Breadfruit: A Symbol of Island Life
Breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) can grow to 65 feet and produce round, heavy fruit for 50 years. 'Ulu, as we call it in Hawai'i, is found on many islands around the world, and its large, glossy leaves with small bumps are a common Hawaiian quilt pattern (below). The skin of the large fruit is green and bumpy, the flesh starchy and white or pale yellow.
As a food, breadfruit (always cooked) is common throughout the Pacific. When I studied in Samoa, breadfruit was served every day in the cafeteria, prepared boiled--and very bland. In contrast, roasted breadfruit (either cooked in a modern oven or the traditional underground oven) is delicious, and in Samoa the fruit is used as a vehicle for palusami, coconut milk and onions in taro leaf. This dish is one of the things I miss most about Samoa.
Seacology Senior Program Officer Karen Peterson traveled to Micronesia in June to visit project sites, and she tried breadfruit in Kosrae, where Seacology's solar power energy system is being revitalized and repaired for the Utwe Walung Marine Park community center. In Hawai'i, the National Tropical Botanical Garden has created the Breadfruit Institute, working to promote the conservation and reforestation of breadfruit trees. Though the trees require little labor or materials to survive, global warming is a big concern for their health, especially on low-lying coral atolls.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica's new fruit tree planting program is providing work for more than 500 farmers. The Rural Agricultural Development Authority initiated a crop project to plant 3,281 acres of fruit trees, including breadfruit, providing new fruit and employment for farmers in rural communities.
I still remember the scent of the breadfruit on my first night in Samoa. We arrived in the middle of the night and I smelled something pungent, one of many startling discoveries on a very quiet, dark island. I didn't recognize it but Fanai, a fellow student originally from Guam who had lived with the trees all her life, did. A statuesque tree with distinctive leaves and globes of heavy fruit, the breadfruit continues to be a symbol of island life.