Spotting a Jamun tree, or the Syzygium Cumini, growing in the yard of a villa in Ras Al Khaimah rekindled memories of my student days in New Delhi, India, when it took more than a hop and a jump to avoid crushing the luscious fruits strewn all over the sidewalks.

Sought after for its mildly tangy-to-sweet fruits and universally accepted for its immense therapeutic properties such as being anti-diabetic, one could always find groups of students gathering around numerous vendors along the pavement to buy Jamun, sprinkled with a pinch of rock salt.

There stood a Jamun tree near our research laboratory at the university where I spent years trying to figure out why and how seeds of some trees have many embryos. Jamun too, with its polyembryonic seeds, had received my attention then.

This should explain why I was so excited to find the tree growing in the UAE. The presence of this tree here confirms that the Jamun can be successfully grown in the UAE.

The tree - with its scaly gray bark, trunk forked into multiple branches, glossy leaves that smell of turpentine, clusters of fragrant white flowers and oblong green berries turning light magenta to purplish black when ripe - catches everybody's attention.

One cannot miss the clusters of seedlings that spring up under the tree once the fruit season comes to an end.

In India, for the weary traveller, Jamun trees at bus stops are a welcome relief from the scorching sun, provided one is ready to contend with the purple stains left on immaculate outfits by the falling fruits!

Even more painful is the task of staying clear of the birds that feast on the fruits and then relieve themselves on the heads of those who take shelter under the tree!

Native to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the Jamun tree grows abundantly in Southern Asia and in other regions of the world.

Infusions and decoctions made from almost all parts of the tree are used in various alternative healing systems, to treat ailments ranging from diabetes to skin diseases, even sore throats.

With an increase in demand for the fruit today, buying even 250 grams has become a costly affair.

UAE has opened its doors to alternative medicine and research is already underway on herbal medicines.

Considering the immense potential of the Jamun tree, its importance as a food and medicine source, it is worthwhile to cultivate it on a large scale in this region.

It would be wonderful to see orchards of this shiny black berry adorning the beautiful country of the hills, sand and beaches.

- The writer is a Ras Al Khaimah-based plant biologist