DURIAN - THE EXTREME TROPICAL FRUIT
(One of a series of articles about growing fruit trees
in Samoa, written by Digby Gotts and published in the 'Samoa Observer'
between December 2000 and April 2001)
My personal philosophy about gardening is to grow what grows, and adapt
to enjoying this product. For many people, adapting to enjoy durian may
take some effort but this fruit tree is another import that seems to enjoy
Samoa even more than its native South East Asia. This king of tropical
fruit will only grow in this hot and wet climate and must also have deep,
well drained and rich soils.
Durian has a strong smell, particularly from the over ripe fruit. People
selling it often keep it away from other foods and sell them off the footpath
rather than from inside shops, where the smell can be overpowering. Once
you become used to the smell, and actually taste the fruit, the flesh
has a rich flavour I find similar to sweet vanilla cream. (Other attempts
to describe the flavour include strawberry cream, and cold cooked onions!)
I have found that it can take people a few attempts over several years
to actually taste the fruit, but then, like me, they are hooked. Love
it or hate it, this fruit has a very high market value in Australia and
SE Asia as it is much sought after by those who have acquired the taste.
Retail values at the moment in Australia are usually around the A$7 to
A$10 per kilo range, while here in Samoa I couldn’t even give them
away last season.
The few trees that have been brought into Samoa are growing very well,
but sometimes do not produce many fruit. The flowers need to have pollen
from another tree and very few insects or birds are available in Samoa
to do this job. In Australia and SE Asia, the flowers open fully at night
and are pollinated by small nectar feeding bats. In Samoa the small sega
sega (honeyeaters) have been seen feeding in the flowers in the early
morning and this is a hopeful sign. If there are no honeyeaters or other
pollinators, then the growers will have to get up with the sun and hand
pollinate their flowers to ensure fruit are set. Soils must be well drained
to avoid a water borne fungus that attacks the root system, slowly killing
the tree. There appear to be no insect pests of this fruit in Samoa.
The fruits themselves can be as big as coconuts, but are covered in very
sharp, hard spines, making them difficult to carry in bare hands. At fruit
maturity, the stem breaks where it is attached to the tree and the fruit
falls to the ground. At this time of year it’s a good idea to wear
a hard hat in the durian orchard! When it ripens over the next day or
so, the hard shell is split open down lines of weakness to reveal soft
white flesh wrapped around a large seed. The flesh is usually eaten immediately
but can be frozen or mixed with sugar to make a popular preserved confection.
Trees grown from seed will produce fruit in about 7 years, while grafted
trees can fruit in 4 years. Several trees of differing varieties are needed
to help fruit set. These trees are available from the MAFFM Fruit Tree
Project at Nafanua.