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It is an evergreen tree growing to a height of 12–20 m. The leaves are alternate, 10–30 cm long, pinnate, with 3-11 leaflets, each leaflet 5–15 cm wide and 3-10 cm broad, with an entire margin. The flowers are small, 2.5–5 mm, apetalous, discoidal, and borne in erect terminal panicles 15–30 cm wide. Rambutan trees are either male (producing only staminate flowers and, hence, produce no fruit), female (producing flowers that are only functionally female), or hermaphroditic (producing flowers that are female with a small percentage of male flowers). The fruit is a round to oval drupe 3–6 cm (rarely to 8 cm) tall and 3-4 cm broad, borne in a loose pendant cluster of 10-20 together. The leathery skin is reddish (rarely orange or yellow), and covered with fleshy pliable spines, hence the name rambutan, derived from the Malay word rambut which means hairs. The fruit flesh is translucent, whitish or very pale pink, with a sweet, mildly acidic flavor. The single seed is glossy brown, 1–1.3 cm, with a white basal scar. The seed is soft and crunchy. They are mildly poisonous when raw, but may be cooked and eaten.
This specimen is has been growing in my home compound for 15 years, yet its still relatively small in size. The rambutan is native to Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, although its precise natural distribution is unknown. It is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the lychee, longan, and mamoncillo. It is believed to be native to the Malay Archipelago, from where it spread westwards to Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and India; eastwards to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. The name rambutan is derived from the Malay word rambutan, meaning "hairy".  In Vietnam, it is called chôm chôm (meaning "messy hair") due to the spines covering the fruit's skin.