Tag Archives: Sunday stroll

Sunday Stroll: getting to know the Noni tree fruit.

My last Sunday stroll in Brunei for a while, before we pack our bags for a little holiday trip home to the UK.  I decided it was high time I learnt a little bit more about this strange looking fruit, which I have seen thriving in all sorts of growing conditions and locations here in Brunei.

Very popular with the ants, this tree flowers and fruits all year round.

Very popular with the ants, this tree flowers and fruits all year round.

There are some trees, plants and fruit which have the same name the world over.  You know where you are with ‘Holly’, for example.  And then there are others which have a huge variety of interesting names, many of which are indicative of their uses or local customs.  Take the Frangipani, which is variously known as the Temple Tree, Snake Tree or Graveyard Tree.

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Like the Frangipani, the Noni tree – found in tropical locations around the world – has some pretty unusual names.  The tree is a South East Asian native, known here as the Noni tree.  But depending on where else you see it, it might be called (amongst many other names) the Indian mulberry, Great Morinda, Wild Pine, Canary Wood, Hog Apple, Beach mulberry, or Cheese fruit tree.  Or even the Vomit Tree.  Yes, really.

Those last two I find particularly descriptive names and they are applied with good reason.  The ripening fruits develop a really pungent smell.  By the time they are fully ripened, white and almost oozing, they really do have quite a stomach churning stench to them!

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A great quote from the English actor, author and all-round national treasure, Stephen Fry, goes ‘taste every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once.  It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully.  Temperance is wickedness’.

I haven’t been able to find the context for the quote.  Though as a leading advocate for gay rights and equality, I would guess that this was probably a clever play on words, given the biblical references about knowing a tree by its fruit.  There is a New Testament reference In Matthew 12:33 which goes something like ‘either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit‘ depending on which version of the Bible you refer to.  But even taking it in a purely gastronomic and horticultural sense, on this occasion I think I’ll decline Mr Fry’s advice and give the Noni fruit a wide berth.

I’m not inclined to go making home remedies.  I don’t know nearly enough, and it just seems too risky.  But the Noni tree and its fruit do lay claim to an impressively long list of potential health benefits.  It has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties for a start.  Traditional uses for it include easing menstrual cramps, and alleviating urinary tract infections and bowel problems.  But this is a plant which should be used with care and consumed extremely judiciously. Taken in excess, it can cause abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, skin rashes, constipation or diarrhoea. And that’s just for people without any complicating or underlying more serious health problems!

Interestingly, recent clinical studies seem to indicate that the ‘vomit tree’ may be so named because of the fruit’s possible antiemetic properties, rather than because the overpowering smell is vomit-inducing to sensitive Western noses!  One of those beautiful moments when traditional herbal lore and knowledge meets modern medicine and clinical practice.  I wonder how many other weird and wonderful tropical plants and fruits are well known in traditional medicine for their healing powers but have yet to be discovered by modern medicine?

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Callistemon or Melaleuca: it’s all Greek to me.

Another Sunday, another tree to discover!  I went a bit further than last week in search of inspiration, but not much.  This one was on the roadside parallel with our house, maybe five minutes walk.

Trees competing for space with the bananas!

Trees competing for space with the bananas!

These trees line the road on each side, some towering giants, some just five or six metres high.  I tend to notice them even from a distance because of their twisting trunks and gnarly, flaky bark.  They are just so eye-catchingly intriguing.

Super spirals.  What makes this happen?

Super spirals. What makes this happen?

Upon closer inspection the tree seemed familiar.  Although the flowers were a different colour than the red ones I’d seen in UK garden centres, and this was a tree rather than the tiny little shrubs I’d come across before, it looked a lot like the bottlebrush plant.

Callistemon blossoms are typically red, but white, yellow,  green, and orange varieties also exist.

Callistemon blossoms are typically red, but white, yellow, green, and orange varieties also exist.

Having checked it out once I was home, it may well be a bottlebrush tree, aka callistemon.  Or it might not!  Even botanists have trouble definitively classifying callistemons and the very similar melaleuca tree. They are both part of the Myrtle family.  They both have bottlebrush like flowers.  But only the callistemons are commonly called bottlebrushes.  Melaleuca are more likely to be called paperbarks or honey myrtles.

Apparently one difference is that callistemons prefer drier locations and melaleucas prefer wet places.  Although where Brunei fits in that spectrum I find it really hard to say.  It’s pretty humid all year round, but sometimes in the dry season we can go weeks without a drop of rain.  Then during the wet season, plants can be standing in temporary lakes for days.  So that little nugget of information was no use to me at all!

