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A green orb but not a pomelo…

November 8, 2011

…it is the fruit of a calabash tree (Crescentia cujete, Bignoniaceae)! This small tree (up to 10 m) is commonly planted in Chiang Mai as an ornamental but originally it comes from the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. It should be grown in full sun on well drained soil. Cuttings root easily and are used for making living fences. The tree makes beautiful green blossom straight on the branches (it is cauliflorus). I have no pictures but will provide next year. The name ‘calabash tree’ is derived from the fact its hard rind can be used for making vessels, cups and spoons. The original calabash is a vine from Africa (Lagenaria siceraria, Cucurbitaceae).

A Crescentia cujete fruit maturing at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, Thailand (photo Nov. 8, 2011). Members of the bignonia family make very different fruits, such as flat edible sabers or long spirals.  Many members of the bignonia family have winged seeds for wind dispersal, but not the calabash tree. It has been hypothesized that this fruit was once eaten by large mammals which were hunted to extinction by Native Americans. Today, horses seem to eat the fruits. I offered a slice of an immature fruit to our water buffalo, who likes banana and longan, but he rejected it. I threw in two pieces to our wild boars, and they fought over them. Then I sliced up half a fruit in eight pieces to give each piggy a chance, but then they just sniffed at the pieces and returned to me for something more tasty.

The diameter of this smaller immature fruit was 138 mm, the weight was 900 g and the rind was 3 mm thick. The fragrance is like a combination of sand, Scleroderma mushrooms, radish and cucumber. The huge number of seeds are dispersed within the pulp. The pulp oxidizes gray and is easy to detach from the rind by using your fingers. It has a spongy texture resembling that of immature puffballs. It is not considered food by the native South Americans, but a medicine against asthma, fever and worms. The heart-shaped seeds can be mashed and mixed with water to make a refreshing drink.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rik permalink
    November 9, 2011 5:19 AM

    Just wanted to thank you for all the informative posts here on your forum at dokmaidogma.
    I’m not sure how many folks are That into this stuff about the various info on Thai plants of Chiang Mai…….but I SURE AM. I can’t get enough of this stuff. So thanks for all the cool info and photos and stories to boot. Keep it coming please. My Wife and I came to visit the gardens last March for the first time and have plenty of memorable moments there. We bought a nice Brugmansia which got planted in our new garden in Chiang Mai. We will come back to Thailand for good next year from the bay area in the states. I’m crazy about flowers and plants and have favorites like epiphyllum hybrids which I hope to share with the community when stems are ready. Hope to stay in touch.
    Thanks again for all the work,

    • November 9, 2011 9:17 AM

      Dear Rik,

      Many thanks for your invaluable encouragement. Meeting other garden lovers is most rewarding to us.

      Cheers, Kate and Eric

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