The Tree of Life
By Glenn I. Teves, UH County Extension Agent
Breadfruit is one of foods of our past and also our future, and can help to address food security in Hawaii and the tropical world. Through the efforts of Dr. Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute, a part of Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, extensive breadfruit collections can be found in Hana on Maui and also on Kauai. Of the 120 varieties in the collection, many are being threatened with extinction in the wild due to land use changes, especially development.
Some of the best varieties have no seed and are difficult of propagate. Traditional techniques include making root cuttings, or nicking the root so a keiki emerges, then after sufficient rooting, separating it from the mother plant. Through a partnership with Global Breadfruit, several million breadfruit plants have been micro-propagated, and are growing in Florida and Costa Rica nurseries for distribution to tropical countries.
The first variety released, Ma`afala, is a Samoan variety considered one of the best tasting varieties, and is more compact than the Hawaiian variety, maturing at half the size. Under the right conditions, these plants can reach 8-10 feet tall in a few years. Pi`ipiia, a Tahitian variety recently released and distributed at the Molokai Taro Field Day, and is expected to be a much larger tree. Both can be expected to bear fruit in three years.
Breadfruit is a tropical tree, and thrives in a humid rain forest environment found in wetter parts of Mana`e. Strong winds can easily break branches due to their large leaves, and require protection. Special care is required in establishing and keeping them actively growing in less than ideal conditions on Molokai.
Well drained soil with adequate water is critical, especially in the early stages of growth. In their young stage, keeping them too wet or too dry will kill them. If you received them in small pots, it’s advised to transplant them immediately into 1 gallon pots. Plant them at the same depth you received it; too shallow or too deep will create problems of drying out or drowning. When over one foot tall, they can either be planted in the ground or repotted to two to three-gallon pots, growing them to two to three-foot height before transplanting to the ground.
Young breadfruit trees are very “hungry,” and will benefit from regular light fertilizing for rapid growth. A balanced fertilizer with a 1:1:1 ratio is recommended. When transplanting in the ground, especially in dry areas, creating a large bowl around the plant will facilitate deep watering, since roots will only travel where there’s water. With all the different soil types on Molokai, it’s difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all watering schedule. Sticking your finger in the ground to determine wetness is the best way to determine this.
Although breadfruit can be harvested at many stages, a “flattening” of the fruit surface and the oozing of sap from many areas of the fruit is the best indication of maturity. The fruit can be washed and scrubbed or peeled, quartered and steamed, and it will cook in 15 to 20 minutes. Some like to throw it whole into a fire or imu. Breadfruit is nutritious and is a great substitute for Irish potatoes in many dishes, including stews, salads, chowders, and French fries. It has a moderate glycemic index, but is still better than white rice as a carbohydrate source.
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