Among the horticultural products brought to the attention of Europeans by the early voyagers to the East, few were considered of such interest and value as the breadfruit. The importance of its introduction into the British colonies in the West Indies was felt to be so great that His Majesty's government toward the end of the eighteenth century fitted out an expedition for the sole purpose of transporting the plants from Tahiti, in Polynesia, to Jamaica and other islands in the American tropics. On the failure of this expedition, due to the mutiny of the crew, a second and successful one was undertaken.
Contrary to expectations, the breadfruit did not prove of great value to the West Indian colonies. The banana is more productive and gives more prompt returns, and the negroes preferred to continue eating a fruit to which they were accustomed rather than trouble to cultivate the taste for a new one.
In Polynesia, however, the breadfruit still retains the important position which it occupied at the time the region was first visited by Europeans. There it is a staple food and really entitled, by reason of its starchy character and the role which it plays in the native dietary, to the name which has been bestowed on it by the English.
Fig. 52. The breadfruit (Artocarpus communis) is one of the staple foodstuffs of the Polynesians. It is cultivated on a limited scale in tropical America, where it was introduced toward the end of the eighteenth century. (X about 1/7)
The tree, when well grown, is one of the handsomest to be seen within the tropics. It reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet, and has large, ovate, leathery leaves which are entire at the base and three- to nine-lobed toward the upper end. Male and female flowers are produced in separate inflorescences on the same tree. The staminate or male flowers grow in dense, yellow, club-shaped catkins ; the female, which are very numerous, are grouped together and form a large prickly head upon a spongy receptacle. The ripe fruit, which is composed of the matured ovaries of these female flowers, is round or oval in form, commonly 4 to 8 inches in diameter, green when immature but becoming brownish and at length yellow. The pulp is fibrous, pure white in the immature fruit and yellowish in the fully ripe one. The fruits are produced on the small branches of the tree upon short, thick stalks. Clusters of two or three are common.
There are two classes of breadfruits, one seedless and the other carrying seeds. The former is propagated vege-tatively, and is presumably the product of cultivation; the latter is often found in a wild state, and is not used in the same manner as the seedless kind. The seeds resemble chestnuts in size and appearance. The breadfruit is believed to be a native of the Malayan Archipelago, where it has been cultivated since antiquity. From its native region it was carried to the islands of the Pacific in prehistoric times. Henry E. Baum, 1 who has written a lengthy history of this fruit, comments: "The open-boat journeys of the Polynesians in their peopling of the Pacific islands are marvelous from the point of view of seamanship alone. . . . Probably a hundred species of plants were introduced into Hawaii by the Polynesians, and as a majority of their principal food-producing plants were propagated by cuttings alone, the difficulty in successfully carrying them across a wide expanse of ocean in open boats is obvious."
Fig. 53. The breadfruit, showing its internal structure. This is the seedless variety, generally cultivated in Polynesia; the other form has seeds as large as chestnuts, and is not highly valued. (X about 1/4)
1 Plant World, VI, 1903.
Spanish voyagers who visited the Solomon Islands in the sixteenth century encountered the breadfruit, and it is believed that it must also have been seen by the early Dutch and Portuguese sailors. In 1686 Captain William Dampier observed the plant at Guam and gave to the world an accurate description of the fruit and its uses. The famous Captain Cook, who explored the Pacific from 1768 until he met his death in the Sandwich Islands in 1779, is said to have suggested to the British the desirability of introducing the tree into the West Indies. The outcome was that notorious voyage under William Bligh, in the Bounty, which forms certainly the most dramatic incident in the history of plant introduction. The expedition sailed from England in 1787, and reached Tahiti, after a cruise of ten months, in 1788. A thousand breadfruit plants were obtained and placed on board ship in pots and tubs which had been provided for the purpose. Before the ship was out of the South Seas the crew, who had become enchanted with Tahitian life, mutinied and took charge of the ship, putting their commander and the eighteen men who remained loyal to him in a launch and setting them adrift. The mutinous crew sailed back to Tahiti, whence some of the members, accompanied by a number of Tahitians, migrated to Pitcairn's Island and established there an Utopian colony. After a trying voyage Bligh and his companions reached Tofoa, an island in the Tonga group, but they met with a hostile reception from the natives and were forced to continue their desperate pilgrimage. Fearing, because of their defenseless condition, to land on the Oceanic islands, they steered for the distant East Indies, which they were successful in reaching. "It appeared scarcely credible to ourselves," remarks Captain Bligh in his account of the voyage, "that, in an open boat so poorly provided, we should have been able to reach the coast of Timor in forty-one days after leaving Tofoa, having in that time run, by our log, a distance of 3618 miles; and that, notwithstanding our extreme distress, no one should have perished in the voyage."
