The Indian Bread-fruit

A unique fruit tree..Jackfruit (Artocarpus Heterophyllus/फणस) is a handsome & stately tree, 30-70 ft tall, with evergreen, alternate, glossy, somewhat leathery leaves. Jackfruit tree is unique in the fact that it produced huge fruits directly from its stem.

It is a beautiful tree which has played a significant role in Indian agriculture. Archaeological records revealed that the tree was cultivated in India 3000 to 6000 years ago. It has  individual flowers borne on an elongated axis and forming a racemoid inflorescence. Male spikes produced singly, elongated, whitish-green or dark green with smooth skin, becoming yellowish & rough when mature. Female spikes either solitary or paired, oblong or cylindrical with rough, light to dark green skin and green annulus. Flowers are pleasantly aromatic but the fruits are more interesting! Its not a fruit, but a collection of fruits.

A multiple fruit can be seen consisting of several achenes (syncarp), each of which is indehiscent and one-seeded. Inside are the fruit-lets, which are the true fruits! It is composed of fleshy aril and the seed. The aril is golden yellow to yellow-orange in colour and is sweet & aromatic. It is a good source of dietary fibre and contain various nutrients like vitamins & carotenes. May be due to this nutritious fruit, Jackfruit is one of the three auspicious fruits of Tamil Nadu state, along with Mango and Banana.

Jackfruit is a relatively hardy tree with a long taproot. It grows well in a warm, humid climate. It tolerates a wide range of soils including shallow limestone & rocky substrates. It can also withstand lower temperatures and frost. The tree can be grown from seeds & cuttings.

Jackfruit tree plays important role in erosion control. It can be planted to control floods and soil erosion in farms. It also provide delicious fruit which when young is cooked as a vegetable, pickled or canned in brine or curry. Pulp of ripe fruit is eaten fresh or made into various local delicacies, chutney, jam, jelly & paste; or preserved as candy. The pulp is also used to flavour ice-cream & beverages and reduced to a concentrate or powder to be used for preparing drinks. Even the seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, dried and salted as table nuts. They are also ground to make flour that is blended with wheat flour for baking. They are nutritious too as rich in vitamin A, sulphur, calcium & phosphorus!

The tree also has other uses. Leaves can be cropped as fodder for cattle & elephants. Trees planted at a close spacing act as a windbreak and are sometimes used as shade for coffee. It gives a dark, water-soluble resinous gum containing tannin & can be made into varnish. A rich yellow dye can be produced which is used for silk and the cotton robes of Buddhist priests. The latex is commonly used as adhesive for mending broken earthenware, caulking boats, mending holes of buckets. In India and Brazil, the latex serves as a substitute for rubber.

Jackfruit tree is equally revered for its medicinal properties. It is used to treat various ailments like ulcers, skin diseases, diarrhoea, boils, stomach-ache & wounds. Pulp and seeds of the fruit are regarded as a cooling tonic. Seeds are said to be an aphrodisiac. The sap is an anti-syphilitic and a vermifuge. The bacteriolytic activity of the latex is equal to that of Papaya latex.

There is one more astounding fact about the fruit. When fully ripe, the unopened Jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of Pineapple & Banana.

Jackfruit is a great tree, frequently planted in neighbourhood of villages, often surviving the village and remaining a monument to one time human occupation. Due to its beautiful foliage, it can also be planted in urban societies and gardens.