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The Breadfruit, suitable from coast to mountain

September 9, 2010

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis, Moraceae) is native to Malaysia, Indonesia and New Guinea. Starting some 4000 years ago, the Malayan explorers brought it to many tropical Pacific islands. Its carbohydrates, along with coconut and fish protein, is sufficient food on an island. It is said that planting ten trees is all you need to sustain your family. No need for cash or a job. During the many wars between the pacific islanders, cutting down the trees for the enemy was a devastating blow. It is common in the Caribbean, where it was introduced by the British as the cheapest way to feed the slaves in the 18th century sugar plantations.

Like coconut (Cocos nucifera) and Sea almond (Terminalia catappa), it grows well also in the Chiang Mai valley some 350 meters above sea level, and very far from the sea. Our Dokmai Garden specimen has grown quickly due to frequent fertilization and watering during the dry season. In the north of Thailand, it is considered a curious exotic ornamental, and the locals do not know how to cook it. Not until you come to peninsular Thailand you will find people who can cook the fruits. If you have a garden by the coast, affected by salt water, then breadfruit is a good choice, but you need to look for varieties that originate from atolls and river mouths. Cultivation far from the original habitat, using seeds for several plant generations, may have resulted in a lost ability to withstand salt, a trait that needs constant selective pressure. At the coast, only seedlings fit for a salty environment will survive until fruit formation. Far from the coast, salt tolerance is useless, which is why salt sensitive seedlings survive too. Garden varieties of many plant species have often degenerated as man selects for beauty and taste rather than survival abilities. Since we spray, irrigate and fertilize, degenerated plant generations eventually become dependent on us.

Eric Danell

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