Fruit Fanatic: Malay Peninsula destinations for tropical fruit lovers

Countries More News Opinion Top Stories
Fruit Fanatic: Malay Peninsula destinations for tropical fruit lovers

By botanist and fruit fanatic Rolf Blancke

Rolf Blancke smallAs part of his project to publish the most comprehensive book ever produced for general readers on the world’s tropical fruits, botanist Rolf Blancke has written a five-part series for on his exotic fruit experiences. In this final instalment, he discusses some interesting discoveries in the Penang Tropical Fruit Farm and the Singapore Botanical Gardens.

While researching for my new book "Tropical Fruits of the World" for Zona Tropical Publications, I spent two months traveling in South East Asia in search of rare fruit trees like the Engkala (Litsea garciae) and the Mango Plum (Bouea macrophylla), among many other species. Two places with exceptional collections I planned on visiting were the Penang Tropical Fruit Farm in Malaysia and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Penang is a fairly small island off the humid west coast of Malaysia. After crossing by bridge from the mainland one gets to the port city of Georgetown, the only major city on the island. Georgetown is a bustling, typical Asian city which has preserved much of its colonial charm. Many of the old buildings, which have survived modernization, are being restored and the streets are filled with markets and street vendors. After sunset the main streets convert into one giant restaurant with hundreds of food stalls offering every food imaginable.

About an hour bus ride from Georgetown one can visit the privately owned Tropical Fruit Farm, which houses a collection of more than 250 tropical fruit tree species. Being in Georgetown I could hardly wait to explore the diversity and hoped to walk away with a good selection of photos of rare tropical fruits.

Mango Plums

Mango Plums

I was not to be disappointed. Even before entering the Fruit Farm I found a fruiting Asian Palmyra Palm (Borassus flabellifer) and a fruiting Governor's Plum (Flacourtia inermis) at the entrance. The immature, black fruits of the Asian Palmyra Palm contain a sweet, transparent, jelly-like endosperm, which is eaten as a snack. I saw these a day before at a street vendor in Penang.

After paying my entrance fee and finally persuading the staff that I didn't want a guided tour, I was off to explore the plant collection. I immediately got very busy taking photos of a fruiting Santol tree (Sandoricum koetjape), which is native to South East Asia, a fruiting Nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) and a fruiting Camu Camu (Myrciaria dubia), which is native to the Amazon region.

The purple-red, cherry-like fruits are very acidic and used with sugar to make refreshing drinks. The fruit is known for its extraordinary high content of vitamin C. Along the trail I was soon rewarded with a fruiting Elephant Ear Fig (Ficus auriculata), which has large, orange-red, fig-like fruits and a Fiji Longan (Pomentia pinnata) with green fruits and a translucent, sour-sweet flesh.

During that day I could take photos of more than 26 species of fruits, which were still missing in my photo collection. The only setbacks during that otherwise very successful day were the bright sun, requiring screens to avoid hard shadows and especially the constantly blowing wind from the Indian Ocean moving my objects and stretching my patience to the limit.



Later that afternoon on the way back to Georgetown, I visited the Tropical Spice Garden, which has a good collection of tropical spices set in a beautiful tropical garden. After my visit to Penang I turned south towards Kuala Lumpur, where I visited numerous street markets selling vegetables and fruits and further on to Singapore.

Truly a garden city, I was impressed how green a city can actually be with trees and plants growing in every possible spot. And it seems that every single plant, no matter how small or large, is cared for by a huge number of city employees. I even observed the municipality tying epiphytes like orchids and ferns onto branches of tall street trees using hydraulic platforms.

Already deeply impressed I went on to visit the famous botanical garden. The same professionalism I observed throughout the city continued even more so in the botanic garden. Beautifully laid out on 74 hectares with three lakes, palm collections, flowering trees and a world-famous orchid collection as one of its main attractions one can spend easily a whole day in this small paradise. Although I did enjoy all of this scenery, I was strongly attracted by the section housing tropical fruit trees.

It didn't take long before I found a rare Asam Gelugor tree (Garcinia atroviridis), with a single, intact fruit on the whole tree. The tree belongs to the same genus as the well-known Mangosteen (G. mangostana). The acid, yellow, strongly ribbed fruits are used dried or fresh in the Asian cuisine as an ingredient in sweet and sour curries. Close to it there were several fruiting Gambooge trees (Garcinia gumma-gutta), which produce a reddish, ribbed fruits used in a similar way as Asam Gelugor.

During the two full days I spent in the Singapore Botanic Garden I also found a Mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia) from India. The oil of the seeds is used as a vegetable fat in parts of Asia, especially in India. Among several other species I was also able to take photos of the flowers and fruits of the rare Cutnut (Barringtonia procera), which is native to New Guinea and Oceania and produces an edible nut-like fruit.

Both Singapore and Penang were very rewarding destinations providing me with photos of more than 45 new species for my new book project, which includes some 340 species of tropical fruits, spices and tubers.

Related stories: Fruit Fanatic: hunting for rare trees in Puerto Rico

Fruit Fanatic: an exotic fruit collector's Ecuadorian dream

Fruit Fanatic: the Andean cradle for rare fruits, pseudo-cereals and tubers

Fruit Fanatic: the quest for the Engkala

Tropical fruit fanatic to publish comprehensive book

Photos: Rolf Blancke





Subscribe to our newsletter