From the Manual of
Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe
Artocarpus communis Forst.
Breadfruit and its Relatives
The breadfruit contains considerable amounts of starch even when ripe.
The ash, fiber, and protein are high. The Samoan breadfruit was
analyzed at a riper stage than the Hawaiian specimen, which may account
for the larger proportion of starch to sugars in the
former. Notwithstanding their very different appearance, the
breadfruits are of the same family (Moraceae) as the mulberries, fig,
and osage orange. The breadfruits, however, are tropical, whereas the
fig is grown as a warm-temperate and subtropical fruit. The genus
Artocarpus, comprising the breadfruit and its relatives, includes some
Among the horticultural products brought to the attention of Europeans
by the early voyagers to the East, few were considered of such interest
and value as the breadfruit. The importance of its introduction into
the British colonies in the West Indies was felt to be so great that
His Majesty's government toward the end of the eighteenth century
fitted out an expedition for the sole purpose of transporting the
plants from Tahiti, in Polynesia, to Jamaica and other islands in the
American tropics. On the failure of this expedition, due to the mutiny
of the crew, a second and successful one was undertaken.
Contrary to expectations, the breadfruit did not prove of great value
to the West Indian colonies. The banana is more productive and gives
more prompt returns, and the negroes preferred to continue eating a
fruit to which they were accustomed rather than trouble to cultivate
the taste for a new one.
In Polynesia, however, the breadfruit still retains the important
position which it occupied at the time the region was first visited by
Europeans. There it is a staple food and really entitled, by reason of
its starchy character and the role which it plays in the native
dietary, to the name which has been bestowed on it by the English.
Fig. 52. The breadfruit (Artocarpus communis)
is one of the staple foodstuffs of the Polynesians. It is cultivated on
a limited scale in tropical America, where it was introduced toward the
end of the eighteenth century. (X about 1/7)
The tree, when well grown, is one of the handsomest to be seen within
the tropics. It reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet, and has large,
ovate, leathery leaves which are entire at the base and three- to
nine-lobed toward the upper end. Male and female flowers are produced
in separate inflorescences on the same tree. The staminate or male
flowers grow in dense, yellow, club-shaped catkins ; the female, which
are very numerous, are grouped together and form a large prickly head
upon a spongy receptacle. The ripe fruit, which is composed of the
matured ovaries of these female flowers, is round or oval in form,
commonly 4 to 8 inches in diameter, green when immature but becoming
brownish and at length yellow. The pulp is fibrous, pure white in the
immature fruit and yellowish in the fully ripe one. The fruits are
produced on the small branches of the tree upon short, thick stalks.
Clusters of two or three are common.
There are two classes of breadfruits, one seedless and the other
carrying seeds. The former is propagated vegetatively, and is
presumably the product of cultivation; the latter is often found in a
wild state, and is not used in the same manner as the seedless kind.
The seeds resemble chestnuts in size and appearance. The breadfruit is
believed to be a native of the Malayan Archipelago, where it has been
cultivated since antiquity. From its native region it was carried to
the islands of the Pacific in prehistoric times.
Henry E. Baum, 1 who
has written a lengthy history of this fruit, comments: "The open-boat
journeys of the Polynesians in their peopling of the Pacific islands
are marvelous from the point of view of seamanship alone. . . . Probably a hundred species of plants were introduced into Hawaii
by the Polynesians, and as a majority of their principal food-producing
plants were propagated by cuttings alone, the difficulty in
successfully carrying them across a wide expanse of ocean in open boats
Fig. 53. The breadfruit, showing its internal
structure. This is the
seedless variety, generally cultivated in Polynesia; the other form has
seeds as large as chestnuts, and is not highly valued. (X about 1/4)
1 Plant World, VI, 1903.
Spanish voyagers who visited the Solomon Islands in the sixteenth
century encountered the breadfruit, and it is believed that it must
also have been seen by the early Dutch and Portuguese sailors. In 1686
Captain William Dampier observed the plant at Guam and gave to the
world an accurate description of the fruit and its uses. The famous
Captain Cook, who explored the Pacific from 1768 until he met his death
in the Sandwich Islands in 1779, is said to have suggested to the
British the desirability of introducing the tree into the West Indies.
The outcome was that notorious voyage under William Bligh, in the
Bounty, which forms certainly the most dramatic incident in the history
of plant introduction.
The expedition sailed from England in 1787, and reached Tahiti, after a
cruise of ten months, in 1788. A thousand breadfruit plants were
obtained and placed on board ship in pots and tubs which had been
provided for the purpose. Before the ship was out of the South Seas the
crew, who had become enchanted with Tahitian life, mutinied and took
charge of the ship, putting their commander and the eighteen men who
remained loyal to him in a launch and setting them adrift. The mutinous
crew sailed back to Tahiti, whence some of the members, accompanied by
a number of Tahitians, migrated to Pitcairn's Island and established
there an Utopian colony. After a trying voyage Bligh and his companions
reached Tofoa, an island in the Tonga group, but they met with a
hostile reception from the natives and were forced to continue their
desperate pilgrimage. Fearing, because of their defenseless condition,
to land on the Oceanic islands, they steered for the distant East
Indies, which they were successful in reaching. "It appeared scarcely
credible to ourselves," remarks Captain Bligh in his account of the
voyage, "that, in an open boat so poorly provided, we should have been
able to reach the coast of Timor in forty-one days after leaving Tofoa,
having in that time run, by our log, a distance of 3618 miles; and
that, notwithstanding our extreme distress, no one should have perished
in the voyage."
