SCIENTIFIC NAME: Gnetum gnemon
FAMILY: Gnetaceae

The melinjo, Gnetum gnemon, family of the Gnetaceae, is a small tree that grows not higher than 15 metres.

It comes originally from South East Asia and is now widely grown all over Java to about 1000 metres above sea level.

The tree belongs to the Gymnosperms, the fruits are in fact all seeds only covered by a hard fruit skin. It has not a specific fruiting season and flowers all year round. Propagation is best done by seed, though air-layering has been done with varying degrees of success.

Not too many growers of rare fruit in Australia have a melinjo tree growing in their garden. Maybe because it is so difficult to cultivate. The growth is often extremely slow and while in Indonesia the tree is growing in full sun, in our area it is recommended to have proper shade planted close to it. The fast-growing Albizzia falcataria is quite suitable for this purpose.

My experience with growing melinjo is a bit disappointing. After two years of nurturing the tree, it is now barely a metre high, though it looks healthy.

An article in Trubus (Indonesian Horticultural Magazine) mentioned Indonesia as the only exporter of various melinjo products to Europe, Australia, Japan, Arabia and on a smaller scale to the Pacific countries and America.

The growing melinjo market has made its impact on farmers in Indonesia, especially Java. Some coffee farmers have pulled out their coffee plantings and replacing it with melinjo.

Not only the reasonable and stable market prices for that product makes melinjo so popular, but the tree needs hardly any looking after and is almost free of pests and diseases.

The rough product is called klatak. The more refined product, the emping melinjo or melinjo crackers, fetches the highest price locally as well as overseas. From two kilogram of klatak, one kilogram of emping is made.

Knowing that the melinjo is exclusive to Indonesia, the farmers there are confident that this delicious but slightly bitter product has a bright future.

In Indonesia the melinjo is grown by many, not only for the fruit but the leaves and inflorescences are much in demand for use in cooking. Leaves and fruits are then an ingredient for 'sajur' a sort of soup, while the inflorescences are only used as 'lalab' - stir fried.

Len Muller of Mt Mirinjo farm, Woopen Creek, has probably the biggest melinjo orchard in Australia with 150 trees. His trees are growing very erratically. Since Len planted Albizzia falcataria for shade, the trees improved but not completely. Len thinks that melinjo needs to have added to the soil a mycorrhiza, or fungi. These fungi act to greatly increase the absorptive area of the roots, to protect them, to prolong their life and to stimulate their branching. The fungi assist too in nutrient uptake, especially of phosphates.

The experience of other growers, stunted growth, seems to lead in that direction.

Indische vruchten by J.J. Ochse.
Tropische groenten by J.J. Ochse.

Andreas Flach

DATE: November 1994

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