Common Fruits in Papua New Guinea

About 100 plant species that have an edible fruit are grown in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Many fruits are grown in small quantities in only a limited number of locations. Production of fresh fruit (excluding banana) was estimated as 59 000 tonnes per year by the 1996 PNG Household Survey. More than 20 fruit species are grown in sufficient quantity to be classified as ‘important’. Half are indigenous species and the others were introduced by foreigners during the nineteenth century. Ten of these ‘important’ species, which are grown by more than 10% of the rural population, are described below.

Four fruits – mandarin, mango, mangosteen and rambutan – have significant potential for expanded production for the domestic market, particularly for sale in the highlands and in major urban centres. Five well-established species could also be developed and marketed in greater volume. These are avocado, orange, pawpaw, pineapple and ton. Another group have some potential for further production and marketing. In the lowlands, these are carambola, custard apple (sweetsop), durian, guava, langsat, longan, pomelo, pulasan, rockmelon (cantaloupe) and watermelon. Highland species in this group are banana passionfruit, cape gooseberry, cherimoya, naranjilla, purple passionfruit, black raspberry, strawberry, suga prut and tamarillo (tree tomato).

Pawpaw (papaya)

Pawpaw (papaya) is an important fruit for about two-thirds of the rural population. The ripe fruit is consumed, often as a snack while people work in food gardens. The immature fruit is occasionally cooked and eaten, particularly as an emergency food. This happened, for example, during the 1997 drought. Pawpaw is less commonly eaten in highlands locations. Many plants grow in newly established food gardens after seed is dispersed by animals, but some trees are deliberately planted. Pawpaw is grown in most lowland environments and bears from sea level to 1700 m altitude, although fruit are of poorer quality and less sweet when grown above 1200 m altitude. Production is non-seasonal in the lowlands and intermediate altitude classes. Fruit is available seasonally in Eastern Highlands Province, with fruit ripening in August–October. The first recorded introduction of pawpaw was to the Rai Coast of Madang Province in 1871, where it was rapidly adopted. As with other introduced foods, there are likely to have been multiple introductions at different locations. Pawpaw fruit is commonly sold in lowland fresh food markets and sometimes in urban food stores.

Papaya (via: Brad’s PNG Blog)

Marita pandanus

Marita pandanus is an important fruit for almost 60% of the rural population. The fruit is cylindrical in shape, up to a metre long, usually red in colour, but sometimes yellow. The pericarp (outer layer) of the fruit is rich in oil. The fruit is cut into pieces then boiled, roasted or cooked in a stone oven. The pulp and seeds are removed from the core, mashed with water and strained to produce a thick, rich red sauce used to flavour other foods such as sweet potato, banana and green vegetables. Marita is widely planted on the New Guinea mainland, but is uncommon in the Islands Region. It is not usually grown near the ocean, but grows from low altitudes in inland locations (10–50 m altitude) up to 1700 m. It is most common over the range 500–1500 m above sea level. It is an important food in intermediate altitude locations where coconut does not bear well and vegetable oil or animal fat in villagers’ diets is limited. Marita grows best in moist locations, often under shade, and tolerates waterlogged soils. It is frequently grown with other fruit and nut bearing trees in ‘orchards’ on fallow land in secondary forest.

Distribution of marita pandanus in Papua New Guinea

There is a clear relationship between the length of the marita fruiting season and altitude in PNG. Near sea level, production is continuous and non-seasonal. With increasing altitude, the producing period becomes shorter. Near the top of its altitudinal range at 1500–1700 m, fruit ripens over a four-month period, usually January to April. Marita was domesticated in New Guinea a long time ago. It is commonly sold in fresh food markets in the producing areas, particularly in the highlands, although production has probably not kept pace with population growth.

Pineapple

Pineapple is grown by more than half the rural population. It is widely grown in most environments in the lowlands, intermediate altitudes and lower highland valleys. The fruit is eaten raw. Pineapple grows and bears up to 1800 m altitude, but the smooth leaf type is more common in the highlands above 1500 m and the rough leaf type is more common in the lowlands and intermediate altitude classes. The sweetest fruit is grown over the altitudinal range 400–1200 m. Production is seasonal, with the best supply usually between October and March, although the period of peak production varies from year to year. Pineapple was introduced after 1870. Fruit is commonly sold in fresh food markets in the lowlands. It has become a popular fruit in urban centres in recent decades and production for sale has subsequently increased. This is partly because pineapple is less easily damaged than softer fruits, the poor handling of which inhibits sales in distant urban markets.

Large scale pineapple cultivation at Sogomi, Benabena area, Eastern Highlands Province. Photograph by Tim Sharp 2019.

Mango

Mango (Mangifera indica) is grown by almost half the rural population and is widespread in most lowland locations. The fresh fruit is eaten either partly or fully ripe. Mango bears from sea level to 1600 m altitude, although the quality of fruit is poorer above about 1200 m. Mango bears more, better quality fruit in lowland locations that have a marked dry season each year, such as coastal Central Province, southern Western Province, the Rabaraba–Cape Vogel area of Milne Bay Province, the upper Markham Valley, the Sialum area on the Huon Peninsula, and north-eastern parts of the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province.

Distribution of introduced mango in Papua New Guinea

Production is markedly seasonal, with most fruit ripening from October to January. It is commonly sold in fresh food markets in the producing areas. Significant quantities are transported from the Markham and Ramu valleys into the highlands for sale. Mango was introduced to PNG after 1870. Virtually all trees in PNG have been derived from seedlings rather than from selected clones. Thus fruit quality is only moderately high. A number of selected clones are available from research stations, but planting material has not been widely distributed.

An indigenous species, Mangifera minor, is also grown and eaten in PNG. It is more common in locations where rainfall is continuous throughout the year. In these places, such as the interior of New Britain, the introduced mango does not bear. Total production of the indigenous species is much less than that of M. indica. The indigenous species has fibrous fruit with a strong turpentine flavour.

Watermelon

Watermelon is grown by about a quarter of the rural population. The flesh is eaten raw. It is most common in lowland locations with a marked dry season each year, such as coastal Central Province, parts of Milne Bay Province, the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province, and the Markham and Ramu valleys. It is uncommon in locations that are continuously wet throughout the year. Watermelon grows from sea level to 1700 m, but is uncommon above 1200 m altitude. Production is seasonal, with the best supply occurring between November and March. It was first introduced to Woodlark Island in 1847, with the next recorded introduction to the Rai Coast in Madang Province in 1871. It was rapidly adopted in seasonally dry lowland environments. It is commonly sold in lowland markets and significant quantities are transported from the Ramu and Markham valleys to the highlands for sale during the producing season.

Ton

Ton is an indigenous fruit from large trees that belong to the same botanical family (Sapindaceae) as the litchi, rambutan and pulasan. Ton trees are planted from seed in fallow land, along paths and on the edges of villages. The fruit is eaten raw and has a similar taste and texture to litchi. It is consumed by about a quarter of the rural population. Ton is common along the New Guinea north coast and in the Islands Region. The tree grows from sea level to about 1700 m, but the fruit is eaten only up to 800 m. Above that altitude, villagers say that the tree bears fruit, but the fruit is ‘not sweet’ and they do not eat it. Fruit is available seasonally for about two or three months sometime between August and April each year, most commonly in the period November-February. Ton was domesticated in the New Guinea area a long time ago. A small quantity of fruit is sold in markets in the Momase and Islands regions. Some observers consider that ton has excellent potential for commercialisation for sale within PNG and possibly overseas.

Distribution of ton in Papua New Guinea

Malay apple

Malay apple is eaten raw and is grown by about a quarter of the rural population. Malay apple grows from sea level to 850 m altitude. It is common in coastal and inland locations in the Islands Region and Milne Bay Province. A related species, watery rose apple, is grown and eaten occasionally in the lowlands and intermediate altitude classes up to 1600 m, mainly in New Ireland, East New Britain, West New Britain and Milne Bay provinces. Malay apple ripens sometime between September and February, particularly in December–January, but the seasonal production pattern is not well defined. It was probably introduced from South-East Asia some thousands of years ago. In the producing areas it is commonly sold in fresh food markets, where it is a popular fruit.

Distribution of Malay apple in Papua New Guinea

Guava

Guava is grown by about a sixth of the population. Fresh fruit is eaten when partially or fully mature, often by children. Guava grows to 1850 m altitude. It is a minor fruit in many lowland environments and is rarely grown in the highlands. Fruiting is non-seasonal in the lowlands, but seasonal in Eastern Highlands Province, with the best supply in February–May. The first documented introduction of guava to PNG is to the Duke of York Islands in 1875. Minor quantities are marketed in lowland fresh food markets.

Guava (Lae Main Market)

Orange and Mandarin

Orange and mandarin are grown by about a sixth of the population. Fruit is consumed fresh. Mandarin is a convenient snack food as the fruit is easy to peel and less messy than oranges. Orange is grown in small quantities in the lowlands, intermediate altitudes and lower highland valleys. It is more common in the lowlands south of about 5° latitude. Mandarin is grown in the same broad environment, but is more common at intermediate altitudes. Both species bear from sea level to 1800 m altitude; the best fruit are produced at 800–1400 m.

The main producing season for orange is April to August, but the pattern varies a lot from year to year and fruit is available throughout most of the year. Mandarin has a more well-defined producing season, with most fruit maturing in May–August. Orange, mandarin and other citrus were introduced after 1870, with the first recorded introduction for orange to the Rai Coast in 1873 and to the Duke of York Islands in 1875. Limited quantities of orange are sold in lowland and highland fresh food markets. Greater quantities of mandarin are grown for sale in intermediate altitudes. It is a significant cash crop for villagers in some locations, for example, in the Arona Valley in Eastern Highlands Province, in the Bulolo–Wau area and parts of the Huon Peninsula in Morobe Province, and the Kokoda Trail area of Central Province.

Passionfruit

Passionfruit is grown by about a tenth of the rural population, mostly in the highlands. Five types of passionfruit are grown: suga prut, purple passionfruit, banana passionfruit, lowland yellow passionfruit and granadilla. The fruit is eaten fresh. All five species were introduced after 1870.

Suga prut (highland yellow passionfruit) is the most commonly grown. It is grown in the highlands over an altitudinal range of 1350–2350 m. It was a minor fruit until the mid 1970s, but its popularity has increased rapidly since then because the flesh is sweet and sweet fruits are valued by highlanders. Production is non-seasonal. Fruit is commonly sold in highland and some lowland markets.

It ripens to a golden orange colour. It is slightly larger than the usual purple passionfruit and is much sweeter and juicier. The outer yellow skin is also thinner and more brittle than the purple variety so a spoon rather than a knife is all you need to get at the juicy seeds.

Highland Yellow Passionfruit

Purple passionfruit was a village cash crop in the highlands from 1952 to 1974. Around 400–700 tonnes of fruit was purchased each year in Goroka and Mount Hagen and pulp was extracted in a factory in Goroka and exported to Australia. The exports collapsed in 1974 and production declined so that purple passionfruit is now a minor fruit. Purple passionfruit is grown from 800 m to 2300 m altitude. Production is markedly seasonal with fruit available in January–April. Some fruit is sold in highland markets.

Banana passionfruit is a wild species that grows at high altitudes. It fruits from 1850 m to 2800 m altitude. Fruit is gathered for consumption or sale in highland and some lowland markets. Production seems to be non-seasonal.

Lowland yellow passionfruit is a minor fruit that is grown from sea level to 850 m altitude. Fruit is occasionally sold in lowland fresh food markets. Fruiting is non-seasonal.

Granadilla produces a large fruit, typically 15–25 cm long. It is a minor fruit in the lowlands and grows from sea level to 1000 m. Fruiting is nonseasonal. Small quantities of fruit are sold in some lowland markets.

Bukabuk (Burckella obovata)

Bukabuk is consumed as uncooked ripe fruit. It is distributed from the Moluccas Islands (west of New Guinea) through the island chains as far east as Vanuatu. In PNG, it is mainly grown on small to medium sized islands, although it does occur on larger islands. It is most common in the islands of Milne Bay Province. It is also grown on New Ireland, the island groups north and east of New Ireland, on Buka and nearby small islands in Bougainville Province, on the Duke of York Islands in East New Britain and on the islands west of Manus. It grows from sea level to about 300 m. The highest bearing plant that I recorded was at 390 m on the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province.

Bukabuk is commonly grown by about 230,000 people or 6% of the rural PNG population. There is no recorded longitudinal data on the production pattern, but reports by villagers in Milne Bay, East New Britain and West New Britain provinces indicate that the harvesting season occurs between December and March each year. This seems to be fairly consistent from year to year.

Small quantities are sold in local markets in the island provinces of Milne Bay, New Ireland, Bougainville and New Britain. It is a pleasant fruit, although the aroma may not suit everybody. It may have some potential for sales on the New Guinea mainland, including the highlands. The fruit is moderately resistant to bruising when unripe, but it would still require careful handling to move fruit from small islands to the highlands or urban centres.

Coastal pandanus (Pandanus tectorius)

The globular fruit of coastal pandanus is sucked when fully ripe to obtain a sweet juice, perhaps more by children than by adults. The use of this fruit seems to be less common than in past decades as villagers now have access to sweet drinks, either carbonated (soft drinks, cola, etc.) or non-carbonated (cordial). In recent years, I have only seen it being used on remote islands where people do not have access to purchased drinks. The species (actually a complex of species) is distributed from the Philippines in the northwest to eastern Polynesia and from the Caroline Islands in the north to the tropical coast of northern Australia. Within PNG, it is used on Manus, the south coast of New Britain, on Bougainville, New Ireland and in a few locations on the New Guinea mainland, for example, near Daru Island off Western Province and near Tufi in Oro Province. It commonly grows as self-sown plants on the shoreline, but I have seen trees up to an altitude of 240 m on Umboi Island, Morobe Province.

