We never cease to be amazed at the number of new species of fruit trees that are uncovered for us every time we make an excursion into a rainforest that we have not explored yet. Many such recent discoveries include black ebony (Diospyros macrocarpa), Suli (Ricinodendron heudelotii), Nde (Canarium schweinfurthii), Zevelu (Diospyros mannii), Annona senegalensis, Hexalobus crispiflorus, and Doju (Coleus dazu). We also encounter forest fruit species that we have known about, but have not reported to you in detail yet, such as Ndea (Sarcocephalus xanthoxylon), kusu (Garcinia cola), Kpolo (Dialium pachyphyllum), Gbau (Pentaclethra macrophylla), Kana (Panda oleosa), the Irvingia species, Munga (Synsepalum spp.), Monkey Fruit (Myrianthus arboreus), and Bambu (Chrysophyllum lacourtianum). You will notice in our new Agroforestry Tree list that out of the 300 listed species, 60 of them are native to this area. Now, we would like to give you a brief description of some of these lesser-known fruit trees of the Zaire tropical rainforest:
Canarium schweinfurthii. This tree is one of the tallest, standing to a height of 50m or more. Its trunk diameter at DBH can be over 2m. And finally, its branches are capable of spreading out to cover an area of ½ an acre!
Despite its size, it produces a good edible fruit similar in character to that of the Safu, which we reported to you back in March of 1986. The fruit is small, 1-2 inches in size with a thin ¼" layer of flesh, much like that of an avocado, that surrounds the very hard three-sided seed.
The fruits are collected in the forest, when they have fallen from the tree. They are then placed in a pot filled with warm water, not hot, for about 10 to 15 minutes (with the lid on the pot). Once the flesh has softened, they are eaten whole and while you are removing the seed, you get a nutty-buttery flavor that is not sour, penetrating your tastebuds. Twenty to thirty of these fruits makes a pretty good meal and during the ripening months of September and October, they can be seen being sold in the local market places. Yes, the nut, too, is edible, but only wild animals and Paul Noren have been found eating them! Another interesting fact is that the sap is used to patch up leaks in pans or water containers AND it can be used as a flammable fluid to keep torches lit. The hard seed is also carved into figurines and sold as trinkets.
Coleus dazo. We ran across this potato-like plant in the very northern tip of Zaire, in a savanna-type environment, one that is a bit dryer than we are normally used to. The plant only grows to about a metre in height, with its several stems eventually falling over to lay on top of the ground to take root at the nodes. Starchy roots form underground at the nodes and get about 2 - 3" long and ½" wide at maturity with the coleus species and with the much larger rotundifolia species, they become 5" long and 2" 'wide. The tubers are prepared by first washing them by hand which removes the thin skin along with the dirt. They are then boiled and served. The taste is the closest thing that we know of to an Irish potato. Unfortunately, in this area, daju is going out of production, most likely due to the preference of growing and eating manioc (Manihot esculenta).
Sarcocephalus xanthoxylon. Commonly known as Ndea, this tree is found in swampy forested areas growing to a height of no more than 20m. The fruit is the size of a peach, only flesh in color, with tiny black seeds arranged in a circular pattern much like the kiwi if you give it a cross-section cut. The whole inside of the fruit has an edible flesh, tasting like a mushy apple. The only part that is not eaten, the outer skin, has indentations similar to that of a golf ball. There also is a savanna type, probably Sarcocephelus (nauclea) esculenta, that has a smaller, brick-red coloured fruit. We've tasted both of these fruits and they are far better than the pincushion fruit (Nauclea latifolia) that we've tried in Florida.
Myrianthus arboreus. This, the Monkey Fruit, grows abundantly in the local forests to heights of 25-30m. During the summer months, the native kids grab themselves a treat by throwing rocks and knocking the large 20cm yellow fruit to the ground. The kids then begin to separate, individually, 1-inch, 4-5 sided sections of skin, flesh, and seed. They are eaten by grasping the outer tough skin with your fingers, then sinking your teeth into the fleshy part. This separates the seed (which you spit out) and it releases a flavorful juice, that can either be sweet or sour, depending on the tree. Each fruit is equipped with 50-100 of those giant candy-corn shaped sections, making it a delightful afternoon snack. Monkeys, of course, eat a lot of this fruit, while the African Grey parrots pick up the seeds afterward. It usually bears in only 4-5 years.
Chrysophyllum lacourtianum. Both Bambu and Ngolobo (another Chrysophyllum species) are huge forest types that commonly get a trunk diameter of 1m. Both fruits are highly esteemed by the nationals here, and are also sold in the market place. The part that is eaten is actually a sticky, juicy sap that is sucked out of the fruit when a small hole is poked into one end of the fruit. The juice can be sweet, depending on the tree, and it is acidic, causing one's teeth to go on edge.
Bambu fruit is an attractive red ball, about the size of an apple, while the smaller Ngolobo is yellow and takes on the size of a golf ball. Though both these fruits are interesting in their own respects we have a hard time recommending it for people with limited space.
Please note: July, August, and September are ripening months for most of the Zairian tropical rainforest and savanna species of fruits especially the ones just mentioned in this newsletter. The only exception would be the Daju, which is planted in March (beginning of the rainy season) and harvested in November (beginning of the dry season).
FOR YOUR INFORMATION, we have several new fruit trees come into bearing for the first time (here at the mission):
1. Spondias purpurea
2. Citrus grandis
3. Flacourtia indica
4. Eugenia jambos
5. Dwarf plantain
6. Dacryodes edulis
7. Vitex cienkowkii
8. Shamouti Orange
9. Washington Navel
10. Solanum topiro
11. Malphigia glabra
13. West African Tall Coconut
14. Passiflora maliformis
15. Annona glabra
16. Hawaiian "Sugarloaf' Pineapple
17. Grafted Arkin Carambola
18. Golden Dorsett Apple
Golden Dorsett Apple: We followed the advice of Martin Price at ECHO to stimulate fruiting by stripping all the leaves off our 2-year-old tree in March, or two weeks before the rainy season was to start. Once the rains came, the whole tree flushed out in solid blooms. About three weeks after that, one small fruit started to form! We also gave this treatment to a Santa Rosa plum, a Mid-pride peach, a Desert Dawn Nectarine, and an Anna Apple. They all flowered, but produced no fruit. I've also got a female Kiwi vine and I'm asking anyone if it is absoluteIy necessary to have a male vine to set fruit AND whether stripping off all of its leaves would promote flowering as well?
Monzelenge Papayas: Out in a far-off village we recently ran across a most unusual papaya that shocked the daylights out of us. The tree had normal-sized fruit on it and the top of the tree was very normal looking. The real eye-opener was the fact that the trunk was so short and we had to stoop down to look at the fruit. In fact, the fruit we ended up picking for seed actually touched the ground while it hung there. As we looked around, there were 3 other super-dwarf papaya trees in the yard. The other amazing thing about this incident is when the owner came out of his house to see what we were doing, he too, happened to be very close to the ground, a polio victim who crawled on the ground to meet us. All we could think of was that there was not a more perfectly matched pair as this owner and his tree. I've planted out seed and we'll see if it comes true.
DATE: January 1988
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