Breadfruit trees grow up to 15 metres in height, and are easily recognised by their massive (to 90 cm length) lobed leaves and large, starchy fruits. Breadfruit was probably domesticated on the islands of New Guinea and the Moluccas, from wild ancestor A. camansi, and spread to Melanesia and Polynesia by Lapita migrations beginning 3500 years ago. It travelled as root cuttings, leading to the evolution of the seedless landraces that dominate Polynesia. Breadfruit trees do not become naturalised in Polynesia. The importance of the fruit in Pacific diet is reflected in the existence of several hundred landraces, many now grown at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawai‘i. The Garden’s Breadfruit Institute has championed the role of the fruit in food security in tropical areas. Breadfruit is a multi-purpose plant, with timber that is hard and termite-resistant, a milky sap used as a glue, leaves used as wrapping for food, and several plant parts used medicinally. Breadfruit inner bark, both from the stems of young saplings and from two year-old branches of trees, appears to have been an important source of barkcloth fibre in some island groups of eastern Polynesia, such as Tahiti and the Cook Islands, at the time of European contact. However it is little represented in 19th century or later museum collections.
breadfruit; Samoa, Hawai‘i: ‘ulu; Cook Islands: kuru; Society Islands: maiore, ‘uru; Tonga, Niue, ‘Uvea, Futuna, Marquesas: mei
Entry created on 28 August 2020