This year’s Eco-Fiesta, a few days ago, was much like those of previous years: a lovely day in the park with all sorts of loosely ‘greenie’ and ‘alternative’ people and organisations. I wrote enough about the 2014 and 2013 events that I shouldn’t need to present an overview this time, so I will dive straight in to the things which caught my attention.
Wildlife Queensland had a well-staffed stall featuring a great gallery of flying fox photos. These animals get a bad press and need all the support they can get.
North Queensland Regional Plan had a very boring stall (I’m sorry, but it’s true!) which tried to engage visitors in planning for our region, the local government areas of Charters Towers, Burdekin Shire, Hinchinbrook Shire and Townsville. It’s a state government initiative and welcomes online input here. I told them about our declining rainfall. What’s your concern?
We’re coming to the end of our Wet season (not that it was very wet!) and the local fruit supply reflects the change.
Mangoes have finished (sad face). I haven’t seen anyone selling them off the back of a ute for a couple of weeks, and I think the fruit we got in the last few weeks before that was from somewhere down south, not that the sellers said so. (The season starts in the NT in October and harvesting progresses south, reaching Townsville around Christmas.)
Custard apples are back in season (happy face). They were on sale at Cotters Market two weeks ago, and should be available for the next six months.
I picked the second of two Monstera fruit on my creeper a couple of days ago (happy face), after missing the ripening of the first (sad face) a fortnight ago.
My Ducasse bananas are flourishing (happy face). I have just picked a small bunch, two more bunches are fully formed but some months off ripening, and two more plants have just flowered.
Chinee Apple is a declared weed in Qld, NT and WA and is such a pest locally that I had to laugh at the Wikipedia summary (left) which noted its “conservation status” as “least concern”.
The Brisbane City Council provides a good short overview of its growth habits:
A thorny and densely branched small tree. Its young stems have a zig-zagging nature and usually bear a single curved thorn at each joint. … Its rounded fruit (15-30 mm across) consist of a large hard stone surrounded by white fleshy pulp. These fruit turn from green to pale yellow, orange or reddish-brown as they mature. …
A weed of pastures, grasslands, open woodlands, floodplains, inland watercourses, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas in semi-arid, tropical and sub-tropical regions. …
Chinee apple (Ziziphus mauritiana) is widespread in the northern parts of Australia, but is most common in the northern and central regions of Queensland. It is also scattered throughout the northern parts of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia, and has been recorded from south-eastern Queensland.
For more information, download the pdf from Queensland’s Department of Ag and Fish.
Wikipedia notes that, “In Queensland it is known as the Chinee/Chinkee apple as it was believed to be introduced by Chinese miners to areas such as Charters Towers, Ravenswood and Hughenden,” and that is what I have been told by people who grew up here, too. (Our species, incidentally, is Indian but has a temperate-climate Chinese relative.)
Why would they do such a thing? Well, in Asia it is cultivated for its fruit and they probably realised that it would grow well here, where temperate-climate plants struggle. The difference between “grows well” and “runs rampant” is sometimes small, and they probably didn’t realise just how well it would grow. (This is not a unique case, by any means. Prickly pear was introduced deliberately, and I’m not even going to mention escaped ornamental plants except to remind you of the “Grow Me Instead” programme.) Better introductions, like the mango, thrive with no maintenance but don’t take over.
Children growing up in Chinee apple areas in previous generations traditionally snacked on the fruit in season, as well as mangoes (of course), bush lemons (naturalised lemon trees, but that’s all I know) and tamarind. As a Victorian, I missed out, although I snacked in exactly the same way on roadside cherry-plums and apples in South Gippsland. I didn’t get around to sampling a Chinee apple until I picked a few on my way back from Mt Stuart a few days ago.
The fruit look for all the world like small plums and have a thin edible skin and a hard stone, again like plums. The reason for the common name ‘apple’ only becomes apparent when you bite into one: at the ideal ripeness, the texture is pleasantly crunchy, just like an apple. The flavour is neither strong nor distinctive, vaguely reminiscent of apple or peach. The fruit softens as it ripens further, passing through a pleasant-enough stone-fruit texture to an unattractive musky-smelling semi-liquid state.
