Saturday, 5 September 2009

More fruits of the forest

Years ago, I lived in East London, not far from East India Dock Road. The road ran north of the Isle of Dogs from Limehouse to Blackwall. Although the docks were built in the early 1800s, the East India Company, which owned it, was established much earlier. From 1600, the EIC traded throughout Asia from India and Burma to China and Indonesia.

The EIC competed vigorously with the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) for access to goods in the Indonesian archipelago. Nutmeg was the most prized item. Both sides believed it was worth its weight in other people's blood.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) grew only on the Banda Islands in the Moluccas. Whoever controlled the islands, controlled the spice trade. The VOC maintained their monopoly for the best part of two centuries until the British regained access to the trade in 1810. Just to be on the safe side, the EIC established plantations in the West Indies and Zanzibar. So the nutmeg monopoly ended.

Why am I mentioning this? I've been collecting fallen fruit and identifying them from Wendy Cooper's magnificent book 'Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest'. I use the standard method of comparing them to the illustrations, which are superb.

But one fruit was giving me problems. It was dull, furry and dun-coloured and I couldn't work out which of the many dull, furry and dun-coloured fruit it was. So I did what I normally do under these circumstances and ignored it.

A few days later, the case split to reveal the seed. And, I am delighted to say, I recognised it without having to leaf through the book — it's a native nutmeg (Myristica globosa). (This one isn't quite ripe. The aril on mature seeds is usually orange or red.)

If only this species were edible, I'd replace the Land for Wildlife sign with one saying 'Snail's East India Company' and become rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Bwahahahaha!

Oh, dear. Did I just type that?

While we're on the topic of fruits …

Ripe quandongs (Elaeocarpus grandis) — I don't expect they'll be still there in the morning

Poison walnut (Cryptocarya pleurosperma): 0. White-tailed rat: 1


Denis Wilson said...

Fascinating shot of the Native Nutmeg.
I assume that the aril is what is used as the spice "mace" from the true Nutmeg.
Intriguing how elaborate the aril is.
We have some plants, such as the Scentless Rosewood (Synoum glandulosum) which have a very elaborate (swollen) aril. But I have never seen such a networked aril structure.
Very interesting.
"Quandongs" (the Eleocarpus variety anyway) are supposedly much beloved of Cassowaries - except you seem not to have them there.
So, who eats the Quandongs at night?

Snail said...

The fancy aril tipped me off. It's quite a spectacular structure. There was a moment of joy when the fruit split and its identity dawned on me!

Although this block is classified as 'essential habitat' for cassowaries, there aren't any here. I think the remnant is too small, although it is connected to others along the river. Wompoos seem to be the main quandong dispersers in this area, with figbirds a close second.

Haven't seen anybody chowing down on the fruit at night but I did see a pademelon nibbling the flesh on one today. Until he got mugged by a catbird!

desertnutmeg said...

I enjoy your posts immensely, but especially this one!