Species Guide: Craft Plants Species Guide: Plants for Food


A jelai plant. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Job’s Tears

Malay name: Jelai

Scientific name: Coix lacryma-jobi

Conservation status: Cultivated, Native to Malaysia


A grass that reaches 1-2 m tall. It produces tear-shaped false fruits that enclose the grains, giving the name of this plant. The false fruits turn from black to grayish white when mature. Leaves are linear or lance-shaped.

The black, bead-like false fruit of jelai plant. Photo by Siti Syuhada

Habit: Perennial grass

Cultivation: It is planted by seed-containing flowering bracts, cuttings or rhizomes.

Ecological function: It is a moth host plant. The moth caterpillar feed on leaves of this plant. The plant provides nesting material for birds. It is used in agroforestry system especially in highlands. It is used for wastewater treatment.

Pollinator: Wind

Soil: Fertile loamy soils

Moisture: Moist, well-drained soils

Shade: No shade

Use in crafting: The hard-shelled false fruits are used as ornamental beads for jewelry, rosaries or decoration for clothing. In Africa, there is a musical instrument known as shaker gourd. It consists of a net of false fruits loosely wrapped around a hollow gourd. When the net is slapped against the gourd, it produces a rhythmic sound.

Other use: The seeds of this plant can be used as a rice substitute.

By ShangMing

A plant lover. I like small, medium, gigantic, ordinary, exotic, local, foreign plants. Just because they thrive to stand out.