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Alstonia scholaris


Alstonia scholaris (L.) R. Br.

Family Name: Apocynaceae
Synonyms: Echites scholaris, Alstonia kurzii, Tabernaemontana alternifolia, Acokanthera scholaris, Echites pala
Common Name: Indian Pulai, White Cheesewood, Devil Tree, Blackboard Tree, Milkwood Pine, Dita Bark, Bitter Bark, 糖胶树, 黑板树


Family Name
Genus Epithet
Species Epithet
Name Authority
Name Status (botanical)
Common Names

Classifications and Characteristics

Plant Division Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants) (Dicotyledon)
Plant Growth Form Tree (Big (>30m), Medium (16m-30m))
Lifespan (in Singapore) Perennial
Mode of Nutrition Autotrophic
Plant Shape Tiered
Maximum Height 25 m to 40 m
Maximum Plant Spread / Crown Width 10 m
Tree or Palm – Trunk Diameter 1 m


Native Distribution Indian subcontinent, Southern China, Indochina, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Tropical Australia
Native Habitat Terrestrial (Primary Rainforest, Secondary Rainforest, Monsoon Forest)
Preferred Climate Zone Tropical, Sub-Tropical / Monsoonal

Description and Ethnobotany

Growth Form Medium to large tree, usually up to 20m tall and 10m wide in urban setting, reaching 50 (-60)m height in native habitat. Crown pagoda-shaped, tiered, denser and rounded when mature.
Trunk Bark pale brown, smooth - scaly, with large horizontal lenticels, peeling off in rectangular flakes. Inner bark cream, yellow or straw colored, with copious white sap. 
Foliage Leaves glossy dark green above, paler greyish-green below, elliptic to narrowly obovate, subcoriaceous orleathery, (5-)6-17 (-31) x (1.5-) 2.5-8,5cm, arranged in whorls of 4-8 leaflets (occasionally 9) with 25-45 (-55) pairs of lateral veins that are closely spaced and almost perpendicular to the mid rib.  Species is irregularly deciduous in sub-tropical range.
Flowers Flowers white, creamy-greenish white, yellow or cream,  with partially-pubescent petals and tubes, produced in prominent cyme inflorescences at end of branchlets. Individual flowers lightly-scented, but fully-blooming tree emits strong heady fragrance sometimes described as reminiscent of burnt sugar. Rich source of nectar and pollinated by insects like various types of butterflies and bees, which often surround flowering trees. Blooms occasionally in Singapore, especially after distinctly dry cool weather. Blooming occurs once yearly in monsoonal Asia, usually from October to March.
Fruit Slender linear dehiscent follicles, 20-40 (-63)cm long, 3-5mm wide, produced in hanging pairs, ripening from green to brown. Seeds numerous, small, flat, tufted at ends, dispersed by wind.
Others - Plant Morphology Hazards: Injured bark and leaves exude milky latex. Copious pollen produced during blooming known to cause nasal allergies.
Habitat Naturally distributed in rainforests, monsoonal and vine forests, forming dominant canopy layer in some areas.
Similar Resembles the native Alstonia angustiloba (Pulai), which has slighty smaller stipule-less leaves (6-14cm long), shorter fruit pods (25cm long), white glabrous flowers, and paler grey bark.
Cultivation Hardy tree, prefers well-drained soils. Attains maturity in 8-10 years. Propagate by cuttings (which root easily in sand), seeds (collect from ripe unsplit pods), air-layering and grafting (cleft and inverted T-grafting). Host plant for Pauropsylla tuberculata, a kind of psyllid (jumping plant louse) which produces unsightly pouch galls over leaf surfaces.
Etymology Genus epithet 'Alstonia named after Scottish naturalist Dr. Charles Alston (1685-1760), who was professor of botany at University of Edinburgh, scientific writer and keeper of King's garden at Holyrood, and one of the few botanists who resisted the Linnaean taxonomic classification when it was introduced. Species epithet 'scholaris' refers to how the tree's wood was traditionally used to make slates for schoolchildren.
Ethnobotanical Uses Food (Herb or Spice)
Cultural / Religious: Heritage Tree :     There are currently two individuals of Alstonia scholaris listed as Heritage Trees in Singapore. One can be found on Sentosa, while the other at Temenggong Road. To find out more about these trees, please visit the Heritage Tree Register.
Others: Medicinal: Bitter-tasting bark contains alkaloids and used as substitute for quinine to treat malaria; traditionally used as astringent against bowel problems like abdominal pains, chronic diarrhoea and advanced dysentery; also treats toothaches and snakebites. Harvested and sold commercially as 'Dita Bark'. Leaves used as remedy against beri-beri. Seeds rich in hallucinogenic compounds, used by Indian tribes as aphrodisiac in sex rituals. Timber: Lightweight soft timber used to make coffins, floats, corks, packing boxes, matchsticks, carvings, writing tablets and household utensils. Products: Latex makes a good quality chewing gum, and used as glue by Australian Aborigines to stick feathers to skin. Essential oil extracted from flowers. Used for its nectar and as semi-major bee plant in Blangadesh's apicultural industry. Cultural: Popularly known as Devil Tree, as plant is believed to the devil's abode -- probably due to the intoxicating fragrance emitted by flowering trees, especially at night -- and often considered so inauspicious that tribal people from the western coast of India are reluctant to sit or walk under these trees.

