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Wild durians of Borneo
Published on: Sunday, February 05, 2012

THE common edible durian, Durio zibithinus, or 'durian puteh', which we talked about last week, is not the only durian to be found in Borneo.

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are about 20 wild species, with about 12 being found in Sabah. Several of these also have edible fruits, some being cultivated on a small scale.

Though they are not often seen in the main markets, rural 'tamus' and roadside stalls can be rewarding, so look out for these over the next couple of months!

Most of the information here comes from Anthony Lamb, who, while attached to the Sabah Agricultural Department, helped to develop the unique collections of native fruit trees at the Agricultural Research Stations in Ulu Dusun, near Sandakan and at Tenom, extremely valuable germplasm resources which may now be the only places that some of these wild species can be seen.

The most popular of these species, now increasingly cultivated, is probably 'durian merah' or 'durian dalit', (Durio graveolens), which has white flowers and round fruits, orange when ripe, with attractive red to orange flesh - this has very little smell and is said to taste like avocado.

Though it is most commonly eaten fresh, it is also mixed with salt, oil and sometimes chili, to make into 'tempoyak', a sort of pickle eaten with rice.

There are several varieties of 'durian merah', some of which may eventually turn out to be distinct species.

Another popular species is 'durian sukang' (Durio oxleyanus), also with white flowers, and large, round, pale-green fruits the size of a football or smaller, with characteristically long, curved, stiff spines.

The flesh inside is cream to pale yellow, with a sweet distinct flavour, and has virtually no smell, so some people prefer this to the odoriferous 'durian puteh'.

More common on the east coast of Sabah, around Tawau, is 'durian lai' (Durio kutejensis).

Fruits for sale in the Tawau markets are probably brought up from Kalimantan, where this species is common. 'Durian lai' has large leaves, beautiful bright red flowers and oval fruits, with scattered golden scales on the thorns. It is yellow-brown when ripe and the sweet flesh is yellow to orange, sometimes even a mixture of red and orange, with a cheesy texture.

All these three species are appreciated by connoisseurs of the durian and all are cultivated on a small scale, being sold locally.

In the hills of the Crocker Range and around Mt.Kinabalu, 'durian tapuloh' (Durio kinabaluensis), is still eaten when in season. The tree has beautiful pink flowers and yellow fruits, with cream to yellow flesh that has a pleasant, mild flavour and aroma.

This species and 'durian sukang' tend to fruit later than the others.

Species which are now rare in the wild include the curious Tortoise Durian or 'durian kura-kura' (Durio testudinarium), which bears its flowers and fruits not on the branches, but on the trunk and around its base - at tortoise-level!

Ripe fruits are yellowish-brown, with short, thick conical spines.

The white to creamy-yellow flesh has a unique, rather watery texture and is said to taste of caramel custard, but the smell can be rather off-putting.

The fruits are considered inferior, but botanically this is one of the most amazing of the durians!

Found only in Borneo, it is not cultivated and is now very rare in the wild.

However trees have been planted at the Tenom Agricultural Research Station where they have already fruited.

Another unusual, but even rarer species, is 'durian tahis', (Durio dulcis), which has beautiful dark red fruits, with a very thick rind, making them difficult to open.

Inside, however, is a creamy aril, with a flavour of peppermint.

Odoardo Beccari, the Italian botanist and explorer who discovered it in Sarawak in 1865, wrote in his wonderful book, "Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo" (1904), "√Čattracted by the sweet and delicious scent exhaled by some fallen fruits, I discovered one of the most exquisite wild durians of Borneo".

It was he who gave it the name 'dulcis' meaning 'sweet', but though the odour can be quite pleasant at first, it gradually becomes sickly-sweet, even nauseating, inducing severe headaches in those who are sensitive to it.

The scent is by far the strongest of all the durians and it is said that it can be smelt from as much as a kilometer away in the forest!

Man is not the only durian-lover. The fruits are also relished by the birds and animals of the forest.

Another very rare species is the Ghost Durian or 'durian hantu', (Durio grandiflorus), the name 'hantu' presumably coming from the bluey-grey ghostly appearance of the fruits, which open high on the tree.

This is one of few larger durians that is obviously designed for hornbills and probably squirrels as well.

Smaller fruited species, (collectively called 'durian burung'), are also particularly attractive to hornbills.

Fallen fruits of larger species that drop unopened to the forest floor are prized by animals such as honey-bears who can rip the fruits open with their long claws as well as bite straight into them for a thorny, but delicious, mouthful.

Mouse-deer have been seen filling the side-pouches of their mouths with the aril-covered seeds from fallen fruits, before scampering off to eat them at leisure and elephants are said to roll the durians over and over in piles of leaves which stick to the spines and then swallow the fruits whole - this must be true, for in Sabah, elephant droppings with remnants of durian husk in them have actually been found!

