Exotic Fruits with their colourful history and mystique have fascinated man since time immemorial. Tales of exquisite tastes, tantalising bouquets, medicinal and even aphrodisiac qualities, have created such a desire for these fruits that man has gone to unusual lengths to obtain them.
The humble breadfruit tree was once considered more important than the lives of a crew and led to the "Mutiny on the Bounty". Queen Victoria was reported to have once offered 100 pounds to the first person to grow a purple mangosteen in England. This was eventually achieved under stove-house conditions, but soon afterwards the tree was exposed to cold weather and died.
The first explorers to S.E. Asia and Central America returned with fascinating tales of rare and exotic fruits, but their attempts to grow them in their own country mostly failed through a lack of cultural knowledge and the long journeys home.
The first introduction of these fruits into Australia occurred back in the 1880s when fruit such as the purple mangosteen, carambola, velvet apple, jak fruit, lychee, longan, mango and some banana varieties were grown in the Cairns, Mossman and Cooktown areas in North Queensland. These first fruits came in with the Kanaka cane cutters, Malay pearl divers and the Chinese gold miners. They also brought in many of the bamboos in North Queensland. Except for the mangoes and bananas which became endemic in the area, the other fruits did not flourish and fell into obscurity.
However, in the early 1970s growers again became interested in exotics as a supplementary crop to bananas, pawpaws and pineapples which were virtually the only commercial fruits being grown in the North. Importations of exotics began slowly at first from S.E. Asia and then from the Amazon and Central American region and also from Florida and California. Eventually such a flood of imported plants, grafting material and seeds arrived that quarantine houses from Cairns to Brisbane were overcrowded. All this resulted in the introduction of over one hundred new fruits with a total of over five hundred new varieties. Today, the rate of import has slowed somewhat; the mammoth task of Australian selection has begun.
Mango imports were the most popular with approximately 200 new varieties, followed by Rambutan and Lychee, each with about 45 varieties. Next comes Carambola and Sapodilla with approximately 25 new varieties each, then Longan with about 20 and Durian and Casimiroa with about 15 each. Most of the commercial varieties are now in Australia and are starting to become available through specialist nurseries.
Australia, particularly Queensland, is now considered to have the best collection in the world of horticultural genetic material. The future looks great, not only for commerce and research, but also for the tourist industry. North Queensland already welcomes hundreds of visitors each year in search of exotic fruits and plants.
Rare and Exotic Fruits overseas have a long history of popularity. Many are still harvested from wild trees, while some such as the lychee and mango have been cultivated for over 3000 years.
In most South East Asian countries, the cultivation of exotics is now a multimillion dollar industry employing thousands of workers. Exports are now measured in tens of thousands of tonnes with earnings of many millions of dollars. In Thailand last year, those fruits which were produced in large quantities included: Jak Fruit (600,000 tonnes), Durian (500,000 tonnes), Rambutan (600,000 tonnes), Tamarind (900,000 tonnes), Mangosteen (40,000 tonnes), Mango (900,000 tonnes), Sapodilla (90,000 tonnes), Langsat (110,000 tonnes), Lychee (40,000 tonnes), Longan (150,000 tonnes), Tangerine (370,000 tonnes), Pomelo (100,000 tonnes), Guava (80,000 tonnes). In some cases up to half of this production was exported.
Even the tiny island of Singapore imported S$10.3 m. worth of Durian last year. These exports are very important to local economies and are protected in Thailand to the extent of a $500 fine for attempting to smuggle out grafting material of pomelo, durian and some varieties of longan.
Apart from extensive trade between S.E. Asian countries where peak fruiting seasons occur at different times, the U.S.A. and Western Europe are the main export markets for some of these fruits. Durian, mangosteen, and rambutan can be purchased in Germany and France in the months of June, July and August. Australia imports fresh durian, mango and lychee. We also import canned lychee, longan, mangosteen, rambutan and mango.
AREAS IN AUSTRALIA SUITED TO EXOTICS
Exotic fruits originate from many different areas and climates throughout the world and therefore most areas in Australia would be suitable for at least some of these fruits.
Although the majority of exotics are suited to the northern tropical region, some will withstand frosts down to 8°C below zero, provided they go into winter in a hardened condition, and would be suitable for growing in southern states and Western Australia.
These would include Casimiroa, Kiwi Fruit, Feijoa, Raisin Tree, Jujube, Carob, Rio Grande Cherry, Jaboticaba, Guava, Wampee, and Jelly Palm. Others can withstand frosts down to minus 4°C and are suitable for some areas in Western Australia, Northern N.S.W. and central and southern Queensland. These are Lychee, Longan, Tamarind, Acerola Cherry, Grumichama, Mamoncillo and Peach Palm.
Those suited to the sub-tropics where temperatures usually don't fall below - 1°C would include Ambarella, Carambola, Pitaya Cactus, Velvet Apple, Mango, Black Sapote, Governor's plum, Madrono, Jak Fruit, Java Plum, Salak Palm, Bael Fruit, Ackee, Mamey Sapote, Star Apple, Sapodilla, Canistel, Miracle Fruit and Abiu. Those suited only to the tropics and have no tolerance to frost, are Rambutan, Pulasan, Durian, Rollinea, Rambai, Bread Fruit, Malay Apple, Fiji Longan, Amazon Tree Grape, Ice Cream Bean, Nutmeg and Galip Nut.
