In 1991 I had the opportunity to present a seminar about the tropical fruits and nuts of the Philippines before the members of the Orange and San Diego chapters of the California Rare Fruit Growers.
I had another opportunity in 1994 when I talked about what we consider rare fruits in the Philippines before the members of the San Diego and the West Los Angeles chapters. Since the latter topic was not reported in the Fruit Gardener and in view of a question raised recently about what a rare fruit is, I am now writing on this subject, hoping I can contribute some ideas about what we may consider rare fruits.
The Philippines grows about 300 species of edible fruits and nuts - some indigenous, others exotic. Which of these then do we consider rare fruits? Rare fruits may include exotic species that have recently been introduced or have not been grown on commercial scale. The guava (Psidium guajava) and the papaya (Carica papaya) are introduced species from tropical America that have spread and become common throughout the country. As a species we don't consider them rare fruits anymore. The jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) and the grumichama (Eugenia dombeyi), also from tropical America, were introduced in the Philippines during the first decade of this century but are still considered rare fruits because few people grow them. The abiu (Pouteria caimito) of tropical America, the miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) of tropical Africa and namnam (Cynometra cauliflora) of Southeast Asia are recent introductions and are therefore considered rare fruits. The coco-de-mer, or double coconut, (Lodoicea maldivica), introduced from the Seychelles, could have been a valuable rare-fruit addition had its huge nut germinated.
The Wild is Rare
Indigenous fruits that are still found in the wild and have not been domesticated or grown commercially are also considered rare fruits. Many local fruits and nuts are included under this definition. the galo (Anacolosa frutescens), bago (Gnetum gnemon), alinggaro (Elaeagnus triflora) and hagis (Syzygium dombeyi) are some rare fruits in this category.
Rare fruits may also include those that are common in one region of the country but of limited distribution in other regions. The pili (Canarium ovatum) of the Bicol region, the marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus) of Mindaro and Mindanao islands and the chicomamey (Pouteria sapota) of the Southern Tagalog region are considered rare fruits in the other regions
Fruit plants that possess variegated or multicoloured leaves and fruit are definitely rare and are considered collectors' items. The variegated calamondin (Citrus fortunella microcarpa), the multicoloured pineapple (Ananas comosus), the variegated and red guava and the so-called golden coconut (Cocos nucifera) belong to this rare-fruit group. The variegated sapodilla (Manilkara zapota), variegated carambola (Averrhoa carambola) and variegated caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito) are also found in the Philippines.
Unusual Characteristics Are Rare
Fruit varieties with extraordinary fruit characteristics are also considered rare. The red cashew (Anacardium occidentale) instead of the common yellow, the yellow or purple sugar apple (Annona squamosa) instead of the common green, the green or white Java apple (Syzygium samarangense) instead of the common pink, the green santol (Sandoricum koetjape) instead of the common yellow, and the yellow rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) instead of the common red, are considered rare fruits in the Philippines.
The seedless guava, seedless sugar apple, seedless velvet fruit (Diospyros blancoi) and seedless jambolan (Syzygium cumini) are definitely rare fruits by our definition. The spineless durian (Durio zibethinus) is also a rarity.
Some coconut palms in the Philippines produce 'makapuno' nuts (i.e. the mature nut is completely filled with nothing but soft and solid meat inside). In the market, these nuts are ten times more expensive than the normal nuts. The meat is extracted (usually scooped out to form a ball), preserved in syrup and is much used for dessert or for flavouring ice cream. The makapuno coconut cannot be used as planting material because it would not germinate. (Normal nuts from makapuno trees can, however, be used as planting materials. Resulting palms would bear a ratio of one makapuno to three normal nuts.) However, the embryo from the makapuno nut can be rescued, cultured aseptically in the laboratory to produce a seedling, and later planted in the field. This pure makapuno palm would produce up to 100% makapuno nuts, depending on pollen source. The makapuno coconut, whether of the ordinary or of the tissue-cultured variety, is, therefore, a rare plant. A pure makapuno seedling is also very expensive at P600 or about $25.
Unusual Cultivars of Common Fruit
The banana, although an almost omnipresent plant all over the archipelago, has several rare and interesting cultivars. The 'Pastilan' banana produces not just one but two or more fruit bunches per plant. The 'Pisang (meaning banana) Siribu' (meaning a thousand) of Malaysia and Indonesia produces about a thousand fingers per bunch, and it may be necessary for a banana farmer to dig a hole in the ground to accommodate the continuously elongating fruit stalk. The 'Pitogo' banana has round fingers while those of the 'Inabaniko' are joined together so that its hand resembles a fan.
The miracle fruit bush is in a class by itself as a rare fruit. While its fruit is rather small and has little edible flesh, almost everybody wants to own a miracle plant. It owes its popularity to its ability to temporarily numb our taste buds for sour taste, thus making all sour-tasting foods taste sweet. The miracle fruit is also an ideal plant to grow in a container.
Some fruit plants are rare because of the showy and attractive flowers which also make them excellent ornamental plants. To this category belong the passionfruit (Passiflora edulis), granadilla (Passiflora quadrangularis), katmon (Dillenia philippinensis), pomegranate (Punica granatum), rose apple (Syzygium jambos) and Malay apple (Syzygium malaccense).
Dwarf fruit plants such as the dwarf banana (cv. Dwarf Cavendish), dwarf papaya, dwarf guava with miniature leaves (cv. 'Senorita') and dwarf governor's plum (Flacourtia rukam) are also considered rare because their fruit are easier to harvest than the non-dwarf sizes. The dwarf guava and the dwarf governor's plum are also ideal bonsai materials. Furthermore, the dwarf governor's plum is spineless as contrasted to the very spiny trunk and branches of the normal plant.
Exceptional Quality Makes it Rare
Rare also are some fruit trees that have unusually high nutritional properties. The guava and the acerola (Malpighia glabra) contain up to 2,000 milligrams and 4,700 milligrams vitamin C per 100 grams edible portion, respectively. In comparison, the orange (Citrus sinensis) contains only about 100 milligram of this vitamin. The canistel (Pouteria campechiana) contains about 2060 I. U. vitamin A per 100 grams edible portion. In comparison, the squash (Cucurbita maxima) only contains about 1000 I.U. of this vitamin.
In conclusion, there are many ways of defining what a rare fruit is. The objective of the California Rare Fruit Growers, published in its 1976 yearbook, is to assist in the introduction of new fruits and superior varieties of the more established fruits, primarily for home utilization as grown under California conditions. That statement helps define what the organisation would aptly consider as rare fruits, for it places its emphasis on plants little known to the grower's area and on varieties that may be better adapted to the needs of the small farmer or urban hobby grower.
Roberto Coronel, Ph.D, is professor and head of the national Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.)
DATE: November 1997
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *