Fruits have been an integral part of the human diet from ancient times. In modern times, fruit production is a business which brings in a billion dollar turnover annually. Fruits which are consumed today have been selectively bred from their wild species. Therefore wild fruits are either ancestors of a modern fruit type or have the potential to be developed into new varieties of delicious fruit. Hence such wild species are an invaluable resource to a country. Wild fruits show significant differences from their cultivated cousins, with most wild fruit species being smaller in size. They have a higher content of fibre making them more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts. Although wild fruits are less palatable in comparison to cultivars which are mainly sugar based, the range of nutrients in them adds much value. The colour and palatability of a wild fruit are influenced, even within a species, by its geographical location, climatic conditions and genetic variation.
Wild fruits are highly seasonal and their ripening period falls into a narrow timespan. The fruiting periods depend on climate, season, rainfall, and even time, where some plants, being biennial bear most of their fruit once in every two years, leading to inconsistent fruit yields. Some wild fruit species display a mass fruiting period every 3-4 years in which the trees within the area fruit simultaneously. This phenomenon strikes a balance with the breeding patterns of dependent animal species in the area. Therefore the availability of wild fruits is unpredictable and many of them can be enjoyed mostly by chance. In Sri Lanka, approximately 120 species of wild fruit types have been recorded, with most of them being distributed among the dry and intermediate zones. Some species have been well domesticated in our home gardens such as woodapple (divul), lovi and Indian plum (ugurassa). Fruits such as Ceylon gooseberry (ketaebilla) is commercially grown in other countries for purposes such as production of chutneys, jams and juices. Their usage is spread across a wide spectrum with some fruits being eaten spontaneously on occurrence eg. velvet tamarind, longan, whereas most fruits are preserved for short durations and are subsequently enjoyed by a wider community of consumers eg. woodapple, mangrove apple.
This fruit is a velvety globule about 2-3 cm in diameter and contains about 10 flattened hairy seeds. Green coloured fruits, when ripe change their colour from bronze to maroon to purple. A star shaped six petal calix is found at the base and at the tip of the fruit a persistent stigma occurs. The maroon coloured pulp bears a sweet acidic taste.The plant is a shrub or a tree-let, about 3-6 m tall. Although an endemic plant to Sri Lanka, at present it is commercially cultivated in South India, USA, Hawaii, Brazil, Israel, South Africa and Fiji, for the production of jams, jelly, chutneys and juices. The plant was locally common in the past, however rapidly becoming rarer. This species is found in home gardens and forest edges in the drier parts of the hill country.Fruiting season: November to March
Similar to a small version of a mango, about 3-5 cm long, the ripe fruit is green, mixed with a tinge of scarlet. The seed is proportionately large with a thin layer of juicy flesh surrounding it. This species is differentiated into varieties based on their taste, which range from sweet as honey to sour. Villagers tend to name the fruits differently according to their taste. The tree is very large with a straight bole trunk, reaching a height of 30 m. It has dark green, shiny leaves approximately 7-13 cm long. However, in saplings, the leaf is long and quite similar to that of cultivated mango. This endemic species is found both in the wet and dry zone forests in low elevations. In the dry zone it usually grows near waterways and in the valleys of isolated hills.Fruiting season: June to September.
Ziziphus jujuba /Ziziphus mauritiana
The yellowish to orange fruit is borne in clusters with few fruits. The edible thin peel encloses a starchy sweet to sour pulp surrounding an irregularly furrowed, hard kernel. The fruit is about 1.5 cm in diameter. The pulp is sundried and consumed as a tonic by indigenous people. Fruits are available in local markets in small quantities. Small greenish-yellow flowers are borne as clusters on branches. It is a large, armed shrub with a drooping appearance with hairy young branches. Oval shaped leaves with hair on the underside with a serrated margin are arranged in single alternate patterns on the branch. This species is found in the dry and arid zones, open planes and scrub forests in Sri Lanka.Fruiting season: March to September.
The whitish juicy, meaty inner part of the fruit ranges from sweet to sour when ripe. It encloses a small, hard, dark brown seed. Roughly the size of a small marble, the fruit comprises of a leathery peel of buff yellow hue with tiny hairs. Its surface ranges from smooth to knobby. The numerous inflorescences blanket the crown of the tree with a yellow mantle during the fruiting season. In the dry regions, it reaches a general height of about 20-30 m, whereas in the wet zone, its growth is limited to about 15-20 m. Mora displays mass fruiting. The tree is found in the lower altitudes of dry and wet zones of Sri Lanka.Fruiting season: April to August.
These sour to sweet juicy berries with a prominent seed are arranged in clusters of long spikes. The fruit is the size of a small bead, globose to elliptic in shape. Different stages of mature fruits can be observed in a single bunch which display a range of colours: immature berries are green, ripening to a deep black with intermediate colours of orange, red and maroon. The tree branches bear many spikes of berry clusters. The tree is 8-12 m in height and comprises of greenish white spikey flowers. Flowering can be seen in the early months of the year. This species prefers to grow mainly in the lowland wet zone forests along rocky streams and river banks.Fruiting season: July to November.
