From the Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
by Len Muller

Seasons in Australia are opposite to those in the US.  Summer is Dec. Jan. Feb. Autumn is Mar. Apr. May. Winter is June July Aug. Spring is Sept. Oct. Nov.

The Breadfruit - The Tree that Caused a Mutiny

Artocarpus altilis

The breadfruit is a staple food in many parts of Polynesia. It is largely carbohydrate, other nutrients being low. Its composition (per 100g edible portion) is as follows:

Moisture 74g
Protein 1.5g
Fat 0.5g
Carbohydrate 25g
Calcium 27mg
Phosphorus 27mg
Iron 1.5mg
Thiamin 0.1mg
Riboflavin 0.5mg
Ascorbic Acid 30mg

The breadfruit, is used, along with paper mulberry, to make tapa, or bark cloth. The white sticky latex is used as bird lime or for caulking canoes. The leaves are used to conserve the moisture content of food during cooking in the imu, or underground oven.

The tree grows 10 to 15m high,and is spreading and shady. The leaves are large (to .5m) and lobate or incised. They may be entire and oblong when juvenile or when the tree has been damaged by high winds. Male and female flowers are grouped in separate catkins on the same tree. Syncarp fruits, spherical or ovoid in shape, develop from the female flower catkin.

Many varieties of seedless and seed-bearing breadfruit are known and a program of selection of desirable varieties has been carried out in Polynesia for many centuries.

Climatic Requirements, Propagation and Growth

Before its introduction to other tropical centres, the breadfruit was spread throughout the Pacific between 21°S and 21°N. In some places, even this limit is not reached. In Florida, just north of the tropic of cancer, it is difficult to grow, so apparently it can be classed as strictly tropical in its requirements. In some areas where there is a long dry spell, certain varieties of breadfruit can be grown better than others. In North Queensland, (Cairns, 17°S), there is a definite slowing down of growth in the cooler weather. In Darwin (12°S), growth of the same variety is steady all year round if sufficient water and organic material are present. According to Massal and Barrau (Food Plants of the South Sea Islands) the average temperature suitable for breadfruit is probably over 71°F. It is tolerant of a wide range of soils, and it may even tolerate some salinity, but it cannot withstand drought. Leaves suffer wind damage, but the tree can survive cyclones, as the branches are brittle and are torn off, leaving the trunk and the major branches standing. Regeneration, including the ability to bear fruit, is complete for a large tree within two years.

The method of propagation of seedless breadfruit is by digging up natural root suckers or by planting sections of root in a well-drained growing medium. Growing tips will begin to sprout in about a month. Young trees should be planted in a wind-free position when about 1m high with a sturdy trunk. A hole should be dug in well-drained soil, about 1m cube, and filled with organic material.
The tree is saprophytic, and good drainage and ample water are essential. If a tree is given a setback when it is young, it will take years to recover. If treated well, a breadfruit will begin to bear reasonable crops in 6 years. A mature tree may bear 50 to 150 fruit.
Approximately 50 main varieties are known, each adapted to a particular environment.

Preservation and Storage

Two methods are used in Polynesia.

Drying: The fruit are peeled and sliced 1 cm thick and dried in the sun or in a food drier for 4 days at 120 degree F. Full-sized, but green fruit are used.

Fermentation: Ripe fruit are boiled, mashed, and fermented in pits. This results in a sour paste.

Using Breadfruit

When the fruit begin to ripen, they do so quickly and become mushy in texture. They are inclined to ferment. To arrest ripening, boil whole breadfruit for about 40 minutes. This denatures the enzymes of ripening and partly ruptures the starch grains, restoring a firmer texture. It can then be kept for about a week in the refrigerator and used as required in recipes.

Under-ripe fruit will also keep in the refrigerator, but will soon deteriorate if left at room temperature.


The English knew a little about the breadfruit from the publication of William Dampier's journal, "A Voyage around the World", in 1697. It was also known to the French. Sonnerat took it from Tahiti to Mauritius in 1772. It was already growing in Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, but it was in Polynesia that the breadfruit had become a major staple food and selective breeding had been practiced for several centuries. It was in Tahiti that it waited for Captain William Bligh, whose fate was inextricably linked with it.

The events lending up to the voyage of the Bounty began with Captain James Cook's first voyage of exploration in the Pacific. Cook, in the Endeavour, visited Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, an event which could not be witnessed from anywhere else quite as well. On this voyage, Cook was accompanied by the famous botanist, Joseph Banks. Cook landed at Matavai Bay on April 13, 1769, and within a few days built Venus Fort to protect them from possible attack by the Tahitians. It was manned constantly by 45 men, which was probably unnecessary, as the natives were amiable, perhaps too much so. They left on July 13, after observing the transit, and went on to explore New Zealand and to discover the east coast of Australia.

On his second voyage, Cook again visited Tahiti on the Resolution. Cook's third voyage also took him to Tahiti and on to his death in Hawaii. This time he took with him the brilliant young navigator, William Bligh. Artist for the party, John Hebber, recorded the breadfruit in several landscapes.

