Tree of the Week: Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

The breadfruit tree has an exceptional significance in Saint Vincent because of the peculiar story behind its introduction to the Caribbean. It began in 1787 when the English Captain William Bligh and his ship, the Bounty, set sail for Tahiti in the South Pacific. Their mission was to collect breadfruit which England hoped would be a successful crop for feeding slaves.

Shortly after departing from Tahiti, Bounty’s crew mutinied. The reason for the mutiny is merely speculated. Many believe that during their five months in Tahiti the crew fell in love with the Tahitian women and the easy island life and did not want to return to the rigors of seamanship. Another story is that the crew was angered at Bligh because he was using their drinking water to keep the breadfruit trees alive on the voyage.

Bligh then set out on a second breadfruit voyage in 1791. The fruit finally made it to the Caribbean; its first introduction taking place right here in Saint Vincent. It arrived in Kingstown on January 23, 1793.

The breadfruit tree has been deeply embedded in Saint Vincent culture ever since. It is sometimes referred to as a Caribbean “super food” and is even included in the country’s national dish: breadfruit and jackfish. The most popular way to prepare the breadfruit is to roast it over an open fire or charcoal. It is served with fried jackfish, which has a flavorful, firm meat that is good for frying and grilling. Sometimes it is nice to serve it with a sauce made from tomato, onion, garlic and herbs. In addition to their national dish, Vincentian’s still use breadfruit in a number of ways: pie, chips, ice cream, pizza, cake, beverages, and pickled breadfruit.

Aside from the fruit, the wood itself is also useful. The tree is very hardy and the wood makes good lumber. In Saint Vincent people use it for building, firewood, and charcoal. We are even using the wood here at RVA for building things like raised beds and making bio-char for the garden.

Breadfruit’s cultural importance is signified in the annual Breadfruit Festival which takes place every August, in alignment with Emancipation Month. The festival takes place primarily in Kingstown but other communities throughout the country have their own celebrations.

The reason the Breadfruit was initially introduced to this region of the world was because of its incredible potential for feeding people. It is both filling and nutritious. The fruit is a good source of carbohydrates, iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B. Eating it can promote cardiovascular health, help kill infections, fight diabetes, aid digestion, promote dental health, prevent skin inflammation, produce collagen, treat skin diseases and do numerous other beneficial things for a person’s health.

Not only does breadfruit have a lot of nutritional and medicinal value, but it also has a huge capacity for bearing fruit (up to 200 fruit at one time on one tree). This gives it great food-security potential. It is important to note that about 70 percent of the world’s hungry people live in regions of the world where conditions are ideal for growing breadfruit.
Lastly, the tree has several ecological benefits. Because of its spreading canopy and large, dense leaves it acts as a natural sink for carbon dioxide, and thus, works to counterbalance the impacts of deforestation and climate change. It is also extremely helpful in preventing erosion because of its immense root system (with an area of about 35 feet) and its large leaves that break the fall of heavy rain. When these leaves fall to the ground and start to decay they contribute an abundance of important nutrients to the soil creating an environment that is healthier and more sustainable for biodiversity.

Tree of the Week: Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
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