M. balata, locally known as Bois makak is a canopy tree reaching up to 20 meters in height. It is characterized by a white bark with thick longitudinal, greyish fissures. The tree’s dark green leathery leaves are arranged in whorls and are distinguished by a lighter colored mid rib and dense, fine venation on their underside. New leaves are brown and furry, as are the stems that carry its small white flowers. The tree produces small globular olive-like berries which are 5 to 7 centimeters in diameter, each containing approximately 1 or 2 seeds. Although fruit can be found on the tree year-round, these tend to ripen only in November and December.
Endemic to the Mascarenes, it is found mainly in intermediate and upland forests and at higher altitudes. Observation in the wild shows that its population has declined in recent years. Fruit and seedlings are often damaged by Crab-eating Macaques. The endemic bat Petrois niger usually feeds on mature fruit and helps to disperse its seeds.
Classified as an ‘Endangered’ species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Most of its population is well protected and managed by the Black River Gorges National Park and in private forests. Fruits are regularly collected in the wild and propagated in nurseries, thus supporting forest rehabilitation programs.
Mimusops balata was known by the synonym of Mimusops maxima.
The wood of Mimusops balata is reddish brown, heavy and hard. Formerly used in the construction of houses and boats, it was also very often used by cabinet-makers.
It is thought that the vernacular name comes from the fact that macaques feed on its fruits, or its resemblance to a Cameroon tree.
Rachel Atkinson and Jean-Claude Sevathian, A guide to the plants in Mauritius, (Mauritius: Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, 2005), 80