fruit

Pseudocydonia sinensis - Chinese quince

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I first encountered this spectacular quince species at the Burbank Experimental Earm in Sebastopol, California. Notable for its massive fruit, which is at first a light green then turning yellow as it ripens. Among the apples, Sorbus domestic, and a number of other surviving Burbank species this one seems to be growing strong and quite productive.

The tree is a deciduous, semi-evergreen tree in the Rosaceae family (Rose, Pear, Apple, Loquat). Native to Eastern Asia in China this is the sole species in the Pseudocydonia genus. Previously Pseudocydonia was placed in the Asian genus Chaenomeles, however differs in that Pseudocydonia lacks thorns and produces single flowers. The Chinese Quince is closely related to the European Quince, Cydonia bologna. The two species differ in that Chinese quince has somewhat serrated leaves and smooth fruited skin. The fruit on the Burbank Hybrids also appear to grow larger.

The tree is referred to as mùguā-hǎitáng (木瓜海棠).In Chinese, mùguā (木瓜) also means, “papaya”.

Grows 8-10 m long. The fruit is a large ovoid pome 12–17 cm long with five carpels; it gives off an intense, sweet smell and it ripens in late autumn.

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The large fruit is hard and astringent, however after a period of frost the fruit does become a bit softer and less astringent. The fruit can be used in the same way as quince, poached, baked or used for making jam. The tree is also grown as an ornamental in Southern Europe.

In Korea it is used to make a preserved quince and quince tea.

The bark and trunk of larger trees are highly ornamental. The wood is frequently used in Japan for shamisen, a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian.

The fruit is used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Recent pharmacological studies suggest that extracts of phytochemical in the fruit have antioxidant and antiviral properties.

Nephelium lappaceum - Rambutan, Mamon Chino

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Rambutan is one of the most popular and common fruits in Southeast Asia where it is grown both on a domestic level, as a patio tree, and at a commercial level. It has been introduced to some areas of Africa and Central America, like Costa Rica and Panama, to a lesser extent.  The Rambutan is a medium size tree reaching 15 -25 meters in height, with a straight trunk and a dense canopy. 

The fruit is the shape of an egg encapsulated in a red, yellow, or sometimes orange casing covered in soft spiny hairs. The sweet, juicy, aromatic fruit is translucent and surrounds a large seed. There exist freestone cultivars. Fruit can range in acidity, yellow varieties tending to be more acidic than red. 

Reportedly the seed is edible. I forget where I first heard this, but I have eaten the seeds raw, which are not disagreeable in flavor and gave me the sense that they were especially nutritious. Any further info regarding Rambutan seed edibility would be greatly appreciated. 

The Rambutan fruit, like the Lychee, is rich in sugar (11%) and vitamin C.

There are more than 100 varieties of Rambutan in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Culitvars are distinguished by whether they are best consumed fresh (Ayer Mas, Chooi, Ang, Kelip, Rongrien, Tau po Cheng), or used in preserves (Chompu, Kepala Besar).

The Rambutan is a tree from the humid tropics. It isn't found cultivated higher than 600 meters. It has not been successfully cultivated in Florida and other subtropical areas and does not tolerate long periods of drought. The tree is not especially selective in soil type although it does best in heavy clay soils with a heavy organic mulch layer. 

Orange Rambutan.

Orange Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Red Rambutan. 

Red Rambutan. 

Nephellium mutabile - Pulasan

The Pulisan is native to South East Asia, widely cultivated in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java. It is also relatively well known in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.  The tree grows up to 10 - 15 meters, with spreading branches and an irregular crown. The fruit is 5-8 cm long and 3-5 cm wide encased in a red or yellow capsule covered in short, soft spines, similar to that of the Rambutan, a close relative to the Pulasan. The fruit is most similar to the Rambutan, typically consumed raw, also made into marmalades and preserves. 

There are two known groups of Pulasan varieties. Dark red and yellow. There are freestone cultivars in both groups. The most prized varieties are "Silbabat" and "Koneng". 

The Pulasan requires a hot, humid climate. Trees cannot withstand prolonged dry seasons. To obtain quality fruit the tree needs deep, well drained soil, rich in organic matter. 

The tree is propagated by seed, graft and air layer. 

unripe-pulisan
unripe-pulisan

Citrus, spp., Unidentified giant lemon variety

This is a large Citrus species. The fruit were given to me years ago when I lived in Panama City's Old Quarter. Almost everyday I would visit a fruit vendor in Santa Ana to buy a small watermelon and a pineapple. He knew I worked with plants and collected fruit species so occasionally we would exchange fruit. I would bring miracle fruit, jaboticaba, jackfruit, curry tree fruit, and others, none of which he had ever seen. Him and his family would bring me highly regarded or lesser known fruit varieties from the interior of the country, giant Nance, Algarrobo (Hymenia coubaril), Mangos.

I never verified the species of this particular Citrus, it looks like some kind of Pomelo / Citron hybrid and has a relatively think skin compared to the size of the fruit. 

Any thoughts on the species?

Aegle marmelos - Bael fruit, matoom, Indian quince, golden apple, holy fruit, stone apple, elephant apple

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN, AND DISTRIBUTION

Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Syn. Feronia pellucida, Crataeva marmelos) Bael fruit is a citrus relative. One can see the similarity in the leaves and growth habit of the tree. Bael fruit is native to the dry forests, in the hills and plains of Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The species can be found cultivated throughout India, where, due to its status as a sacred tree is grown in Buddhist temples where monks slice and dry fruit, then heat it in water to make a popular hot drink. The tree can be found cultivated in Southeast Asia, Indo-China, Thailand and N. Malaysia.

Bael grows up to 15 m in height. The bark is smooth and light gray in color, leaves are relatively small, deciduous, alternate, ovate - lanceolate, trifoliate. Branches are spiny. Like many of the Rutaceae family, Bael has fragrant flowers.

The fruit matures at between five and twenty centimeters. The ones I've seen are typically the size of a softball and has hard brittle shell, not dissimilar to that of the calabash tree. The inside is full of a very sticky, fibrous pulp around many seeds, which look like large grapefruit seeds. The outside is a hard, brittle shell, slightly thicker then that of the calabash tree. When ripe, the fruit emits an extremely pleasant aroma and can sit around for weeks doing so. Superior cultivars can yield over 400 fruit a year. Better varieties tend to have thinner rinds. The tree I have collected seed from seems to produce a lot, but the rinds are fairly thick, the fruit basically has to be stomped on, thrown onto a hard surface, or hit with a hammer to be broken open.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The leaves of Bael fruit are considered sacred in the Hindu culture, offered as sacrament to Lord Shiva, thus it is highly prohibited to uproot the trees. Shiva is believed to live underneath the tree.

The fruit is also made into jams and preserves. Young leaves and shoots are used to season food in Indonesia and eaten as a vegetable in Thailand.

Bael Tree

Bael Tree

Above all else Bael fruit seems to have potential for its medicinal benefits. In Asia it is widely used for such purposes. The fruit, roots and leaves all have antibiotic qualities. Unripe fruit are eaten by those recovering from dysentery. In India it is a highly revered as an aphrodisiac. Large quantities of the fruit are considered to act as a depressant, slowing the heart rate and inducing sleepiness. Juice extracted from the leaves is given to relieve the symptoms of asthma and fever. Tea made from the flowers is used to cleanse eye infections. Tea made from the root are used to relieve heart palpitations, indigestion, bowel inflammations and to stop vomiting and relieve nausea.

Interestingly, the fruit pulp, in addition to its edible and medicinal properties, is also used as glue; mixed with lime and plaster and employed as a sealant; mixed with cement and used when building walls; and added to watercolor paints. In the cosmetic industry the limonene-rich oil is used to scent hair products. The rind yields a yellow dye.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Trees can grow in a wide variety of soils in full sun or partial shade. It is considered sub-trpopical but I grow it in Panama, the full=on tropics.

Again, I am not familiar with a wide range of varieties, the one I have eaten has many seeds surrounded by a thick, stick pulp. The pulp is somewhat similar in consistency to  other citrus, and is divided into sections. The pulp is very aromatic. As is done traditionally in Asia, I have consumed it in a drink, basically made a tea out of the pulp.

 

Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Theobroma cacao- Chocolate, Cacao

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

There's a lot that can be said about this species.

Some of the latin synonyms are: Cacao guianensis Aubl., Cacao minus Gaertn., Cacao sativa Aubl., Theobroma caribaea Sweet, Theobroma interregima Stokes, Theoboma kalagua De Wild, T. leiocarpa Bernoulli, T. pentagona Bernoulli.

