Chinee Apple

screen shot chinee appleChinee 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 (above) 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.

chinee apple fruit
Fruit on the tree – from left to right: green, slightly over-ripe and ideally ripe

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
Over-ripe Chinee apple fruit on the ground beneath the tree

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.

We’re missing a fantastic opportunity here!

Monstera deliciosa fruit at last

creeper and flower buds
Monstera buds, February 1, 2015

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.

Malay apple or Roseapple

pink fruit on plate
Malay apple, also known as Roseapple

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.


spiky fruit
A large, ripe Rollinia – all 1.2kg of it

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.

Rollinia - the cut fruit
Rollinia – the cut fruit

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 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.  This section of the Wikipedia article on Annonaceae is probably the best starting point for sorting out the various species.

Update, May 2020: The Rare Fruit Council Archives articles were a good resource, but are no longer active. I could find them only via the Wayback Machine (using the link in this paragraph) and they haven’t been updated since 2002 according to their home page. Explore them by all means, but be prepared for link rot.

Langsat and other tropical fruits

fruit in bowl

Another visit to Cotters Market, another selection of tropical fruit … I have been here 25 years but I’m still enjoying discovering fruit that I knew nothing about as a child in country Victoria.

To be fair, Townsville locals don’t know all the fruit now available either, since local growers are constantly experimenting with new species, mostly from Asia. If you grew up here in the 60s you knew Carambola (aka “Five Fingers”), Soursop and Bush Lemon as well as the Bananas, Mango and Pineapple which were the only tropical fruit that I knew, but not the fascinating range we have now.

The Langsat (Lansium parasiticum aka Lansium domesticum), long cultivated in its original home in South-east Asia, is relatively new here. When I saw the fruit on the stall I thought they were some kind of Lychee, Longan or Rambutan but no, they are not related: the Langsat is a member of the Mahogany family. (I won’t say any more about its origins, distribution and cultivation because Wikipedia does it so well: just visit this page.)

Update, May 2020: The Rare Fruit Council Archives article about Langsat was a good resource, but the archives are are no longer maintained. Explore them by all means, but be prepared for link rot.

A thin leathery skin encloses a five-segmented fruit; each segment may contain a seed but many don’t. The flesh is white and translucent, very like that of a Lychee but less bland in flavour. Langsat are refreshing in the same way that citrus are. I liked the flavour and will buy them again but they are not going to displace any established favourites in my fruit bowl, they will just extend the variety.

Speaking of variety, custard apples are in season now and are the main reason I went to the market on Sunday (yes, they are worth the trip). The Mangosteens and Rambutans looked good, too. While there I picked up some bananas, Goldfinger this time as a change from the Red Dacca, Monkey and Lady Finger we’ve been buying recently. One stall-holder has a variety she calls “Bong” and they are nice, too – very similar to the Monkey bananas but bigger. An online search for more information about them didn’t turn up anything very useful, however. I found its full Thai name, “Kluai Khai Bong”, and its Vietnamese name, “Chuoi bom”, but further searching led me into the over-familiar labyrinth of poorly-attributed names. If any hardy explorer wishes to pursue the elusive Bong further, I commend Banana Cultivar Names and Synonyms in Southeast Asia, a 28-page pdf available here. It correlates the names of each variety in the languages of the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Good luck!