Recent visitors to North Queensland were Ed Mayer and Susan Brown, US Peace Corp volunteers working with the Solomon Islands Ministry for Agriculture and Lands at Lata Field Experiment station, Temotu Province, "Santa Cruz Islands", Solomon Islands.

Ed and Sue are working on a project to conserve and improve the traditional agriculture of the Temotu Province, in a multi-storied tree-cropping system. It is based on breadfruit, tava, ngali nut (pronounced nahli) , other tree crops that yield fruits, nuts and leaves, and wild yams (Dioscorea spp.) and leafy vegetables.

The Santa Cruz Islands, out on a limb from the larger of the Solomon Islands, possess a large number of unique species and varieties of trees because of their isolated location in the transitional zone between Melanesia and Polynesia. Because of the great importance placed on the islands' tree crops by the inhabitants, their traditional agricultural methods have included a keen interest in selection of superior cultivars (cvs) of their different crops, and the culling out of inferior cvs.

As a result of these factors, the islands have produced many excellent cvs. of tree crops, including Artocarpus altilis (breadfruit), Pometia pinnata, Canarium spp., Barringtonia spp., Terminalia spp. and other genera not found elsewhere.

As you travel east into the Pacific, a predominance of breadnuts in New Guinea is replaced by breadfruits. By the time you get to the Santa Cruz Islands in Eastern Melanesia, there are about 400 breadfruit varieties, all of which have some seeds (but usually only 5 or 10), and the quality of the fruit improves. By the time you get to Tahiti in Polynesia, there are less than 10 cvs. of breadfruit, all of which are seedless.

The NGALI NUT (Canarium harvii).
Its distribution is the Santa Cruz Islands and the Banks Islands in Vanuatu. The nut is encased in an edible, but not preferred, fruit with black skin and green flesh (something like Sarawak's dabai, C. odontophyllum.

The oblong nut ranges in size from 30-60 mm x 65-110 mm. The nut is of very high quality, and the kernels are large. In 1990, the Santa Cruz Islands are planning to export a shipment of Ngali nuts to Australia. The main season is April till the end of May. There is a small secondary season in December, however, there are some nuts available all year round. The tree can hold very large crops, and they crop better on some islands than others. Certain individual trees are very highly prized for the size and quality of their crops.

The nuts are cracked open and dried near a fire, after which treatment they keep well. The Ngali nut seed is identical to other Canarium spp. for planting purposes. The more sharply pointed end should be upwards when planting. They are very slow and difficult to germinate, normally taking six months.

The tree can be distinguished from other Canariums in that it usually has 7 leaflets (though sometimes 5 or 9) and small stipules at the base of the leaf stalk. The trees fruit in about 10 years, and like other Canariums they are dioecious.

JAVA ALMOND (Canarium indicum).
This tree grows all over the South Pacific as far as Fiji. It has a smaller nut than the ngali, around 50-75 mm, but produces higher yields. The trees in the Santa Cruz Islands have larger nuts than usual. The tree has 11-17 leaflets and large wavy stipules.

In Nuts of the World, E. Menninger says that the single large kernel inside the rather hard shell is oily and has a delicate flavour. Some nuts tested were found to contain 72% oil content, 13.5% protein, and 7% starch. The oil is useful for cooking and the nuts must be very mature for this purpose, but for eating purposes, the nuts are pleasantest at an earlier stage. The nuts are relished in the Solomon Islands where they are gathered by intensive foraging, and they are sometimes preserved in special huts.

Kernels of both these Canariums are either eaten raw on the spot, collected for baking in stone ovens, or added to delicious puddings made from cassava, yams, and/or sweet potatoes. Ed and Sue often eat this dish which can be bought in the weekly market there.

ALITE NUT (pronounced AH-LEE-TAY), Terminalia catappa).
This tree grows on the Reef Islands, part of the Santa Cruz Islands. This is the common Sea Almond that grows on the shores of Northern Australia and throughout the Asian tropics where it has been widely planted. Normally the kernels are not large enough to be worth eating, however in the Santa Cruz Islands there are very large-seeded forms, many 60 mm or more.

They are good eating when dried, very thin-shelled, and easy to crack open with the teeth. There is another Terminalia sp. called TEKALUN, of which the fruit surrounding the seed is the edible part.

CUT NUT (Barringtonia spp.)
Whenever a large tree is planted in the Santa Cruz Islands (e.g. breadfruit, ngali nut), one or two cut nut trees are planted nearby, and these trees are used as living ladders for ease of access to the larger trees. They have well-spaced branches for this purpose. Although the tree reaches a maximum height of 15m in its semi-wild state, there are many dwarf varieties, some of which begin fruiting at a height of 1.5 m or 2 m tall. It grows well in the shade, and is a natural companion tree.

Barringtonia edulis grows in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. The tree is 8-9m tall, sparsely branched, with large handsome leaves, bronze coloured when young. It has 60-90 cm long pendant racemes of showy red and white flowers. Long tight bunches of fruit form from these. Seeds are eaten raw and have the flavour of raw peanuts. The fruit surrounding the nut is edible raw or cooked, but is not the part preferred. The nut shell is rounded.

The tree is cultivated by the islanders, and tolerates shade or sun. It grows near the seashore, and fruits in 2 to 4 years from transplanting. Transplanting of seedlings rather than planting seeds, is the normal way of propagating all these nut trees in the Santa Cruz Islands.

B. novae-hyberniae, the wild cut nut, grows specifically in the Santa Cruz Islands. The tree prefers to grow in shade, and bunches of fruit are very long but more open than the other cut nut. This nut has an angled shell.

TAVA (Pometia pinnata)
The ones growing in the Santa Cruz Islands are large varieties, the fruit being 50-60 mm in diameter. This is a very high-quality fruit according to Ed and Sue, and the Santa Cruz Islands have some of the best varieties in the South Pacific. The seed is usually planted direct and the tree grows very vigorously, reaching a height of 1.8 m in six months.

Burckella obovata, a round to oblong or obovate fruit, 8-20 cm diameter, with thick greenish skin and a large seed similar to that of a mamey sapote. The white flesh is highly regarded by the islanders.

The locals eat a wide range of leafy greens including Hibiscus spp. and Gnetum gnemon, one of the most popular.

Food Plants of the South Pacific, by Massal and Barrau, South Pacific Commission, 1956.

Nuts of the World, by Menninger, Horticultural Books, 1977.

Extract from Cardwell/Johnstone Branch Newsletter No. 16, December, 1989

DATE: January 1993

* * * * * * * * * * * * *