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Time to harvest the bael fruits

February 4, 2013

Our bael trees flowered for the first time on May 17, 2012. The resulting first fruits were harvested on January 30th, 2013, more than eight months later.

This time of the year, cacao, star apple, coconut and sour sop fruits ripen at Dokmai Garden. These fruits are exotic. It does not make sense for a local plant to fruit now, as the drought will not enable germination of its seeds, unless they are so poisonous they can stay untouched until the first serious rains arrive in about three months time. One exception is the native monsoon fruit of the bael tree (Aegle marmelos, Rutaceae). The central Thai name is ’ma tum’. The Hindi name is ‘bel’ which was adopted by the English already in the 17th century. It is well adapted to the open dry lowland forests of India and northern Thailand where it grows in the wild.

Aegle marmelos mother fruit.April16.2008.72At Dokmai Garden it took about four years to go from seed to seed. This is the original mother fruit from which all our specimens emanate. The picture was taken on April 16, 2008. Indeed caring for plants is like caring for children.

Although the fruit of the tree under which Shiva sleeps has been attributed medicinal importance, I like it for its flavour. If a glass of red wine a day is healthy I am happy, but that is not my reason to drink it. As previously mentioned, dried bael fruits are the main ingredient for making a delicious caramel fudge flavoured drink. I believe that eating its fresh, dry but sticky pulp with a spoon is a seasonal delicacy.

It has a rare cousin, wood apple (Limonia acidissima syn. Feronia limonia), which is high on our wanted list. We got fruits at one point back in 2008, but we failed to germinate its seeds. The Central Thai name is ’ma khwit’ and the northern Thai name is ’ma fit’. The flowers are reddish rather than green as in bael, and the leaves have 2-4 opposite leaflets, rather than being trifoliate as in bael. If anyone knows where to get such fruits, please let us know!

Aegle marmelos.72This is how you normally encounter bael in Thai markets. Photo: Anna Kiss (from the book on fruits and vegetables in Southeast Asian markets).

Aegle marmelos fruit.Jan30.2013.72At a first look this woody fruit of the orange family resembles an old potato. You can try and eat them when only partially brown too. I have never seen fresh fruits for sale. This is the first ripe fruit from the daughter generation. Photo January 30th, 2013: Eric Danell.

Aegle marmelos.Jan30.2013.72Using a butcher’s knife you can split the hard rind and enjoy its delicious sticky pulp with a spoon. Photo: Eric Danell

The fruit was originally described as Crateva marmelos by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum from 1753. ‘Marmelo’ is old Portuguese meaning quince (Cydonia oblonga), and Linnaeus wrote in the original species description “fructu pulpa cydonii emulae” (=the fruit’s pulp resembles quince). Had Linnaeus seen the fruit himself and not cited older authors, he would have realized it was not a Crateva but clearly a member of the orange family. The remarkable Portuguese gentleman José Francisco Corrêa da Serra realized this and coined a new genus, Aegle, originally the name of a naiad, a water nymph in Greek mythology.

Most welcome to Dokmai Garden to taste these fruits as long as they last, but kindly remember that since New Year you need to make an appointment. Not only does that help us schedule our other activities and guarantee you a guide, but we also try to avoid the afternoon heat and its strong light which ruin your pictures. In the past many first time visitors from temperate areas popped up around 1 p.m., the worst time to be outdoors in tropical heat, and so the time for most mammals to have a nap. Since this is primarily an educational garden and not a leisure garden, a first time visitor needs a guide to understand it. VIP card holders who have had their introductory tour, are free to walk about on their own to study our 1100 species at their own paste, but give us a ring first.
Eric Danell

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2013 5:39 PM

    I just settled down in Chiang Mai (San Sai)… I really wish I will have time to come to visit the garden soon … 🙂 I love this blog!

    • February 4, 2013 8:35 PM

      Welcome to Chiang Mai! The garden changes about every two weeks, so a plant lover may consider a VIP card with unlimited entries during a year.

      Cheers, Eric

  2. Derek permalink
    March 1, 2013 9:44 PM

    Wood apple is planted beside Bael Fruit at the Tenom Horticultural Park in Sabah, close to where I live. There are no fruits on the wood apple tree or under it at the moment, althought there are about a hundred Bael fruit on the ground. If and when the Wood apple is ripe, I will be selling the seeds here: http://tropicalfruitforum.com/index.php?topic=3901.0
    By the way, I visited your place about 3 yrs ago. You may remember me as a Canadian man who lived in Sweden, Belize and Dominica.

    • March 2, 2013 8:03 PM

      Thank you very much Derek! Please let us know when you think you have seeds available. Cheers, Eric

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