On a recent collecting tour of Lae and Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, Jacky and I saw some very interesting growing conditions, tasted some delicious fruits and nuts, and met some very interesting people.
The pH factor in some areas around Lae is as high as 9.3, and yet the jungle is as lush and tall as any other. The high pH is due to the lime which washes down the mountains in the Markam Valley and in places can be seen as a white coating on creek beds. The lime comes from dead coral reefs situated thousands of feet up the mountains. The north coast of Papua New Guinea is known as a rising coast line and is situated on the Pacific Volcanic Fault Line.
Lush avocado trees in heavy crop were observed growing in very swampy conditions around Lae. I believe the answer lies in the heavy concentrations of lime, plus the fact that the area is alluvial and well drained. The top soil is very young, containing considerable organic material, and rainfall is regular throughout the year. In fact 3 days without rain around Lae, is considered "a bit of a drought". It is unfortunate that although the avocado trees have been in P.N.G. for about 60 years, the local natives cannot be convinced to eat them.
Ted Henty, Senior Botanist with the Forestry Dept. in Lae was our host, and astounded us with facts and figures on P.N.G. and its people and vegetation.
We were so impressed with Pit Pit (Setaria palmifolia and Saccharum edule), as a cooked vegetable, we have decided to add it to our regular diet. It tasted similar to broccoli and is easy to boil or bake in the oven. Only the immature inflorescence is eaten.
Rabaul was another beautiful place we visited. It was like something out of a South Seas Island travelogue. Here we tasted the famous Fiji Longan (Pometia pinnata), known locally as Taun Nut. There are two main varieties, the hard skin type and the soft skin type. The hard skin was as big as a rambutan and the soft skin as big as an apple. They are sweet, fruity and similar to the Longan. We managed to collect about twenty seeds which have all germinated here in Cairns. With their large leathery leaves and bunches of purple fruit, they make a good back yard tree.
Many Chinese families have Chinese longans in the back yards around Rabaul but they rarely fruit. One interesting story we heard was that when the fire crackers explode in the Longan trees, the nearest branch will often flower and set fruit, soon afterwards.
Pau nuts (Barringtonia species) were especially delicious with a taste something like coconut, and a very soft and crunchy texture.
Galip nuts are hard to beat, in fact are equal to our Queensland nut.
Ron Croydon, who is district horticulturalist at Kerevat Agricultural Station, (where we tasted a mouth-watering Langsat) gave us a very good guided tour of all the best back yard fruit trees in Rabaul. Many thanks, Ron!
DATE: May 1982
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