The MASP database indicates that some 66,000 people (1.6% of rural villagers) use it as a minor snack food. However, this figure probably overestimates its use. There is no data on the production pattern, but it is probably non-seasonal. The fruit is not sold in food markets as far as I know. There is probably little further potential for use of coastal pandanus as it is currently consumed, but there may be other uses for the fruit.

Golden apple (Spondias cytherea)

The flesh of golden apple is eaten raw. It is widely distributed in the region from Malaysia and the Philippines through New Guinea and the islands as far east as Tahiti. Within PNG it is mostly confined to the islands, although
it does occur on the New Guinea mainland. It is commonly grown in the islands of Milne Bay Province, Manus Province and New Ireland. It is also grown on Bougainville and New Britain. Golden apple grows from sea level up to a mean of 950 m, and occasionally as high as 1070 m.

It is commonly grown by about 177,000 people or 4% of the rural PNG population. Information from Milne Bay, Pomio on New Britain and Musau Island north of New Ireland indicate that fruit ripens in about December to February each year. Small quantities of golden apple are sold in food markets in Milne Bay and in the Islands Region. It has potential for processing into jams and chutneys. It is not known whether it could be sold in the highlands, but some fruit could probably be sold in Port Moresby and other urban centres on the New Guinea mainland.

Kumu musong (Ficus copiosa) and other Ficus species

The main economic product of the indigenous figs in PNG is the young leaves which are used as a green vegetable, but the fruit of a number of species is also eaten, particularly fruit of Ficus copiosa. (This species is known as kumu musong in Tok Pisin, literally, hairy vegetable). Other Ficus species with edible fruit include F. dammaropsis, F. tinctoria and F. wassa. F. dammaropsis is a highland species, and the thers grow in the lowlands and highlands. All species are self-sown and I am not aware of villagers planting trees, but they may protect self-sown seedlings. Fruit of F. copiosa is eaten raw. Fruit of F. wassa is either cooked or eaten raw in the Nipa area of Southern Highlands Province. Fruit of F. dammaropsis is rarely eaten, but can be used as an emergency food.

F. copiosa grows widely within PNG, in the Islands Region, in the New Guinea lowlands and in the highlands. Ficus wassa has a distribution that extends from east Indonesia through New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu. F. dammaropsis is restricted to the highlands and highlands fringe of New Guinea. The altitudinal range of F. copiosa is sea level to 2200 m (and occasionally up to 2450 m); the usual range for F. dammaropsis is 800–2750 m (and the extreme range is from sea level up to 2820 m). F. wassa grows from sea level to 2520 m, under extreme conditions. The usual upper altitudinal limit of F. wassa is not known, but is probably about 2200m.

Leaves of F. copiosa in particular are widely used as a green vegetable. There are no estimates of the number of people who consume the fruit. It is likely that many people consume small quantities of fruit occasionally. For example, in Upa village in the Nipa area, one survey recorded eight F. copiosa trees per household. In Milne Bay Province, fruit of F. copiosa are available in about January–February. Fruit of the various Ficus species are not sold in markets. I do not see any potential for commercial development of the fruit of any of the PNG Ficus species, but there may be novel nonfood
uses such as for medicinal purposes.

Mon (Dracontomelon dao)

The fruit is consumed fresh. Globally, the species is distributed from India, through South-East Asia to New Guinea and Solomon Islands. In PNG it is widely distributed, but not widely consumed, except in Madang Province where it is commonly eaten. It is also eaten in some of the small islands of Manus Province, some of the islands in the south-east of Milne Bay Province, on Nissan Island in Bougainville Province, on the Duke of York Islands in East New Britain and on the Schouten Islands off the mouth of the Sepik River. It is a lowland species and its upper altitudinal limit is not known.

The MASP database indicates that some 230,000 people live in locations where the species is moderately common, and most of those live in Madang Province (83%). The very limited available information on the production pattern suggests that fruit is available in October–December. The fruit is commonly eaten in the lowland part of Madang Province and appears in Madang town market. The limited geographic consumption suggests that it does not have much potential for expansion, but that might depend on the availability of clones with superior flavour.