Australia also has great areas of fertile inland, and provided underground water is available and temperatures permit, the following may be grown: Sapodilla, Casimiroa, Lychee, Longan, Mango, Black Sapote, Jujube, Pomelo, Abiu, Star Apple, Jaboticaba, Guava, Pitaya Cactus, Acerola Cherry and Wampee.
CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
At this stage, the Australian industry is in its infancy, but with plenty of potential to grow. Accurate figures of plantings are difficult to obtain, but those fruits being planted in commercial quantities include lychee, mango, rambutan, casimiroa, carambola, purple star apple, rollinia, jak fruit, abiu, longan, sapodilla and purple mangosteen. Current demand for both fruit and young trees is far ahead of supply and if lychee is a good example, this situation will remain so for many years.
Although lychee and mango plantings may be counted in hundreds of thousands, most of the others could be counted only in thousands. Growers appear to be planting mainly those varieties which are already commercial in other countries.
When visiting the markets in S.E. Asia, one realises that our Western tastes are not always the same as those in the East. The S.E. Asians seem to prefer sweeter, stronger flavours such as the sapodilla or longan with their high sugar content and the durian and jak fruit with their stronger-smelling flavours. In Thailand, the less juicy varieties are preferred.
Selection of varieties for flavour and texture have been continuing in the 'East' for a long time, and although this is a reasonable guide, Australian researchers will have to consider that our tastes are different to those of overseas.
The situation for many farmers is starting to become desperate and they are very interested to know what sort of returns could be expected from exotic fruits. Production per hectare in Queensland can be expected to compare favourably with the following figures from Thailand based on average for 10-year-old trees.
|Monetary returns can only be based on prices|
currently realised here in Cairns.
Purple Star Apple
|$5.00 per Kg.|
$4.50 per Kg.
$4.00 per Kg.
$1.50 to $2.00 per Kg.
$1.50 to $2.00 each.
0.40¢ to 0.80¢ each.
EXOTICS AS ORNAMENTALS
Many of these new fruit trees have attractive foliage as well as flowers and fruit, and would enhance any garden. Some are small and bushy such as the 'miracle fruit' which is most attractive when loaded with hundreds of red berries. Others are climbers such as the pitaya cactus with beautiful yellow or red fruit and magnificent large bell-shaped flowers which open at night.
The 'malay apple' is most attractive when covered in beautiful red flowers. The amazon tree grape has foliage similar to our umbrella tree and has bunches of grape-like fruits. Jaboticaba is another tree grape and grows well in any garden. Carambola and cucumber trees are also attractive in the garden. And then there are several attractive fruiting palms such as salak, peach and jelly palms.
Many fruits are grown for the novel features of their fruits. The 'ice cream bean' can grow to about one metre in length and contains soft fluffy flesh which is sweet and juicy. There are many different varieties. The 'chocolate pudding fruit' has a green exterior with dark brown to black soft flesh which is delicious when eaten as a dessert with cream or ice cream - a touch of rum or brandy will bring out the chocolate flavour. Many restaurants now find it economical to make chocolate mousse from these fruits.
The 'miracle fruit' will astound any of your visitors. One little fruit will make a sour lemon taste sweet and delicious. In fact anything sour will taste very sweet. The effect lasts for about half an hour with no after effects. The 'strawberry jam fruit' can be eaten fresh or spread on bread and tastes just like strawberries. It is also a very good feed tree for all farm yard birds including pheasants and peacocks. The 'chinese raisin tree' has fruit that resemble dead twigs and tastes like raisins. The carob tree provides an excellent chocolate-like by-product from its beans. The kepel fruit from Indonesia is reported to make your body smell like perfume! The acerola cherry contains large amounts of vitamin C and is taken to prevent colds.
It seems to be in fashion lately, especially in Southern Capitals, to hold a party and have rare exotic fruits as a talking point.
Growing Exotic Fruits has a lot of advantages. At least 15 of the fruits are already commercial, to some extent overseas, and some of these support large industries with substantial earnings. Our peak fruiting season occurs 6 months away from S.E. Asia's peak and therefore offers a potential export field for Australia, particularly in lychee, mango and longan.
This type of fruit-growing, properly managed, can offer a supplementary or even an alternative crop for existing growers who are affected by the present down-turn in some rural industries. Reasonable financial returns can be expected to start within 4 to 10 years or longer, but to most fruit growers it's a way of life and not merely a financial investment.
It is hoped the industry will grow gradually, as our current markets may be hard pressed to handle a sudden influx of exotic fruits. The industry can be a great tourist attraction, and those cities and towns with a foresight to provide a suitable market will benefit enormously.
As many of our older crops become less lucrative, the new exotic fruits will offer a refreshing and rewarding alternative.
DATE: January 1985
* * * * * * * * * * * * *