THE common edible durian, Durio zibithinus, or 'durian puteh', which we talked about last week, is not the only durian to be found in Borneo.

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are about 20 wild species, with about 12 being found in Sabah. Several of these also have edible fruits, some being cultivated on a small scale.

Though they are not often seen in the main markets, rural 'tamus' and roadside stalls can be rewarding, so look out for these over the next couple of months!

Most of the information here comes from Anthony Lamb, who, while attached to the Sabah Agricultural Department, helped to develop the unique collections of native fruit trees at the Agricultural Research Stations in Ulu Dusun, near Sandakan and at Tenom, extremely valuable germplasm resources which may now be the only places that some of these wild species can be seen.

The most popular of these species, now increasingly cultivated, is probably 'durian merah' or 'durian dalit', (Durio graveolens), which has white flowers and round fruits, orange when ripe, with attractive red to orange flesh - this has very little smell and is said to taste like avocado.

Though it is most commonly eaten fresh, it is also mixed with salt, oil and sometimes chili, to make into 'tempoyak', a sort of pickle eaten with rice.

There are several varieties of 'durian merah', some of which may eventually turn out to be distinct species.

Another popular species is 'durian sukang' (Durio oxleyanus), also with white flowers, and large, round, pale-green fruits the size of a football or smaller, with characteristically long, curved, stiff spines.

The flesh inside is cream to pale yellow, with a sweet distinct flavour, and has virtually no smell, so some people prefer this to the odoriferous 'durian puteh'.

More common on the east coast of Sabah, around Tawau, is 'durian lai' (Durio kutejensis).

Fruits for sale in the Tawau markets are probably brought up from Kalimantan, where this species is common. 'Durian lai' has large leaves, beautiful bright red flowers and oval fruits, with scattered golden scales on the thorns. It is yellow-brown when ripe and the sweet flesh is yellow to orange, sometimes even a mixture of red and orange, with a cheesy texture.

All these three species are appreciated by connoisseurs of the durian and all are cultivated on a small scale, being sold locally.

In the hills of the Crocker Range and around Mt.Kinabalu, 'durian tapuloh' (Durio kinabaluensis), is still eaten when in season.

The tree has beautiful pink flowers and yellow fruits, with cream to yellow flesh that has a pleasant, mild flavour and aroma.

This species and 'durian sukang' tend to fruit later than the others.

Species which are now rare in the wild include the curious Tortoise Durian or 'durian kura-kura' (Durio testudinarium), which bears its flowers and fruits not on the branches, but on the trunk and around its base - at tortoise-level!

Ripe fruits are yellowish-brown, with short, thick conical spines.

The white to creamy-yellow flesh has a unique, rather watery texture and is said to taste of caramel custard, but the smell can be rather off-putting.

The fruits are considered inferior, but botanically this is one of the most amazing of the durians!

Found only in Borneo, it is not cultivated and is now very rare in the wild.

However trees have been planted at the Tenom Agricultural Research Station where they have already fruited.

Another unusual, but even rarer species, is 'durian tahis', (Durio dulcis), which has beautiful dark red fruits, with a very thick rind, making them difficult to open.

Inside, however, is a creamy aril, with a flavour of peppermint.

Odoardo Beccari, the Italian botanist and explorer who discovered it in Sarawak in 1865, wrote in his wonderful book, "Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo" (1904), "√Čattracted by the sweet and delicious scent exhaled by some fallen fruits, I discovered one of the most exquisite wild durians of Borneo".

It was he who gave it the name 'dulcis' meaning 'sweet', but though the odour can be quite pleasant at first, it gradually becomes sickly-sweet, even nauseating, inducing severe headaches in those who are sensitive to it.

The scent is by far the strongest of all the durians and it is said that it can be smelt from as much as a kilometer away in the forest!

Man is not the only durian-lover. The fruits are also relished by the birds and animals of the forest.

Another very rare species is the Ghost Durian or 'durian hantu', (Durio grandiflorus), the name 'hantu' presumably coming from the bluey-grey ghostly appearance of the fruits, which open high on the tree.

This is one of few larger durians that is obviously designed for hornbills and probably squirrels as well.

Smaller fruited species, (collectively called 'durian burung'), are also particularly attractive to hornbills.

Fallen fruits of larger species that drop unopened to the forest floor are prized by animals such as honey-bears who can rip the fruits open with their long claws as well as bite straight into them for a thorny, but delicious, mouthful.

Mouse-deer have been seen filling the side-pouches of their mouths with the aril-covered seeds from fallen fruits, before scampering off to eat them at leisure and elephants are said to roll the durians over and over in piles of leaves which stick to the spines and then swallow the fruits whole - this must be true, for in Sabah, elephant droppings with remnants of durian husk in them have actually been found!

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