The humble breadfruit tree has a formidable stature. Not only is it a staple food in the tropics, it is also your best way to survive in case you get stranded on a remote island. But you don’t have to be a strapping daredevil adventurer to get a taste of this delicious fruit. You can grow the breadfruit tree and harvest its fresh crops right in your garden.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the demanding high temperatures and humidity levels which the breadfruit tree requires to grow successfully. However, If you don’t have the right weather for it, you can grow it in a large greenhouse. It might be a little challenging to start this tree, but the nutritious fresh fruits are well worth your endeavors. This guide walks you through the different ways to grow breadfruit trees and how to care for and harvest the crop.
Breadfruit Tree Facts
You might have heard about the notorious mutiny on the Bounty, but did you know that the main reason to send out the ship was to get samples of the famous breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis)? After surviving the mutiny and crossing over 3,600 miles in a small boat, Captain Bligh went back to sea again in 1891 in search of the precious breadfruit tree. So what’s so special about this tree?
The breadfruit tree is native to Hawaii and is called ulu in Hawaiian. But it was first brought to Hawaii from New Guinea by the Polynesians more than fifteen hundred years ago. Nowadays the tree thrives in over 90 countries around the world as long as the weather is right.
The mature tree reaches about 85 feet tall on average. Each tree produces both male and female flowers. The flowers need fruit bats to pollinate although some cultivars are self-pollinating.
After pollination, the fruits develop. Each tree bears about 200 fruits on average every year. The fruit can be round, oval, or oblong and weighs between a half-pound to 13 pounds depending on the variety. Most cultivars have seedless fruits. Some breadfruits have edible and nutritious seeds.
Uses of Breadfruit Tree
In addition to using fruits as a source of food, breadfruit trees have played a major role in the health and sustenance of many cultures. Here are some of the most common benefits of the breadfruit tree throughout history and to this day.
- Gluten-free Flour: If you’re not a fan of gluten and are looking for a natural source of gluten-free flour, you don’t have to look too far. Breadfruits when dried and ground, produce excellent gluten-free flour.
- Latex: Islanders used the thick sap the tree produced to caulk their boats and ships. Since it’s waterproof, you can use it to caulk your roof. It’s also quite tasty and is a good sugar-free substitute for chewing gum.
- Fabric: You can peel off the bark of the tree and use it to make mosquito nets, accessories, or get artsy with the pliable material. The tree will grow the bark back without impacting its growth.
- Insect Repellent: The male flower is effective as an insect repellent. Make a floral arrangement and keep it in your bedroom to chase out mosquitos and other pesky insects.
- Super Food: The average breadfruit is packed with carbohydrates, antioxidants, omega 3, omega 6, protein, potassium, phosphorus, as well as iron and magnesium. It’s a cheap and highly nutritious source of food. Roast it, fry it, mash it, or make fries with it.
Breadfruit Tree Varieties
As we mentioned, there are seedless breadfruits while other species are packed with species. It’s safe to say, that the seedless cultivars are the more popular of the two types. Here are some of the most common varieties to grow.
- Aravei: A popular variety known for its large fruits which are ideal for cooking. The young fruits are often covered with spikes but they drop off when the fruit becomes ripe. The flesh is often yellow with the rind a little greenish.
- Pucro: As a source of food, the cooked fruit of this variety is both aromatic and tasty. If you want to try out different exotic breadfruit dishes, this is the variety to grow and harvest.
- Havana: Known for its sweet flesh, this cultivar was considered a delicacy by the native islanders. The only drawback is that the fruits have a small shelflife. Once picked, the fruit has to be eaten within three days.
- Maohi: A small tree that you can grow in a DIY greenhouse in your backyard. The flesh is a little hard and requires more cooking time than other cultivars.
How to Grow Breadfruit Trees
No matter what cultivar you choose, there are many ways to grow the breadfruit tree. You can grow it from seed, use root cuttings, root shoots, or use air layering. We’ll go through each one of them and you can select the one most suitable for you.
This method only works for breadfruits which have seeds. Moreover, sometimes the tree you grow will be nothing like the parent tree. You will need to plant the seeds immediately after you harvest the fruits. Start them in a partially shaded spot to improve the chances of germination. When the seedling is about 12 inches high, you can introduce it to more sunlight to harden it.
