I am visiting some relatives in Malaysia. They introduced me to this plant and talk about the health benefits of consuming this plant. I am trying to find out more about this plant, but they could only provide the name in the local dialect.

I asked further and confirmed that this plant has a rather roundish white flower. It is currently not blooming so I don't have photos, but the flower is described as small and round, about the size of the first phalanx of the thumb.

The locals call it "Cheng Ma Jin" or some others call it "Tit Ma Cheng". It might be due to different dialects or just pronunciation since they are mostly elderly.

Close up Whole plant Leaves

  • What's it's name in the local dialect?
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 14:43
  • Closest I can get is "Cheng Ma Jin" should be in ke. I am bad with dialects
    – Ben Ong
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 14:54
  • Bit of a long shot but you might try asking on our Gardening site. Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 15:42
  • 2
    Ben, this is on-topic, and interesting, so I don't want you to move it. But if you'd like, @DJClayworth had a good suggestion. I'm active at Gardening:SE and identification questions make up a very large portion of their content. There are experts there from all over the world. You could always check out the site and see what you think. It's only been here a few days, though, so if you're not in a hurry, giving it some time here might be helpful. It's up to you, of course! Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:14
  • Quick glance makes me think Ilex perhaps, but then again (I can't be sure dueto blurry background of picture but) it looks like the leaves are in an opposite arrangement, which rules out any Ilex I would know... Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Having thought recently come across this question again.

I think this might be a member of the Sambucas (Elder, elderberry, elderflower) genus. These aren't normally tropical trees, but are common in the subtropics and temperate zones world-wide. There is a member of this genus in South East Asia called Sambucus javanica, which is found in Malaysia, as well as Indonesia and Vietnam and Southern Thailand.

These plants all have large pinnate leaves in opposite arrangement, with the leaflets being lanceolate and toothed, coming off slightly thickened rings on a scaly barked branch. The wood is weak and light. The flowers are white or cream in a large (hand-sized) compound umbels (or perhaps a cyme?). Individual flowers are perhaps 5-10 mm across. Fruit should be small (5 mm) berries that are dark red to black when ripe.

S. javanica flowers look like this file image from Wikimedia commons:

Sambucus javanica flowers

Image attribution: Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leaves look like this (also Wikimedia commons) close up:

S javanica leaves

Sun Jiao (Interaccoonale), CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leaf arrangement:

S javanica leaf arrangement

Qwert1234, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I found an old botanical for Chinese herbs that lists *S. javanica* as Chieh-ku-ts‘ao and efloras lists it as 接骨草 jie gu cao (I guess these listings are phonemically similar to each other), but I also found a list of Malay terms for plants that lists a Titimah (possibly paywalled) as a contraction for Timah-timah, and lists Ilex cymosa as the species for this.

Ilex cymosa is found in SE Asia, including Malaysia and does look superficially similar to this - it is a tree with dark green leaves. Usually much bigger tree (up to 30 metres/100 feet) and the flowers are in a small cyme, with tiny flowers about thumb-sized for the whole cyme. The leaves are not pinnate or opposite (Ilex are all alternate) and are not toothed in this species, though they can be in other species in the genus. It looks like this:

Ilex cymosa

However, I don't think the plant in question is I. cymosa, I think it is the Sambucus. It would be easy to mistake one for the other to a layperson and the flowers are similar, so the transmission of (incorrect) name from one to the other is easy to understand.

Edit: according to iNaturalist, there are several other species of Sambucus in Malaysia, so it could be one of those too.

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