Close…but not close enough to distinguish stamen connectivity!

The way that botanists distinguish between the two is very specifically about the different way the stamens in the flowers of each connect to the floral tube.  Although having said that, apparently even then it is not always entirely cut and dried, hence why sometimes even botanists are not convinced that they should be separately classified.  Either way, that was more floral biology know-how than I possessed at the time I was out on my stroll!

Researching the plant name origins, I think callistemons got the better deal by far:

  • Callistemon:  modern Latin, from Greek kallos ‘beauty’ + stēmōn ‘thread or stamen’.
  • Melaleuca:  modern Latin: from Greek melas ‘black’ + leukos ‘white’ (because of the fire-blackened white bark of some Asian species).

Incredible bark patterns and texture.

In exploring more about callistemons and melaleucas I found a really fascinating site called eat the weeds.  ‘Green Deane’, who is a life-long forager, had an amazing depth of knowledge about a whole host of plants and their uses.  He really opened my eyes.

I couldn’t say I’m a forager by any stretch of the imagination.  When I lived in the UK I knew some basics – wild garlic, blackberries, orchard fruit trees, different nuts, some herbs and leaves.  But I didn’t know enough to get a meal from.  And I certainly wouldn’t know where to start here in Asia- there are far too many plants I don’t have the first clue about!  Although I love finding out bits as I go.  So thanks to Green Deane I now know that the blossoms of all the callistemons (and melaleucas) can be used to make a sweet tea, or to sweeten other teas.  The leaves, which have an amazing aroma and sometimes an almost citrusy quality depending on the variety of callistemon or melaleuca, can also be used to make a tea.

Anyway, although I am still not 100% certain whether this is a callistemon or a melaleuca, it was great to get a proper look at it.  I’m not good with unanswered questions, so I might just have to take my macro lens along next week and really get close to the detail to see if I can find out!  Also, making tentative steps in the direction of foraging, I am tempted to forage enough leaves and flowers to check out the beverage-making potential. Bottlebrush tea sounds worth a go!

young seed capsules, like bracelet charms.  These remain on the tree until it dies or they are released by a fire. Of no use to foragers, but very interesting to look at!

young seed capsules, like bracelet charms. These remain on the tree until it dies or they are released by a fire. Of no use to foragers, but very interesting to look at!



Sunday stroll: Dillenia suffruticosa

We’ve been so busy recently that my poor neglected camera hasn’t been out of the house as much as it should.  We didn’t have a lot of time today either, but I was feeling the need to re-connect with my macro lens!  So having promised faithfully to be back in half an hour to get lunch on the table, I left my husband on daddy duty and went for a wander with my camera.

The thing I love about macro photography is that you really don’t have to go far to find an interesting subject.  Great if you are pressed for time!  It is amazing the things that are right under your nose the whole time.  It always reminds me to stop and take the time to look properly; you just miss so much if you don’t.

At the end of our road is a large shrubby tree, which I love poking around under, because there is usually something interesting to see. The tree is a Dillenia suffruticosa, also known as Simpoh Ayer locally.  It has these beautiful large yellow flowers, which I recently found out are the national Bruneian flower. I think their diaphanous, frill-edged petals are so cheerful and pretty.  A completely different flower, in completely different weather, but there is something about their sunny loveliness which makes me think of daffodils.


And the seed heads were amazing to look at.  This one had already been pretty much stripped of its ripe red seeds by hungry birds, but I loved the contrast of colours and textures left behind.



A lot of the broad glossy green leaves were looking less than their best. I suspect that these striking bugs – Giant Shield Bugs – might have played a big in that.  They suck the juices out of the plant, leaving the once green leaves shrivelled and brown.  This one was nonchalantly ignoring me as he sat calmly drinking his juice, camouflaged with his surrounding.


And these odd-looking pink rectangular creatures are the nymphs of the Shield Bug.  Unlike the adults, these guys stick out like a sore thumb.  It amazes me that they survive to adulthood!  As this one was on a branch above my head I ended up on tippy-toes, holding on to the branch with one hand to try to gently pull it within photographing distance, whilst holding and focusing the camera with the other.  Oh to be a tall girl!


Although I was mindful of my pre lunch time limit ticking away, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, snapping away.  However, before my time had a chance to run out, my luck with the weather ran out, courtesy of a midday downpour.  The wind had been picking up for a while, so I can’t say that I hadn’t had fair warning.  I just get carried away when I’ve got a camera in my hand I guess.  So, camera tucked hastily inside my shirt and safely shielded from the thundering rains, I made a quick dash for home. An early return from a stroll with my camera…that must be a first!