Shortly after this, from the distant West Indies, planters petitioned King George III to commission an expedition to Tahiti to secure some breadfruit trees and to establish them in the West Indian colonies to feed their slaves. The Government consulted Sir Joseph Banks, who advised that Captain William Bligh was the best man to command the expedition. The choice was a natural one, as Bligh was considered a remarkable navigator and a worthy man who knew how to command a ship and care for its crew.

The Mutiny on the Bounty

Dr H.V. Evatt, in his book Rum Rebellion, comments that so far, historians have treated Bligh most unkindly, and it is with this ill-fated voyage that most people connect his name. The academy award-winning film "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) starring the handsome Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, mate and leader of the mutineers, and Charles Laughton as a villainous Captain Bligh, was one of the most notable character smears of modern times. The film was a great money-maker, but a remake starring Marlon Brando was less successful.

The Bounty arrived in Tahiti on 26th October 1788, and plant propagators worked for five months, by which time over 1000 breadfruit trees had been placed aboard the Bounty. Bligh sailed from Tahiti westwards, presumably to stay in warm latitudes to keep the trees healthy and also to follow a course which would provide ample water. No possibility of a mutiny was in his mind as he neared Tonga, when Christian, the mate, and the mutineers, seized control of the ship, and Bligh, along with 18 others, were placed in an open boat in which they made the famous voyage to Timor - 3618 miles - in 41 days.

Indirectly, the seedless breadfruit was the cause of the mutiny, not, as is popularly believed, Bligh's obsession for severe discipline. Owing to the complexity of having to obtain root suckers and striking root cuttings and potting them, the Bounty was forced to stay in Tahiti for longer than it would have taken to gather seeds. Thus, the crew fell in love with the Tahitian women and exquisite Tahiti, and it was their burning wish to return there to stay that led to the mutiny.

As soon as Bligh was dispossessed of his ship, Christian took the Bounty back to Tahiti. The precious trees were flung out on the way. Lord Byron wrote a poem about the incident which describes the seduction of the men by Tahiti. He called it "The Island."

Young hearts, which languished for some sunny isle,
Where summer years and summer women smile;
Men without country, who, too long estranged,
Had found no native home, or found it changed,
And, half uncivilised, preferred the cave
Of some soft savage to the uncertain wave -
The gushing fruits that nature gave untilled,
The wood without a path but where they willed.
...the equal land without a lord;
The wish - which ages have not yet subdued
In man - to have no master save his mood.

Anyone, who has read accounts of long sea voyages of the period, with their risks of sickness and death, can feel sympathy for the mutineers, who indeed had nothing to lose but their chains, as the saying goes. They must also feel sympathy for William Bligh, who had tried to carry out a difficult commission, which, after 18 months constant application, was almost half over. He had secured the precious trees, and the equally precious ship and crew were also safe.

At their trial, the mutineers were represented by Fletcher Christian's brother, a professor of Law, who based the defence on claims of Bligh's extreme, sadistic cruelty. Such claims are not borne out by all existing evidence. Indeed the log of the Bounty appears to show that Bligh was most solicitous about his crew's welfare and health. The results of the trial were that three mutineers were executed and Bligh's character was defamed.

Bligh returned to Tahiti in 1792 in the Providence. The fact that he was prepared to take on this difficult task, which must have caused great amusement among the Tahitians, is sad to reflect upon. It shows that he was worthy of the great respect which Sir Joseph Banks had for him in asking him again, to attempt it. The Providence expedition was entirely successful, and Bligh himself planted a tree in St. Vincent in 1793 which still stands there in the botanical gardens almost 200 years old.

After its introduction to the West Indies, breadfruit was not readily accepted by the local people as a staple food - possibly because cassava, bananas and beans were more familiar to the cooks, who had built up a tradition from African, American and European sources. For those Australians who have eaten good varieties of breadfruit at the right stage of maturity and adequately cooked, the lack of immediate popularity is puzzling. However, it seems that the breadfruit, given time, conquers most prejudices against it, and it has distinct advantages over some other carbohydrate foods. One of these is its simplicity of preparation for eating, and another is its ready digestibility.

Its precise date of introduction to Australia is uncertain, but shortly after the founding of Darwin (1869), a Russian botanist named Dr. Maurice Holtze took charge of the government gardens at Doctor's Gully. He arranged for the introduction of many new plants to the area, among them the breadfruit. These were planted in the botanical gardens which he set up. It is possible that it may have grown at the time of Victoria (Port Essington) which was founded in 1838, since it is mentioned among crops claimed to be growing there in a prospectus for intending settlers. Indeed it is quite likely, as the colony was very remote and its founders had to aim at self-sufficiency.

Back to
Breadfruit Page


Muller, Len. "The Breadfruit - The Tree that Caused a Mutiny." Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. Mar. 1980. Web. 2 May 2015.

Published 2 May 2015 LR
© 2013 -
about credits disclaimer sitemap updates