The following article was compiled from a journal I kept while travelling through Malaysian Borneo (1984-1985) on a rare fruit research and collection trip. In both Sabah and Sarawak, the people we met were most helpful and hospitable, and we owe a great debt to those people for the success of our venture. David Chandlee and I stayed two weeks at Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah as the guest of Park Ecologist, Anthea Phillipps. The flora and fauna of that area is so rich and diverse that, although we explored the Park nearly every day and all day, we didn't take the same path twice, and every path was different. This is the enchantment of the forests of Borneo.
Towards the end of our visit, Anthea got her team together for a promised field trip to visit the fruit trees in the area. The system of mountains and valleys surrounding Mt. Kinabalu (13,455') is vast and rugged, and the places we visited lay between 3,000' and 4,500' above sea level. Typically we set out in a Landcruiser packed full with the driver, the tree climber, the host/interpreter, and several local guides. Our first stop was at a nearby Kampong (village) where we hiked down into a regrowth forest area and bamboo grove. We were shown a large isolated durian tree, with the local name of TUPULOH, said to be somewhat like Durio zibethinus, although the latter does not normally grow at this altitude. Nearby was another Durian tree that they called MERAHANG; this was a red-flowering Durian, probably D. kinabaluensis, which is a highland Durian that only grows above about 4,000'. Neither of these trees was fruiting, so the challenge of collecting these two worthwhile specimens still remains. Here we also saw a Tarap tree (Marang) with young fruit on the ends of its branches. On this particular tree the fruit was said to be quite large - more than 12 inches. Meanwhile two of our party had gone off to look for some wild Durian trees they knew of in this forest, but when they came back about an hour later, they reported that they had only succeeded in getting lost looking for the trees, and then looking for each other. This was beginning to look like a wild Durian chase!
We saw two species of Mangifera called DUMPIRING (Mangifera sp.) and BAMBANGAN (M. pajang). Our guides said that these two fruits were often sour, which is a quality sought after in Malaysian cuisine, but that there were sweet Bambangans which were good to eat fresh. A very large fruit when fully mature, the bambangan is often picked immature to be used in cooking as an "asam" or sour element. It is particularly appetising when used fully ripe as a side dish with meats and rice as it has a palate cleansing savour that lightens a heavy meal. The Bambangan tree is quite impressive, with large drooping leaves, and the 1 kg. (or more) fruits have a thick brown skin that is sliced lengthways, and peeled back to reveal thick, rich yellow flesh. The fruit is juicy with a sweet/acid taste and a mild mango flavour. According to Suzapna, a local Kadazan who used to roam the forest here as a girl looking for wild fruits, there are several other Mangifera species to be found here. How often in the next six months would we be indebted to the native people of Borneo for their extensive and invaluable knowledge of the wild fruits.
When our tree hunters returned, we drove back along the mountain range, awed by the spectacular scenery, and the vegetable and pineapple plots that were perched precariously on steep hillsides. These small family-worked plots provided the produce for numerous roadside stalls that sprang up along the highway. We turned off to Bunda Tuhan and the road wound down into a vast valley, passing through farmlands and several small villages. At the first stop we saw an interesting but unidentifiable fruit tree which had a crop of young fruit on; the fruit were smooth-skinned and looked like Spondias, while the tree had leaves like a santol. The fruits were not quite ripe but they were said to be sweet and good to eat. The local name was KUNGKURAD and was identified as an Elaeocarpus species, (possibly E. stipularis).
Uphill from Bunda Tuhan, we stopped to look at three different trees which were three more Mangifera species that we hadn't yet encountered. Such is the wondrous diversity of the flora of Borneo. The BELUNO (Mangifera caesia) is a magnificent large tree that is covered with masses of lilac flowers in a good season and produces large, unusual, potato-shaped fruits. They have a mild, sweet/acid flavour, and are very juicy. They also have a lovely flower-like fragrance that takes some getting used to in a fruit, but we got to like them quickly and we were lucky to come across some good-flavoured ones in Sabah. Another tree in the same backyard was the BA-AB (M. quadrifolia), which is a small round fruit, 1½"- 2" in diameter. Although the fruit of this tree was not sweet, somebody told us of sweet ones, with small plum-like fruits that he liked very much. The third tree in the group, the PAHU (Mangifera sp.), had an interesting fruit, 4"- 5" long, spotted green and brown when immature, becoming green-skinned and sweet-flavoured when ripe.
On our next stop, down a side road, we saw a tree of the Baccaurea genus, locally known as PUGI. It had a crop of young fruit, which grew profusely in clusters along the underside of the main branches, but not on the trunk, as is common with other Baccaureas. These brown-skinned fruits were said to be sweet. They would grow to about 2" in diameter, but wouldn't ripen for several more months. The tree had a beautiful pink bark and was slender and slow-growing, as is typical of Baccaureas.
Further along this road, climbing high into the valley of the Kundipil River, we hiked up a grassy hillside, mown by goats and cattle, over looking the extensive valley. Below us were farmlands, village houses, and a cluster of large fishponds. Here we found two isolated trees of the Nephelium genus that weren't looking too healthy in this isolated situation. There were said to be a RENGALAU (later identified as Nephelium sp.) and RENGITUM, a sweet, dark purple to black-skinned Meritam-like fruit (i.e. Nephelium sp. unknown).
On the way back, we stopped to let off one of our party who had a fruiting PANGI tree by his house. This was a beautiful ornamental tree, with large, dinner-plate sized leaves, and pendulous orange-brown fruits. These fruits are filled with large, tri-cornered seeds used in preserving meats, and these seeds are surrounded by an edible yellow flesh. The young leaves of the Pangi tree are also eaten after boiling to remove toxins. The owner told us that there was a forest tree nearby with fruits like a langsat (probably Walsura sp.), obviously another wild species worth investigating at another time.
This proved to be a most interesting field day, and although there was little fruit to be had, we collected much food for thought, and acquired a greater insight into the complex nature of the flora of Borneo.
DATE: July 1988
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