This is the easiest way to grow a breadfruit tree. You’ll need to have access to a mature tree and dig up its roots. Cut off a lateral root with the feeders intact and plant it in a container filled with sandy soil. Keep the root at the same depth it was on the mother tree. Water the soil and place the container in partial shade. After about 8 weeks, you can harden it with more sun exposure.
Similar to root cuttings. However, here you’ll need to injure the main root of the tree to trigger a root shoot. When the shoot is about one foot long, cut it from the main root and plant it in peat moss. Keep it moist until it sprouts.
If you don’t like digging for roots and don’t have the patience to wait for seeds to germinate, you can use air layering. Make a cut in the branch of a mature tree that hasn’t yet borne fruit. Remove the bark and injure the branch lightly. Fill the wound with peat moss and wrap clear plastic around it. After a couple of weeks, you’ll see roots growing out of the injured branch. Cut off the branch below the roots and plant it in sandy soil.
Breadfruit Trees Care
It’s not the easiest tree to grow in your garden, but for the sake of this highly nutritious fruit, who wouldn’t put in the extra effort? Luckily, the mature tree doesn’t require much care on your part. It is drought-resistant and can handle anything in its environment as long as the temperatures and humidity are just right.
The ideal conditions for the breadfruit tree involve rich, deep, and well-drained soil. Sandy or loamy soil checks all these boxes. However, the hardy tree has been observed to grow on atolls where the soil is not only shallow and rocky but also saline. In your garden, chances are you won’t have a problem with salt concentrations in the soil. But you might have an issue with clay soil. Break the top couple of feet of soil and work in plenty of coarse sand or perlite to achieve the right texture. Add a generous portion of aged manure or organic compost to give the young sapling a good start.
As with most tropical plants, the breadfruit tree requires ample amounts of water in the first couple of years of its life. In its natural habitat, the tree gets up to 118 inches of rainfall a year. You’ll need to provide more than that especially if you have long and exceptionally hot summers. Water the trees in the early morning until the roots establish. During their second year onwards, their water needs will become less and less. Look out for signs of drought where the edges of the leaves become scorched. That’s a sure indication your tree needs more water than you’re currently giving it. Use mulching to improve water retention.
When it comes to breadfruit trees, there’s no substitute for rich and fertile soil. Poor soil will eventually have an impact on the tree’s productivity. So make sure you start the sapling in soil rich with organic materials. Use organic compost regularly to replenish the nutrients in the soil. As a heavy feeder, you’ll have to apply organic materials every year before the growing season in the spring and again after pruning the tree. You can use a combination of low NPK fertilizer along with organic compost for best results. When in doubt, err on the side of aged manure. You can never have too much of that.
Pruning breadfruit trees not only encourages robust growth but also maintains the tree’s shape and keeps it within the side you prefer. If you’re growing the tree in a greenhouse, then start pruning it once it reaches about 5 feet high. Trim the lead branch to encourage lateral growth. This makes harvesting the tree quite easy since you won’t need to climb a ladder to reach the high branches. The best time to prune the tree is after the harvest. This promotes healthy growth and ensures the tree will bear fruit the next year. Keep your pruning light and don’t cut back more than one-third of the tree’s foliage at a time.
Pests and Diseases
The hardy breadfruit trees can handle just about any insects or bugs. But aphids, mealybugs, and scale have a way to get to the leaves and feed on the nutritious sap. Both aphids and mealybugs are easy to kill with alcohol. But it’s the scale that you need to watch out for. It can kill a young tree if left untreated. Use neem oil for large infestations to get rid of this insect.
The only disease that you have to worry about for your breadfruit tree is sooty mold. It’s the result of the above pests depositing honeydew on the branches and leaves which is fertile ground for the spores of sooty mold. Eliminating the pests will keep your tree disease-free.
The window for harvesting breadfruits is often small. Most varieties don’t change in appearance when the fruit is ripe. The best tell is to smell the fruit and feel it with your hand. If it has an aromatic smell and feels soft, then it’s ripe. Hold the ripe fruit with your hand and twist it to snap the stem. Turn the plucked fruit upside down to allow the sticky sap to run out of the stem. Don’t eat fallen fruits since they’re often ruined.