Parartocarpus (Parartocarpus venenosa)

This self-sown species produces a fruit with an irregular shape. The fruit is eaten ripe. It is grown on New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands. I do not know if it is grown on islands to the west of New Guinea. In PNG it is most common on New Britain, except on the north-east lowlands of the Gazelle Peninsula. Fruit is eaten on a number of small islands off the north and south coast of Manus and some islands off the New Guinea north coast, including Kairiru Island and those in the Schouten group in East Sepik Province. It is a lowland species, but the upper altitudinal limit is not known.

The MASP database indicates that 145,000 people live in locations where the fruit is eaten, mostly on the island of New Britain (4% of all rural villagers in PNG). There is only scattered information on the production pattern, but the species appears to fruit in a discontinuous and non-seasonal manner. Parartocarpus is a minor food source on New Britain, where villagers rank it as a moderately important fruit species. It is not sold in food markets and probably has very limited potential for commercial development.

Pouteria (Pouteria maclayana)

The yellow-fleshed fruit of this self-sown species is occasionally eaten raw. The species grows on several small islands off Sumatra in Indonesia, as well as on New Guinea, on small islands north of New Guinea and in the southern Solomon Islands. Within PNG it is eaten on Karkar Island, along the Rai Coast and in the Schrader Range of Madang Province; and on Kairiru Island and in the Schouten Islands in East Sepik Province. The species grows near sea level and in foothills. Its upper altitudinal limit is not known, but the distribution of where it is eaten indicates that this is over 500 m. There is no data on the production pattern apart from a single report from Karkar Island that fruit is available seasonally in August–October.

Around 62,000 people live in locations where the fruit is eaten. Most of these are in Madang Province, with some on the off-shore islands in East Sepik Province and adjacent coastal locations in Morobe Province. That figure is 1.5% of the PNG rural population. However, this exaggerates the importance of the fruit as it is only eaten occasionally by some people. Villagers on Karkar Island say that pouteria was a more important fruit in the past. Fruit is not sold in markets as far as I know. It probably has very limited potential for subsistence consumption or as a commercial crop.

Rukam (Flacourtia rukam)

The fruit of this self-sown tree is eaten raw occasionally. The species is native from Malaysia, the Philippines through New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. In PNG it is a minor fruit and is consumed mainly in the islands and on the mainland of Milne Bay Province. It grows near sea level and its upper altitudinal limit in PNG is unknown. The MASP database indicates that a little over 100,000 people live in locations where it is eaten. This is 2% of the rural population. However, rukam is eaten only by some people, so the MASP figure exaggerates the number who consume it. Information gathered on four islands in Milne Bay Province suggests that fruiting is discontinuous, but not seasonal. It is not sold in local markets as far as I know. It probably has limited potential for commercial production, but it may be possible to sell fruit in some urban markets.

Watery rose apple (Syzygium aqueum)

The species produces a white, pink or red bell-shaped fruit which is eaten raw. The species is distributed from Thailand to Solomon Islands. Within PNG it is grown and eaten occasionally in the lowlands and the intermediate altitude zone, for example, in New Ireland, New Britain and Milne Bay Province. It bears up to 1600 m altitude. Overall, it is a minor fruit species in PNG and is not eaten by many people. The limited available information on the production pattern indicates that the supply is discontinuous and non-seasonal in both the lowlands and the highlands. The fruit is sold in some lowland markets. It may have some potential for further sales in urban locations as the appearance is attractive, although most fruit in PNG have a rather insipid taste. As with other fruit species, the potential for further sales would be greater if clones with superior fruit were available.

Traditional mango (Mangifera minor)

This minor fruit is widespread in PNG. The introduced mango (Mangifera indica) is preferred to the traditional one, but the traditional species is still consumed. The introduced species needs a drier period each year to bear, whereas the traditional species does not. Hence M. minor is mainly eaten in locations where M. indica does not bear regularly. Mangifera minor is found in the Celebes, Moluccas, Lesser Sunda Islands, Luzon, New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Carolines. Within PNG, traditional mango is widely dispersed in the lowlands and highlands on the New Guinea mainland, on New Britain and on the islands in Milne Bay Province. It grows from sea level to 1750 m, and occasionally up to 1900 m. Fruit ripens at about the same time as for the introduced species, that is, in about September to December.

The number of people who consume traditional mango is not known, but more people eat the introduced species. It is not sold in markets. It is unlikely that the fruit could be developed for commercial production.

One thought on “Common Fruits in Papua New Guinea”

  1. This is a lovely overview of edible fruits of PNG. There is now an opportunity to add to the foundational information using the Food Plants International Database. In a few seconds of searching, I found that there are 641 edible fruits in PNG. They may not be destined for the export market but having well nourished children and mothers is a wonderful possibility.

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