Jackfruit, in David Fairchild's words

Monday, September 20, 2010


Just outside the Tropical Fruit Pavilion, a jackfruit tree has a goodly number of enormous fruit still attached to its trunk. It's worth seeking out just to marvel at the size of the fruit.

In his book Exploring for Plants, David Fairchild tells of finding jackfruit the "universal" fruit of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) markets in the mid-1920s. In the past, he said, he had found it rather strong. 

When his host in Ceylon, Andreas Nell, boasted of the superior qualities of a "honey jack,'' Fairchild wrote, "I had never heard that there were distinct varieties of the jackfruit, although of course such a thing was reasonable, so I naturally wanted very much to taste one."

It had to be halved with a machete and then cut into segments. He pronounced that the fruit had "an extremely rich sweet flavor."

"We saved all the seeds from this fruit and sent them to the Panama Canal Zone and Honduras and Cuba and even to South Florida, where there was already one jackfruit tree that had borne fruit."

The gardens that received them were part of the network of gardens that received new plants and seeds from Fairchild's office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introductions.

Today, Noris Ledesma, curator of tropical fruit, says superior cultivars have been developed, including one called Sweet Fairchild.  Ledesma and senior curator Richard Campbell, in their book, The Exotic Jackfruit: Growing the World's Largest Fruit, recommend growing grafted trees that will produce fruit within 3 to 5 years, and maintaining them by pruning to a height of 6 to 8 feet. There are more than 30 cultivars growing at the Fairchild Farm. 

Sweet Fairchild, by the way, is described as having a mild, sweet flavor.