Chinee apple as a resource
We are probably not getting the best fruit, of course. Wikipedia tells us that in India, “with sophisticated cultivation the fruit size may reach up to 6.25 cm long and 4.5 cm wide,” and, “there are 90 or more cultivars depending on the habit of the tree, leaf shape, fruit form, size, color, flavor, keeping quality, and fruiting season.” Wikipedia goes on to inform us that:
The major production regions for Indian jujube are the arid and semi arid regions of India. From 1984 to 1995 with improved cultivars the production was 0.9 million tonnes… The crop is also grown in Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Africa. Trees in northern India yield 80 to 200 kg of fresh fruit/tree/year when the trees are in their prime bearing age of 10–20 years.
Where the tree is cultivated, the fruit is eaten raw, stewed, dried, candied, pickled, or used in beverages. Furthermore, all parts of the plant are used – leaves for livestock feed, wood for furniture and house framing, thorny branches for temporary corrals, seeds and bark for medicinal purposes, flowers as a nectar source for honey bees. And finally:
The fatty-acid methyl ester of Z. mauritiana seed oil meets all of the major biodiesel requirements in the USA (ASTM D 6751-02, ASTM PS 121-99), Germany (DIN V 51606) and European Union (EN 14214). The average oil yield is 4.95 kg oil/tree or 1371 kg oil/hectare, and arid or semi-arid regions may be utilised due to its drought resistance.
I wrote about Monstera deliciosa here, almost exactly three years ago. That post has attracted more comments than almost any other on Green Path, so when I enjoyed a monstera fruit yesterday I thought I should mention it to clear up the remaining vagueness in our collective knowledge, i.e., how long do the fruit take to ripen?
I said, “The fruit takes a very long time, perhaps as long as a year, to mature,” and the Agfacts brochure I linked to says “usually about 12 months after flowering.” That turns out to be absolutely correct, at least in our monsoonal climate: the fruit I ate yesterday formed as a flower during our last Wet (nominally Wet, anyway) season.
My photo shows the buds forming (we ended up with five flowers) at the end of the creeper’s stem. The rest of these fruit are now nearly ready to pick as well; I think they would begin to ripen as soon as I picked them but I will let them take their own time. Later stages of the flowers and fruit are illustrated on my earlier post.
Postscript, Feb 8: Two more of the fruit have ripened, as expected, and the plant has produced two new buds at its growing tip.
Another visit to Cotters Market, another exotic fruit to try … this one is the Malay apple or Malay roseapple. It resembles an apple in that the skin is thin, shiny and edible, and the flesh is white and pleasantly crunchy. The flavour is sweet and gently aromatic – ‘rose-scented’ is a fair description. However, the fruit’s structure is not apple-like: it has a single large seed instead of a core. It’s not so big, either, more plum-size than apple-size.
According to Glenn Tankard’s Tropical Fruit, which I mentioned a while ago, the tree (Syzygium malaccense) is a native of Malaysia (so now we know where all the parts of its common names come from) and it is grown there as as ornamental as well as for its fruit.
According to Wikipedia, there are about 1200 species in the genus. Several of them produce fruits similar to the one shown here, and the names often cross over. Australian species include Lilly Pilly and Brush Cherries.
Another visit to Cotters Market, another exotic fruit. The Rollinia is a close relation of the Custard Apple, and I love custard apples so I was willing to try this monster in spite of its daunting appearance. I said as much to the stall holder and asked her what they were like. She said, “Once you’ve tasted this, you won’t eat another custard apple when you can get one of these,” which is a pretty good endorsement.
Was she right? Nearly. The texture is more jelly-like than that of the custard apple – I was reminded of the agar jellies you get in Asian cuisines, or of a particularly soft Turkish Delight. The flavour is delicate but attractive, lemony with hints of lychee and coconut. I’m going to buy whichever is available, whenever they are in season.
The Wikipedia article about the fruit is wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollinia_deliciosa and I am confident that this is the fruit I am talking about here. That said, there is a lot of confusion between different members of the family, Annonaceae, in online sources. This Aussie orchardist, for instance, seems to be quite vague about all of them, and this one shows a fruit different from mine. The Rare Fruit Council Archives articles about Annona species are a good resource, but this section of the Wikipedia article on Annonaceae is probably the best starting point for sorting out the various species.