Undaunted by the failure of the first attempt, a second was fitted out, again under the command of Bligh, who was promoted to the rank of Captain in the Royal Navy. This expedition, which sailed in 1792, secured 1200 breadfruit plants, as well as other valuable trees, and safely brought them to the West Indies.
The seeded breadfruit, which is much less valuable than the seedless variety, was introduced into the West Indies by the French ten years previous to Bligh's successful voyage.
At the present day the breadfruit is cosmopolitan in its distribution. Regarding its occurrence in Hawaii, Vaughan MacCaughey 1 says:
"At the time of the coming of the first European explorers the breadfruit was plentiful around the native settlements and villages on all the islands: more plentiful than it has been at any subsequent period. It thrives in the humid regions of Kona and Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, and to-day there are many abandoned trees in these districts, marking the sites of once-populous Hawaiian villages. The extensive breadfruit groves of Lahaina, on Maui, were long famous for the excellence of their fruit. In humid valleys on Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai, the tree was also abundant, rearing its splendid dome of glossy foliage high above the surrounding vegetation.
'It is distinctly a tree of the valleys and lowlands in Hawaii, and with the decadence of the Hawaiian population, and the utilization of fertile lowlands for sugar plantations, the majority of these fine old trees were sacrificed to make way for the white man's agriculture."
In some of the Polynesian Islands, the tree is of such ancient cultivation, and plays such an important part in the life of the people, that the natives are unable to conceive of a land where the breadfruit is not found.
1 Torreya, March, 1917.
Westward from Polynesia and its native region (the Malay Archipelago), the breadfruit is grown in Ceylon and occasionally in India. In the American tropics it is nowhere an important product, but it is cultivated on a limited scale in the West Indies, the lowlands of Mexico and Central America, and on the South American mainland as far south as the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
There are probably no places on the mainland of the United States where it can be cultivated successfully. All parts of California unquestionably are too cold for it. Trees have been planted in extreme southern Florida, but so far as is known none has ever reached bearing stage, although there are fruiting specimens of the allied jackfruit in that state.
The seedless variety is invariably called breadfruit in English; the seeded variety sometimes breadnut. The Spanish name for the seedless form is arbol del pan, sometimes masa pan; the French arbre a pain; the Portuguese arvore do pao or fruta pao; the Italian albero del pane; and the German brotbaum. W. E. Safford 1 gives the following vernacular names : Seedless variety, - lemae, lemai, lemay, rima (Guam); rima, colo, kolo (Philippines); 'ulu (Samoa, Hawaii); uto (Fiji). Seeded variety, - dugdug, dogdog (Guam); tipolo, antipolo (Philippines); 'ulu-ma'a (Samoa); uto-sore (Fiji); bulia (Solomon Islands). Botanically the breadfruit is Artocarpus communis, Forst. The name Artocarpus incisa, L., is a synonym.
The methods of preparing breadfruit for eating are numerous. Safford writes: "It is eaten before it becomes ripe, while the pulp is still white and mealy, of a consistency intermediate between new bread and sweet potatoes. In Guam it was formerly cooked after the manner of most Pacific island aborigines, by means of heated stones in a hole in the earth, layers of stones, breadfruit, and green leaves alternating. It is still sometimes cooked in this way on ranches; but the usual way of cooking it is to boil it or to bake it in ovens; or it is cut in slices and fried like potatoes. The last method is the one usually preferred by foreigners. The fruit boiled or baked is rather tasteless by itself, but with salt and butter or with gravy it is a palatable as well as a nutritious article of diet."
1 Useful Plants of Guam.
Alice R. Thompson of Hawaii, who has published analyses of two varieties, says on the point of nutritive value: "The breadfruit is included in the table with bananas because it contains such high amounts of carbohydrates. In comparing it with the banana the hydrolyzable carbohydrates are seen to be much greater in amount. The breadfruit contains considerable amounts of starch even when ripe. The ash, fiber, and protein are high. The Samoan breadfruit was analyzed at a riper stage than the Hawaiian specimen, which may account for the larger proportion of starch to sugars in the former." Miss Thompson's 1 two analyses are as follows: