SCIENTIFIC: Gnetum gnemon
FAMILY: Gnetaceae

The bago is an interesting plant because it belongs to one of the four plant groups (the gnetums) with naked seeds (gymnosperms) that are still in existence. The other three are the cycads, gingkos and conifers. In terms of plant evolution and because it represents the highest form of the gymnosperms, the bago and its relatives may be considered to represent a transition between a primitive plant group (the gymnosperms with naked seeds) and a modern plant group (the angiosperms with enclosed seeds to which many living, modern-day plant species belong).

The bago is a versatile plant. The tree itself is a handsome evergreen that can be used to landscape a home garden. A high-quality fiber from the inner bark of the trunk and old branches can be extracted and made into ropes. The young leaves are highly nutritious and are much used as a vegetable in the region; and most of all, the very nutritious nut which is edible either boiled or roasted can be processed commercially into a crispy, delicious snack food.

Botanical and Vernacular Names
The bago is Gnetum gnemon of the family Gnetaceae. It was identified and described by Linnaeus in 1767. There are about thirty species in the genus. Seven species occur in northern South America, two in western tropical Africa and the remaining twenty-one (including the bago) in tropical Asia. Four Gnetum species are found in the Philippines.

There are two botanical varieties under Gnetum gnemon: var.gnemon which is native to the Philippines, Sulawesi and Sumba and eastwards to New Guinea and Fiji, and var. tenerum of Thailand.

The bago is also known in English as the Spanish joint fir, in Indonesia as melinjo, in Malaysia as meninjau and in Thailand as peesae. In the Philippines, it is also known in other dialects as bago-sili, banango, kugitis, kuman, lamparan, labayong, magatungol and nabo.

The bago is distributed throughout the Southeast Asian region and is also found north to Assam and east to Fiji. It is widely distributed in the Philippines, as evidenced by its different names in different regions.

While the young shoot is much used as a vegetable throughout Southeast Asia, commercial processing of the nut is only done in Indonesia.

Plant Description
The bago is a dioecious evergreen tree that may at maturity grow to a height of 5-10 m when grown from a seed. However, an air-layered tree is much shorter and more compact. The branches are thickened at the base and at the nodes. The leaves are opposite, elliptical, dark green, smooth and shiny, and on the average are 10-20 cm long and 4-7 cm wide. The inflorescences are solitary and axillary on young as well as mature branches, 3-6 cm long and with flowers in whorls at the nodes. The fruits are in small clusters, sessile, oblong obovoid, 2- 3 cm long and weigh 2.5 to 4.5 g each. Each fruit has a red, fleshy peel about 1 mm thick. The nut is enclosed in a thin, brittle and loose shell and the white, oblong kernel has a thin, light brown seed-coat. The kernel is about 50- 60% of the whole fruit.

The bago thrives well at low and medium elevations in humid and warm locations. It prefers partially shaded environments. Although it is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, deep, moist, well-drained soils are preferred.

The bago may be propagated sexually by seed or asexually by airlayering. It is said that the seed is not yet fully developed physiologically even when the fruit is harvested ripe, and that further seed development occurs on the ground. For this reason, the seeds may take several months to one year to germinate. Seedlings take five to eight years to bear fruit.

Airlayering or marcotting is the preferred method of propagating the bago because the airlayers eventually grow into much shorter and more compact trees, and they produce fruits two to three years after planting. Furthermore, production of only superior female trees is assured. In two to four months, airlayers have formed sufficient roots to enable them to be separated from the mother plant.

Being mostly backyard trees and because existing trees are mostly of seedling origin, not much is known about the cultural requirements of the bago. Since the branches tend to break easily, it is common practice in harvesting the fruits or the young leaves to simply cut the desired branches. Vegetative flushes are produced several times a year, making the bago a reliable source of a leafy vegetable. The leaves are harvested when they are almost fully expanded but are still soft and succulent. The fruits are harvested when the skin turns red. Prolific trees are known to produce 20,000 to 25,000 fruits or approximately 5.7-7.1 kg per year. The fruiting season in the Philippines is during the rainy season in May to July.

The young leaves and inflorescences are edible and are commonly used as a vegetable. They are nutritious: the young leaves containing per 100g, 71% moisture, 104 cal food energy, 7.4% protein, 2% fat, 19.4% total carbohydrates, 11.9% fiber, 44 mg calcium, 15mg phosphorus, 1680 I.U vitamin A and 121 mg vitamin C. The young leaves are usually cooked with dried fish or pork and coconut milk.

The nut is eaten boiled or roasted. It contains per 100 g edible portion, 30% moisture, 9-11% protein, 1.6-1.8% fat, 47.6-50.4% starch and 277 cal food energy.

In Indonesia where the bago is an important commodity, the nuts, after removing the peel, are roasted in a pan so that the kernels can be easily separated from the shell. The warm kernels are then pounded to make them into very thin, round chips of varying sizes. They are further dried under the sun. The chips are deep-fried until they swell and become crispy, after which are served as a snack food.

Coronel, R.E. 1983. Promising Fruits of the Philippines. Coll. Aric. u.P. Los banos, Laguna.

Coronel, R.E. 1983. Bago (Gnetum gnemon Linn., Gnetaceae). Calif. Rare Fruit Growers Newsl. 15(3):26.

Markgraf, F. 1951. Gnetaceae. In: Van Steenis, CG.G.J. (ed.). Flora Malesiana Ser. Vol.4, pp. 336-347.

Verheji, E.W.M. and Sukendar. 1991. Gnetum gnemon L. In: Verheji, E.W.M. and R.E. Coronel (eds.) Plant Resources of South-East Asia 2. Edible Fruits and Nuts. pp. 182-184. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands.I

Roberto E. Coronel, Ph.D.
Professor and Fruit and Nut Specialist
Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture, UP.
Los Barios, Laguna, Philippines
Tropical Fruit News, May 1997, Vol. 31, No. 5

DATE: November 1997

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