Family : Lythraceae
Similar to an apple with flattened ends, the ripened light, buff green fruit comprises of numerous seeds and has brownish white coloured soft flesh which is sweet and sour in taste, somewhat similar to wood apple. Consumed with coconut milk, the flesh makes a delicious drink. The fruit is capped by an approximately 5-6 cm broad, large green star shaped calyx with 6 sepals, and a long pointy projection (stigma) at the tip of the fruit. Once the calyx is detached in the ripened fruit, a crimson rim is revealed. Single or few fruits are borne at the end of the branches. Growing as shrubs or trees of about 5-15 m, they comprise of conical shaped upward pointing roots which is a significant character of the species. Usually found in coastal muddy lagoons and river mouths among mangrove vegetation which have saline conditions and are more common in the southern coast of Sri Lanka.Fruiting season:March to October.
A small olive shaped berry with a very sweet and thick pulp, tasting similar to grapes. The smooth fruit is bright yellow at maturity and rarely orange, and 1-1.5 cm round. Majority are ellipsoid in shape with 1-2 seeds. The berries are borne among the leaves at the axillary nodes of the branches. This is a shrub or large tree with a spreading crown and can reach a height of 20 m depending on its habitat. In scrub vegetation, inland dry forested areas, among Palmyra trees in the north, the tree reaches a considerable height. In the coastal sand dunes, mangrove associated habitats and rocky outcrops, the plant is small and shrubby. Generally fruits mature in July. This species tends to produce mass fruit once in 3-4 years and is found in the lowland dry zones and arid zones in various habitats.Fruiting season: July to August, Palu displays mass fruiting.
A blackish brown, oval, velvet shelled fruit, about 2 cm long, 1.5 cm wide and 0.5 cm thick and produced in clusters, is freely available in many markets around the country. Inside the brittle shell, the edible part of the fruit, used in the preparation of chutneys, is a sour to sweet, starchy coating of a hard brown flat seed. Velvet tamarind is a large tree about 20 m in height and its timber is highly valued. Harvesting is exclusively from wild populations. Harvesting malpractices such as felling the tree and cutting large branches have led to mature trees becoming rare in the wild. Velvet tamarind trees generally require a longer period of approximately 20-30 years to reach maturity. This endemic tree is restricted to thick moist forest patches usually in large rocky hills in the intermediate and dry zones of Sri Lanka.Fruiting season: April to August, occasionally displays mass fruiting.
A 0.5-1 cm long sub-globose orange to bright red fruit and has a central juicy pulp with a single seed. The fruits that are slightly astringent in taste are borne at the leaf axils and scattered profusely on all branches. The tree is 10-20 m tall, with a fluted trunk base and a pale grey bark. The elliptical leaves are shiny and stiff, 2-10 cm long and 2-4 cm broad. The leaf apex is blunt with a hairy midrib. This plant is widely distributed in the lowland forest areas in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.Fruiting season: April to September.
Garcinia quaesita and Garcinia zeylanica
Similar to mangoosteen, the inner fleshy core is sweet, acidic and edible and is a deep red to yellow colour depending on the variant. The fruit is like a lobe and 5-8 cm in diameter with 6-9 grooves. The outer segments are dried and used for culinary purposes. The red species, also edible, has a small nipple like protrusion from the tip of the fruit. About 6-8 seeds, ovoid-oblong, 2.5 cm long and 1.6 cm wide cling to the flesh. These trees grow to 20 m in height, with a crown of drooping branches and white flowers. Both these endemic species are found in wet and intermediate evergreen, lowland forests and are on occasion, cultivated in home gardens.Fruiting season: July to September.
Maadan is an elliptic blackish-purple fruit with a rimmed tip and a single comparatively large, hard seed. The sweet, mildly sour juice stains the tongue purple. The fruit ranges in size from 0.8-1.2 cm in length with the plants in the sand dunes of the northern coastal area bearing larger fruits of approximately 1.4-2 cm in length. The fleshy fruits are borne in clusters of about 10. The size of this species varies ranging from bushes of 5 m to large trees of 25 m. This species is disappearing from the wild due to logging for its heavy timber. Maadan is found mainly in the lower parts of the country, most commonly distributed in the dry and intermediate zones, especially along rivers and near tanks and sand dunes of the northern coastal area forming well grown colonies. Fruiting season: July to November, Maadan displays mass fruiting.
The fruit is an oval, deep purple or blackish berry about 1-2 cm long and initially green in colour when unripe. It is sweet in flavour and contains many tiny seeds. Milky white sap is extruded from the base when the fruit is plucked. Each bunch carries one to many fruits, which are placed close to the tip of branch ends. The plant is a shrub or a heavily branched drooping tree-let. Large, forked spines are found at the base of the leaves. It comprises of star shaped white flowers with five narrow petals. This plant is very common in the lowland dry zone along roadways, scrublands and the forest edges.Fruiting season: August to December.
While some species are flourishing due to high demand, others are on the verge of becoming rare in the wild due to destruction of their natural habitats. Indigenous knowledge concerning wild fruits, sustainable harvesting techniques as well as knowledge on preparation methods have degenerated rapidly of late, sadly making this invaluable resource more scarce day by day. Sri Lanka Telecom is passionately committed to “preserving heritage for tomorrow”, for the benefit of the future generations to ensure long term sustainability of the country’s rich natural and cultural heritage. The SLT 2016 calendar is produced under the sub-theme “Wild Fruits of Sri Lanka” and aims to raise awareness among the general public about the importance of preserving the delicate balance in the ecosystems for the benefit of the future generations.