Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wild Edibles in Hawaii - Breadfruit and Banana Poka

Waimea Canyon, Koke'e State Park, Kauai
Plants on Hawaii have many different origins, some indigenous, others alien. Endemic plants are those species that evolved in isolation on the Hawaiian islands and are found nowhere else. Indigenous plants are those that colonized the island before the arrival of humans, such as those that arrive on the winds or over the ocean. Plants introduced by the first travelers to Hawaii, the Polynesians, are regarded as native. Most of these plants have important uses for food, fiber, medicine, and spiritual significance. Alien species are the plants introduced after the late 1700s since contact with European explorers. Some plants were brought purposely, many were accidental weed introductions. Many alien species are escaped cultivated plants and fruit trees, and many are causing damage to the native and less hardy Hawaiian plants. Here we'll discuss a native plant, breadfruit, and a very destructive alien, banana poka.

breadfruit leaves and male flower
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a fruit we have encountered before on a few Caribbean islands. It was one of the trees brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians as a food source, as lumber, and its sticky latex sap was useful as a glue. It grows in the forest lowlands where it was most likely planted on now-invisible homesteads. It can be a tall tree, up to 60 feet. The leaves are very large, hairy, deeply lobed, and glossy dark green with light green veins. All parts of the tree will exude a sticky, white latex when cut. The breadfruit tree produces two types of flowers, male and female on the same tree. The female flower develops into the fruit, which is about the size of a cantaloupe when fully grown. The flesh of the ripe fruit is light green, and it is starchy and needs to be cooked before eating. The tree produces the fruit all year around on Hawaii. It is closely related to another tree we spotted on Maui, jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus).

sprouted seeds in breadfruit!
Most literature we have read on the Hawaiian breadfruit states that it cannot produce viable seeds, and all breadfruit trees have been planted. We found several fruits in the forest, and inside of one of them, we found 3 large seeds, one which had sprouted and was starting to grow! We also questioned this bit of information when we spotted breadfruit trees growing in impossibly steep ravines off the side of the road. Who would have planted a food tree there, where you can't pick the fruit?

Breadfruit tastes a lot like potatoes, so we boiled up some we foraged from a large tree in Hana, Maui. Robert served it with a sprinkle of soy sauce, and Gillian gobbled it up. On Kauai, we purchased a breadfruit at the Sunshine Market, and Robert boiled it to mash. It may have been more ripe than the ones we found, since it was a bit sweet like a pumpkin. In Barbados, we ate breadfruit at a restaurant scalloped like potatoes.

ripe poka
One of the many destructive alien plants on Hawaii, banana poka (Passiflora mollissima), is a variety of passionfruit. It prefers to grow in wet forests at a higher elevation. Banana poka is spread by pigs and birds. It was originally introduced from South America as an ornamental plant for its beautiful pink flowers. Banana poka is a vine that can climb trees very easily, often smothering the plants below. Its leaves are 3-fingered and veined, and the vine uses tendrils to grab and climb. The 10-petaled pink flower dangles from a long stem, and develops into a green, cucumber-shaped fruit, about 3 inches long. The fruit ripens to yellow, and inside is an orange pulp with black seeds, tasting like a tart passion fruit.

sliced banana poka
We saw thickets of banana poka in Koke'e State Park on Kauai and Polipoli Springs Recreational Area on Maui. As we drove up the mountainsides into the wet forests, we noticed the vines over large areas, and then noticed the pretty pink flowers. We stopped to examine the yellow fruits hanging from the trees, and sliced one open to see the orange pulp and seeds, and the smell was fragrant and sweet. The taste was a bit tart, it needed a bit of honey to make a good juice. Some people don't like the flavor, but we thought it was fine for juice.


Grace said...

I love that delicate pink bloom. Since I've started learning more about the plants around my neck of the woods, it's made me more curious about plants around the world. Definitely will pay attention whenever I travel somewhere (not that that's happening anytime soon).

Hawaii seems like a such a lucious place.

The 3 Foragers said...

Some of the tropical plants in Hawaii are also found in the Caribbean, and some are found in Florida and southern California. It is not really too hot in Hawaii, just never cold!

We still love our Connecticut plants and their flowers, and there are different plants in the midwest we have never encountered. Happy hunting, Karen

Anonymous said...

Does Banana Poka grow in Kalalau valley, Hanakapiaia valley, Wainiha valley, Kauai's north shore, and along Anahola stream? What time of the year does Banana Poka ripen on Kauai? Are the seeds safe to eat? It is such a gorgeous fruit. Hawaii has some of the finest fruits in the world.

The 3 Foragers said...

We don't live in Kauai, so I don't know if there is banana poka in those exact locations right now. You almost don't want them there, as they are invasive.