Belated thanks for your contributions to this project, we have indeed been busy with trips and other aspects of the book. Without your help, Rolf would have had to travel by tramp steamer (do they even exist anymore?) and to steal his food, so you have made this project possible and also saved our author from an extended stay in some dire prison. In this first email, Rolf talks about his search for a photo of the elusive engkala fruit (Litsea garciae). - The editorial team
The Quest for the Engkala
For about two years now I have added steadily to my collection of photos for Tropical Fruits of the World. This has meant tramping through steaming jungles, poking around pungent central markets, sneaking into small private gardens (or paying for entrance into large public gardens), and emailing people around the world to see if they know where I might find a certain species. But as my list of photographed species has grown, the fruits that remain are among those that are the hardest to find. And it is not just a matter of finding a plant—you also need to make sure that you arrive when it is fruiting.
One such fruit is the engkala, a member of the Lauraceae family. Native to the Philippines, Borneo, and Malaysia, this tall tree (up to 30 meters) grows naturally in lowland rainforests. The engkala’s ripe fruits have a white pulp with a creamy texture and a delicious avocado-like taste (though spicier). And like the avocado—of which it is a close relative—the engkala is very nutritious, containing a variety of vitamins and plentiful amounts of unsaturated fats.
This very uncommon tree is mostly found in large home gardens in countryside far away from major settlements. A general problem with searching for fruit trees in Southeast Asia is that large oil palm plantations have eradicated not just vast areas of lowland rainforest—especially in Malaysia and Indonesia—but also large gardens and traditional farms. In Malaysia, many homes are now nestled into oil palm plantations, and the gardens that once surrounded these homes have been reduced in size or entirely displaced.
On my trip to Southeast Asia, where my goal was to add at least 50 photographs to the book, I started my search for the engkala by focusing on private collections, markets, and botanical gardens. Among my many stops were the Tropical Fruit Garden on the Penang Island in Malaysia; markets in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Jakarta; and the exceptionally beautiful Singapore Botanic Gardens (http://www.sbg.org.sg/). These large and diverse collections provided me with lasting impressions and many new photos. Five weeks of searching resulted in almost 70 new species, many of them very uncommon, like the Burmese grape (Baccaurea ramiflora), asam gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis), and namnam (Cynometra cauliflora). But despite an extensive search across many parts of Southeast Asia, the only plant I couldn’t find was the elusive engkala.
However, on a later trip—this time to the island of Puerto Rico—I did find the engkala, unexpectedly, in a private collection of rare fruit trees. I got very lucky, as the tree was loaded with ripe fruits and a large branch (with fruit) had broken off this tall tree and was hanging right at eye level, in front of my camera. This ended my global quest for the engkala; but now I need a photograph of the velvet tamarind (Dialium indum), from tropical Africa, and I have no idea where to find it! - Rolf Blancke
Some Photos from the Southeast Asia Trip: (In order):
A market in Bangkok:
Taman Botani Botanic Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
A market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
Singapore Botanic Gardens: