Three years ago we planted four salak palms in the garden without knowing much about them; mainly just to add variety to our collection.
Since then many of our exotics have turned out to be "good for making jam only", but the salak has turned out to be a real winner.
Last week we decided to clean around these terribly thorny, well-armed palms and discovered a beautiful bunch of 6 ripe fruits. On further examination, we found all the palms had bunches of fruit and several emerging flower stalks. We also found several bunches of old dried fruit with germinated seedlings inside. All the fruit were found within 12 inches (30 cm) of the ground.
After several photographs and much excitement, one of the fruit fell off (or was pushed). The light brown, scaly skin was easily removed by twisting and revealed a creamy flesh divided into several odd-sized segments and one hard-shelled seed (1 cm diameter) within the largest segment.
The consistency was firm and crisp but not quite as firm as an apple. The flavour was delicious, slightly sweet, and reminded me of pineapple flavour. Some say it is more like carambola flavour.
Semi-shade is essential for these palms, especially in the young stage. Tall banana varieties are ideal for planting between salak palms and seem to provide the right light-shade environment. Our salaks are shaded by the banana variety Pisang Rajah and have fruited well while still under this shade.
The salak appears to have a short, weak, root system and falls over easily in windy conditions. The trunk has a habit of growing along the ground continually regenerating as the trailing end disintegrates.
Seedling salak palms 'sucker' a lot for the first few years and all, except one, should be removed. Most suckers die when potted up. However, commercial plantations in Indonesia are sometimes planted with suckers.
There are at least 14 varieties of salak in S.E. Asia and of these the 'Bali' variety appears to be the most popular.
William F. Whitman of Florida reported many years ago that the 'Bali' salak was monoecious whilst other salaks were dioecious. Since then we have had many conflicting reports, including the story that Mr. Whitman did not see the male trees growing around the perimeter of the salak orchards he visited in Indonesia. However, individual salaks have now fruited in North Queensland, thus proving Mr. Whitman correct in his observations.
Commercial potential is as yet unknown, although they are commercial on a small scale in S.E. Asia. At this stage, one can say only that salak should be readily acceptable to Western tastes, and that one instantly develops a liking for them.
DATE: July 1984
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