Funded! This project was successfully funded on September 16, 2012.

Update #3

Project Update Plus News About My Rewarding trip to Puerto Rico

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Before telling you details about my fruitful (sorry, unavoidable) trip to Puerto Rico, I wanted to give you an update on the book. As my publisher Zona Tropical Press can confirm, I have finished all text and photos—and range maps—and did so several months ago. There has been a bit of a delay with the project, nonetheless, as my publisher has been in negotiations to essentially merge with a larger publishing house in the U.S., and has been busy with discussions and spreadsheets. They promise soon to be dotting i’s and crossing t’s on a contract, at which time my book project will travel at warp drive speeds.

In my last email, I talked about my trip to Southeast Asia, where one of my target plants was the Engkala, which I was only able to find later, very far from its home, in Puerto Rico. This update fills you in on all the details of my wonderful journey to that island.

Although I already had found more than 250 species of tropical fruit trees during my travels to Asia and South America, I still had about 80 species on my list, and was running up against the law of diminishing returns. My aim was to find at least another 15 species in Puerto Rico.

Through friends, I was able to arrange a visit to Felipe Shea, a retired engineer from Seattle, Washington who is a very spry 89 years of age. His farm, Finca Machabuco, is a 40 acre plot filled with hundreds of exotic fruit tree species, or so I had been told. Curious, I booked a flight, rented a car, drove along the coast, then passed inland on narrow winding roads through abandoned coffee and sugarcane plantations, and after several hours reached the beautiful home of Felipe and his wife Elba. Their property (with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area) is nestled in the mountains surrounding the small town of Las Marias, in western Puerto Rico.

Don Felipe, as he is called, took me on a tour of his farm, which consists of a patchwork of old, overgrown coffee fields and a very large collection of rare fruit trees, all located on steep hills. Despite his 89 years, he effortlessly climbed and descended the slippery hillsides, proud to show me his vast collection of plants.

Among the gems in his collection were a fruiting Sibu Olive (Canarium odontophyllum) from Borneo, followed by Eugenia victoriana (Sundrop, Guayabilla) from northwestern South America, and several Garcinia laterifolia (Achachairú, Bacupari) in full fruit, from the Amazon lowlands of western Brasil, southern Peru, and parts of Bolivia. This latter, as Felipe confirmed, has the potential to become commercially important in the future. Although slightly inferior taste to Garcinia mangostana (Mangosteen), it is easier to grow, starts to fruit early, and is a very dependable bearer of fruit.

Nearly every day of my visit a thunderstorm would bring heavy rains at almost exactly 2:00 pm, and effectively end all attempts to take more photos. In the afternoon I would help Don Felipe in his nursery, where he is growing new fruit tree species from Asia and South America.

One day Don Felipe took me to Montoso’s Garden, also owned by an expat from the U.S. In this collection, I found the Wampee tree (Clausena lansium), which is a member of the citrus family; two Baccaurea species from Southeast Asia; and finally a flowering and fruiting Clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum).

The following morning I had an appointment with Sadhu, who owns Govardhan’s Garden in Las Marias. When I walked into this beautiful collection of hundreds of fruit tree species, I was stunned when I saw the large, fruiting Engkala tree (Litsea garciae) right next to the main building. After taking several photos, I inspected the rest of the collection, accompanied by its owner Sadhu. I saw some very interesting fruit trees, including the Jambolan (Syzygium cumini) and the African Breadnut (Treculia africana), both species native to tropical Africa.

For my final day, I had scheduled a visit to the Tropical Agricultural Research Station (TARS) in Mayaguez, on the western coast of Puerto Rico. The station is set in a very beautiful botanical garden that is well worth a visit. The garden harbors a variety of very interesting fruit trees, including several rare Garcinia species as well as many ornamental species. I searched the whole garden for species I hadn’t found anywhere else. After hours of walking in the scorching heat, I again got lucky. In a remote corner I found a fruiting Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos), a tree native to dry regions of Southeast Asia. The pulp of this fruit is enjoyed fresh or mixed with ice and sugar to make a refreshing drink. In parts of Indonesia the fruit is used to make jams and preserves.

After another delicious dinner prepared by Elba—and a final view of sunset over the lowlands of western Puerto Rico—it was time to leave Felipe’s farm and head back to Costa Rica.

Puerto Rico was definitely worth a visit. I was especially rewarded by the people I met. Every single one was very kind and helpful and opened their private collection of fruit trees to my curious eyes. And I found out that in Puerto Rico there is no shortage of tropical fruit tree species from around the world.

Rolf Blancke

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Update #2

Trip to Southeast Asia - The quest for the Engkala

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Dear Friends, 

 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):

Engkala fruit:

A market in Bangkok:

Taman Botani Botanic Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

A market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

Singapore Botanic Gardens:

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Update #1 - For backers only

2 Days Left - $500 to go - Your support matters

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    On your next trip to Costa Rica, spend a full day with author Rolf Blancke in and about the lovely Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo, where Rolf will point out the area’s bountiful flora and fauna. Includes public transportation to and from Puerto Viejo and lunch and dinner. You also get your name listed in our book on the credits page, plus a copy of the book along with the poster, postcard set, and email updates. Please contact us to arrange a suitable date.

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