Some of the folk names include: Ah kakaw (Lacandon), aka-'i (Ka'apor), aka-'iwa (Ka'apor), bana torampi (Shipibo), biziaa (Zapotec), bizoya, cacahoaquiahuit, cacahoatl, cacahua, cacahuatl, cacao, cacaocuahuitl (Aztec).

The list of folk names goes on and on. Cacao has been a significant species for melenia. The tree was cultivated throughout areas of Central America 4,000 years ago where it was venerated as a divine substance, a food of the gods, and was primarily consumed during rituals and offered to the gods. Thus the plant genus is called Theobroma, meaning "gods" "food" in Latin. Cacao is a word borrowed from the Mayan language and refers to the tree, the fruit, and the drink that is prepared from the fruit. The word chocolate is derived from the Aztec word xocolatl.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Cacao beans were held in extremely high regard by the Aztecs who used them as food, stimulant, medicine and currency. Notably, as a currency, the cacao bean was typically used as standard fare to pay prostitutes. Perhaps this has something do to with the beans aphrodesiac properties.

The Aztec viewed the cacao tree as a gift form the god Quetzalcoatl. The following, extracted from an Aztec text, provides a precise description of the tree and of the drink:

Cacaoaquavitl - Cacao Tree

It has broad branches. It is simply a round tree. Its fruit is like the ears of dried maize, like an ear of green maize, some whitish brown. Its name is "cacao ear." Some are reddish brown, some whitish brown, some bluish brown. Its heart, that which is inside it, its filled insides, is like an ear of maize. The name of this when it grows is cacao. This is edible, is drinkable. This cacao, when much is drunk, when one consumes much of it, especially that which is green, which is tender, makes one drunk, has an effect upon one, makes on ill, makes one confused. If a normal amount is drunk, it makes one happy, refreshes one, comforts one, strengthens one. Thus it is said: "I take cacao, I moisten my lips. I refresh myself." (Sahagun, 11)

Initially, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Hernan Cortez it was used almost exclusively in the production of love drinks

Today, although the wild form of the plant (T. lacandonense) is found only in the jungles of southern Mexico, domesticated cacao can be found grown as a crop throughout many of the tropical rainforest regions of the world, throughout the Americas, in southeast Asia, and parts of Africa.

I have found wild cacao relative, Herrania purpurea, on an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The pod is smaller than T. cacao. When opened the pod contains a similar white pulp surrounding smaller seeds.

Interestingly, in ancient Nicaragua, cacao farmers were required to abstain from sex for thirteen days prior to planting cacao seeds so they would not make the chocolate god (moon god) angry.

Generally speaking, cacao served (and still serves) the important function as a vehicle for administering other psychoactive plants and fungi (Ott 1985). The Aztecs ingested cacao together with entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) Associated rituals are still practiced amongst numerous tribes today.

In ancient America, cacao was esteemed as a tonic and aphrodisiac. Cacao is also used in indian fold medicine to treat diarrhea and scorpion stings. Kuna women (Panama) drink a decoction of the fruit pulp as a pregnancy tonic. Fresh young leaves are applied externally as an antiseptic agent. In Peru, cacao is drunk primarily as a diuretic and in cases of kidney infection.

Cacao beans contain 18% protein, 56% lipids, 13.5% carbohydrates, 1.45% theobromine, .05% caffeine, and 5% tannin.

The following cacao recipe was said to have been brought by conquistador Hernan Cortez to Spain in 1528:

700 g cacao

750 g sugar

56 g cinnamon (probably Canella winterana)

14 Mexican peppercorns (Capsicum spp.)

14 g spice cloves (Pimenta dioica)

3 vanilla pods

1 handful of anise (probably Tagetes lucida)

1 hazelnut

musk, grey amber, and orange blossom water

Randia formosa - blackberry jam fruit

Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit

Randia formosa is a memeber of the Rubiaceae family, native to Brazil. Is a small tree related to gardenia and coffee and Psychotria spp, among others. The tree / shrub has a has fragrant, white flowers similar in aroma to the gardenia. The tree doesn't get much taller than eight feet. The fruit is a yellow capsule with an almost brittle shell, similar in shape, although smaller in size, to the pomegranate (Punica granatum). Upon breaking open the capsule, one will find dark, jam-like pulp embedded with numerous seeds. The pulp has a taste similar to that of blackberry jam, or some other jam, thus the name.

Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, Blackberry jam, leaf and fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, Blackberry jam, leaf and fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit

Coffea canephora - Canephora Coffee

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Coffea canephora, otherwise known as Robusta coffee, is native to Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa.  I took this photo in the Northern Caribbean Islands in Panama where we were planting it as a shaded understory intercrop to larger hardwoods and crown bearing fruit trees. . 

Native to the upland forests of Ethiopia, Coffea robusta was only recognized as a coffee species in 1897, almost 100 years after Coffea arabica.

Most Robusta coffee today is grown in Vietnam, where it was introduced by French colonists in the late 19th century. 

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

40% of the coffee in the world is Robusta coffee. Robusta has a greater crop yield and more caffeine then Arabica coffee. This species is also less succeptible to pests and diseases then Arabica, therefore relying on less herbicide and pesticides in commercial cultivations. 

That Robusta coffee plants are less susceptible to pest and diseases begs the question of weather or not the plant may have more mycorrhizal associations with beneficial fungi, thereby improving overall resilience and health. 

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Coffee can be easily grown from seed. Seeds benefit from a light fermentation over a few days in their skin prior to germination. The pre-fermentation basically mimics the natural process that fruit goes through after it matures and drops to the ground in the tropics. After the light fermentation seeds can then be rinsed in clean water, removing any residual pulp. 

Coffee seedlings can often be found germinating around the base of a fruit bearing plant. Reportedly the plant has naturalized in a number of countries throughout the world including Borneo, French Polynesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and the Lesser Antilles.   

 

Coffea conifera fruit and leaf.

Coffea conifera fruit and leaf.

Coffea conifera unripe fruit.

Coffea conifera unripe fruit.

Adansonia digitata - Baobab, Muyu (Chonyu), Mbuyu (Swahili, Digo), Muramba (Embu)

The Baobab appears to be a somewhat disproportional tree, with a massive trunk and gnarled, twisting branches.

The fruit grow to around 25 cm long, with a hard oval shell and longitudinal grooves, like a football. The pod is packed with seeds embedded in an edible cream or white pulp.

The cream can be eaten raw, or alternatively dissolved in water and stirred into a milky paste, served as a drink. Coconut juice is commonly added. The seeds can be sifted off and roasted like groundnuts.

In times of famine the soft tuber-like root tips are cooked and eaten. Germinating seed roots are also eaten, and young leaves are used as a vegetable, often mixed with cassava leaves.

The pulp covered seeds are coated with colored sugar and sold as sweets in coastal towns in Kenya (where the tree is most common).

A. digitata is also employed as a plant medicine. A decoction of the bark is used to steam-bath infants with high fever. A juice made from the mashed pulp is drunk to treat fever.

This versatile tree also yields a fiber (taken from the trunk) used as string for weaving baskets and ropes. Strings are first stripped from the trunk, chewed for softening, then woven.

Adansonia digitata leaf.jpg

Trees are traditionally used for placing bee hives, assumedly due to the high quality honey produced with the pollen of its flowers.

In parts of Kenya it is believed that the appearance of new leaf growth or flowers is an indicator that the rainy season is going to start. Fallen trees provide a huge amount of biomass and decompose over time improving the soil quality significantly.

Adansonia digitata trunk.jpg

Perhaps more then any other tree in east Africa, this one is associated with complex myths, legends, and beliefs amongst peoples in areas where it grows. For instance: Young plants are never cut down, while large trees are never debarked (for sap or fiber) just before the onset of rainy season for fear that to do so would keep rain from falling. The Baobab is considered to be a sacred and peaceful tree. A cut in the tree is said to bleed like a human being. And in the region of Meru, there is a belief that a person will turn into the opposite sex if they walk in a circle around the tree with a goat.

The tree is easily propagated from seed. For higher germination rates seeds can be scarified or put in boiling water briefly and let to cool. Naturally a seed can take several years to find water and germinate. The tree is very slow growing and should not be planted near houses as lateral roots can reach lengths of a hundred m or more. A tree is said to begin producing fruit after 60 years, so plant one now!

In Kenya there are three distinct varieties, differing mostly in the degree of sweetness of the pulp and size of the seed. The shape of the trees and fruit will also vary.

Adansonia digitata tree.jpg