Landscaping Features

Desirable Plant Features Ornamental Flowers, Ornamental Foliage, Fragrant (Flowers) (Time Independent, Day)
Landscape Uses Suitable for Roadsides, General, Shade Providing Tree / Palm
Thematic Landscaping Fragrant / Aromatherapy Garden, Butterfly Garden
SGMP Treatment
Usage Hazard - Cons Irritant - Sap, Irritant - Nasal Allergy
Usage Hazard - Cons Remarks Injured bark and leaves exude milky latex. Pollen produced during blooming known to cause nasal allergies.

Fauna, Pollination and Dispersal

Fauna Pollination Dispersal Associated Fauna Butterfly-Attracting
Pollination Method(s) Biotic (Fauna) (Insects (Bee), Insects (Butterfly, Moth))
Seed or Spore Dispersal Abiotic (Explosive Dehiscence), Biotic (Fauna)

Plant Care and Propagation

Light Preference Full Sun
Water Preference Moderate Water
Plant Growth Rate Moderate
Rootzone Tolerance Fertile Loamy Soils, Well-Drained Soils
Maintenance Requirements Moderate
Propagation Method Seed, Stem Cutting, Grafting, Air-Layering
Propagule Establishment Remarks Seeds have high germination, sprouting easily. Cuttings root easily in sand;.
Planting Distance 12 m


Foliage Retention Evergreen
Mature Foliage Colour(s) Green
Mature Foliage Texture(s) Glossy / Shiny, Leathery
Foliar Modification Stipule
Foliar Type Simple / Unifoliate
Foliar Arrangement Along Stem Whorled
Foliar Shape(s) Non-Palm Foliage (Obovate, Elliptical)
Foliar Venation Pinnate / Net, Parallel
Foliar Margin Entire
Foliar Apex - Tip Acute
Foliar Base Cuneate
Typical Foliar Area Notophyll ( 20.25cm2 - 45 cm2 )
Leaf Area Index (LAI) for Green Plot Ratio 3.0 (Tree - Intermediate Canopy)

Non - Foliar and Storage

Trunk Type (Non Palm) Woody
Bark Colour(s) Grey when young, buff brown in mature trees
Mature Bark Texture Cracked, Plated, Lenticellate
Stem Type & Modification Woody
Root Type Underground (Tap Root, Fibrous Root)
Mature Bark Texture Remarks Corky bark

Floral (Angiosperm)

Flower & Plant Sexuality Bisexual Flowers
Flower Colour(s) Cream / Off-White, Green
Flower Symmetry Radial
Flower Size - Remarks Small, inconspicuous
Inflorescence Type Cyme
Flowering Habit Polycarpic
Flowering Period Remarks Rarely blooms in Singapore. May take place after distinctly dry and cool weather.

Fruit, Seed and Spore

Mature Fruit Colour(s) Brown
Fruit Classification Simple Fruit
Fruit Type Dehiscent Dry Fruit , Follicle

Image Repository



Master ID 1412
Species ID 2705
Flora Disclaimer The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and NParks does not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for medicinal purposes.
Species record last updated on: 20 August 2021.