'Khaw Tow Bak'(R160), 'Lee Long' (R161), and 'Daun Hijau'(R162) from Malaysia; 'Deli Cheng' and 'Jitlee' from Singapore; 'Seematjan', 'Seenjonja', and 'Mahalika' from the Philippines, and 'Rongrien', 'Seechompoo', and 'Bangyeekhan' from Thailand. Other less popular varieties in Thailand are 'Seetong', 'Namtangruad', and 'Jemong'.

Production Practices

Rambutan trees prefer deep, loamy, well drained soil with a high organic content. Trees should be planted at distances of 10 to 13 meters, with sufficient wind protection. Clonal varieties are best propagated by bud grafting onto seedling rootstocks.


Rambutan seeds are recalcitrant and short-lived, it should be sown directly after they are extracted and washed. An effective way to remove flesh that clings tightly to the seeds is by enzyme digestion using a commercially available, non-toxic food grade fungal pectinase enzyme derived from the fungus Aspergillus niger. Add approximately 20 ml enzyme solution into 5 gallons of shelled fruits in water, and let the mixture sit overnight (12 hrs) at room temperature (21-25C). The seeds should then be rinsed in fresh water before planting or packaging for shipment. At the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, USDA/ARS, in Hilo, Hawaii, rambutan seedlings grew best in full sun, protected from wind, in a 1:1:1 medium of soil, macadamia compost, and volcanic cinder, and fertilized with a high potassium (10-2-33 NPK) fertilizer. Seedlings fertilized with low potash formulation (16-7-13) produced severe marginal necrosis of leaves, stunted growth, and die-back of apical growth. Potassium sulfate is preferred over potassium chloride since rambutan is sensitive to chlorine, especially in cool weather.


Well-grown rootstocks are bud grafted at 8 to 12 months. Dormant buds with well-healed petiole scars from one to two year old branches, averaged 80% success between May and October. Rootstock should be cut back 25 cm above the bud union and all foliage removed at two weeks after budding. This cutting back and defoliation promotes bud break of the new graft 14 to 17 days later. Marcotting produced well rooted propagules, but survival rate was poor. Approach grafting is highly successful, but it is more labor intensive.


Rambutan trees exhibit strong apical dominance and have a tendency to produce long, upright growth. Early pruning and training to form an open center tree is recommended. After harvesting, fruited twigs are pruned back to stimulate new growth of up to 4 new side shoots, of which 22% of the shoots will bear fruit in the following season. Dead branches and water suckers should be removed regularly.
Mulching is essential during establishment and dry periods. No mulching should be applied prior to flowering. For growing trees, a fertilizer rate of 200 g nitrogen, 25 g of phosphate and 100 g potassium per tree per year of age is recommended. For the first 4 years, the fertilizers should be applied in 4 equal dressings, every 3 months. For fruiting trees, 200 g N, 25 g P and 130 g K per tree per year of age is recommended. Maximum fertilizer rate is reached at 12 years, and should remain constant thereafter. For fruiting trees, one-fourth of the yearly fertilizer should be applied 4 weeks after fruit set; half the amount should be applied immediately after harvest, and the remaining one-fourth at 9 weeks after harvesting. Additionally, 0.4 kg of dolomite per tree per year of age, maximum at 10 years and constant after, is applied during slow growing months. At any stage, do not use glyphosate herbicide near the drip line of rambutan, it could cause a severe yellowing and abscission of the lower leaves.


Rambutan requires approximately 107 to 111 days from fruit set to harvest, with the greatest increase in fruit weight during the later stage of growth. In 'Seechompoo', coloring occurs on rind and spinterns about 12 weeks after fruit set, total soluble solids increase from 16% at 10 days after color break to 21% at 31 days, while titratable acids fell from 0.26% to 0.16%. The harvesting time of rambutan is based on pericarp color and by counting the number of days from fruit set or from color break. Rambutan fruit has the best rind and spintern appearance and color if harvested 16 to 28 days after color break. However, fruits are frequently harvested as early as 10 days after color break to capture the higher market price. The early fruits lack the sweetness and quality of the mature fruit. The general harvesting schedule for rambutan in Thailand is between 90 to 120 days after full bloom; in Malaysia 100 to 130 days, and in Indonesia 90 to 100 days. In some varieties, it may take over 30 days between the first and the last fruit to mature, so harvesting involves several pickings. Fruits harvested 28 days after color break are considered over-mature, they usually have a darker color, lower sugar and acid content, flat flavor and are puffier to the touch. The flesh of over-ripe fruits are drier and firmer than the normal fruits, and has a more cloudy appearance. Rambutan is harvested in clusters and are marketed as loose fruits or in fruit bouquets. The bouquets are highly decorative and are frequently used in floral arrangements. Rambutan bouquets are made by arranging and tying clusters of fruits together along a stalk, usually in units of a kilogram or by counts of 20, 50 and 100 fruits.

Postharvest Storage

Rambutan is non-climacteric, the postharvest ethylene production and high respiration rate are results of fruit deterioration associated with moisture loss. A rambutan fruit contains about 400 spinterns on the pericarp, each with many stomata. The large fruit surface area is the major cause of moisture loss during storage. Rambutan stored at ambient temperature for 5 to 8 days could lose 19 to 25% of its weight, mostly as dehydration from the peel and spinterns. The drying causes a darkening of the peel and the soft hairs, which gives the fruit an awful appearance. The same fruits, however, are totally edible, there is little deterioration in fruit qualities in the form of flesh weight, flavor and total soluble solids. The browning and weight loss of rambutan can be reduced by using low temperature storage and moisture retentive materials. The recommended storage for rambutan is 10C and in sealed plastic bags. The combination of low temperature and the self-generated carbon dioxide level of 7.5 to 9.2% in a sealed plastic bag keeps rambutan fruit marketable for 12 days. Rambutan fruit stored at a low temperature acquires a firmer texture and more translucent appearance. Sucrose content was reported to increase from 51 mg/g at harvest to 76 mg/g after storage at 12C for 6 to 11 days. Storage temperatures lower than 7C caused chilling injuries to the peel and spinterns.



Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, MARDI, G.P.O. Box 12301, Kuala Lumpur, 50774 Malaysia
Chanthaburi Horticultural Research Center, Amphur Kloong, Chanthaburi, Thailand
USDA/ARS, National Clonal Germplasm Repository, P.O. Box 4487, Hilo, Hawaii 96720, U.S.A.

Key References

Selected Experts

Hiran Hiranpradit, Chantaburi Hort. Res. Center, Amphur Kloong, Chantaburi, Thailand.

Francis Zee, USDA/ARS, National Clonal Germplasm Repository, Hilo, HI. P.O. Box 4487, Hilo, HI 96720. Tel: 808-959-5833; Fax: 808-959-3539; E-mail: hilofz@ars-grin.gov

[Contributor: Francis T. Zee, USDA-ARS, National Clonal Germplasm Repository, Hilo, HI.]
Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

Last update Tuesday, February 24, 1998 by aw