Undaunted by the failure of the first attempt, a second was fitted out,
again under the command of Bligh, who was promoted to the rank of
Captain in the Royal Navy. This expedition, which sailed in 1792,
secured 1200 breadfruit plants, as well as other valuable trees, and
safely brought them to the West Indies.
The seeded breadfruit, which is much less valuable than the seedless
variety, was introduced into the West Indies by the French ten years
previous to Bligh's successful voyage.
At the present day the breadfruit is cosmopolitan in its distribution.
Regarding its occurrence in Hawaii, Vaughan MacCaughey 1 says:
"At the time of the coming of the first European explorers the
breadfruit was plentiful around the native settlements and villages on
all the islands: more plentiful than it has been at any subsequent
period. It thrives in the humid regions of Kona and Hilo, on the island
of Hawaii, and to-day there are many abandoned trees in these
districts, marking the sites of once-populous Hawaiian villages. The
extensive breadfruit groves of Lahaina, on Maui, were long famous for
the excellence of their fruit. In humid valleys on Molokai, Oahu, and
Kauai, the tree was also abundant, rearing its splendid dome of glossy
foliage high above the surrounding vegetation.
'It is distinctly a tree of the valleys and lowlands in Hawaii, and
with the decadence of the Hawaiian population, and the utilization of
fertile lowlands for sugar plantations, the majority of these fine old
trees were sacrificed to make way for the white man's agriculture."
In some of the Polynesian Islands, the tree is of such ancient
cultivation, and plays such an important part in the life of the
people, that the natives are unable to conceive of a land where the
breadfruit is not found.
1 Torreya, March, 1917.
Westward from Polynesia and its native region (the Malay Archipelago),
the breadfruit is grown in Ceylon and occasionally in India. In the
American tropics it is nowhere an important product, but it is
cultivated on a limited scale in the West Indies, the lowlands of
Mexico and Central America, and on the South American mainland as far
south as the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
There are probably no places on the mainland of the United States where
it can be cultivated successfully. All parts of California
unquestionably are too cold for it. Trees have been planted in extreme
southern Florida, but so far as is known none has ever reached bearing
stage, although there are fruiting specimens of the allied jackfruit in
The seedless variety is invariably called breadfruit in English; the
seeded variety sometimes breadnut. The Spanish name for the seedless
form is arbol del pan, sometimes masa pan; the French arbre a pain; the
Portuguese arvore do pao or fruta pao; the Italian albero del pane; and
the German brotbaum. W. E. Safford 1 gives the following vernacular
names : Seedless variety, - lemae, lemai, lemay, rima (Guam); rima,
colo, kolo (Philippines); 'ulu (Samoa, Hawaii); uto (Fiji). Seeded
variety, - dugdug, dogdog (Guam); tipolo, antipolo (Philippines);
'ulu-ma'a (Samoa); uto-sore (Fiji); bulia (Solomon Islands).
Botanically the breadfruit is Artocarpus communis, Forst. The name
Artocarpus incisa, L., is a synonym.
The methods of preparing breadfruit for eating are numerous. Safford
writes: "It is eaten before it becomes ripe, while the pulp is still
white and mealy, of a consistency intermediate between new bread and
sweet potatoes. In Guam it was formerly cooked after the manner of most
Pacific island aborigines, by means of heated stones in a hole in the
earth, layers of stones, breadfruit, and green leaves alternating. It
is still sometimes cooked in this way on ranches; but the usual way of
cooking it is to boil it or to bake it in ovens; or it is cut in slices
and fried like potatoes. The last method is the one usually preferred
by foreigners. The fruit boiled or baked is rather tasteless by itself,
but with salt and butter or with gravy it is a palatable as well as a
nutritious article of diet."
1 Useful Plants of Guam.
Alice R. Thompson of Hawaii, who has published analyses of two
varieties, says on the point of nutritive value: "The breadfruit is
included in the table with bananas because it contains such high
amounts of carbohydrates. In comparing it with the banana the
hydrolyzable carbohydrates are seen to be much greater in amount. Miss
Thompson's two analyses are as follows:
||Hydrolysable Carbohydrates other than Sucrose
The above statements of uses and content apply solely to the seedless
variety. In the seeded form the flesh or pulp is of little value, but
the seeds, which are eaten roasted or boiled, are highly relished. They
have something of the flavor of chestnuts.
The breadfruit tree is put to many uses in the Pacific islands.
1 Report of the Hawaii Exp. Stat., 1914.
Cloth and a kind of glue or calking material are obtained from it,
while the leaves are excellent fodder for live-stock.
In climatic requirements the tree is strictly tropical. Mac-Caughey
sums up the necessary factors as: "A warm, humid climate throughout the
year; copious precipitation; moist, fertile soil; and thorough
drainage. The absence of any one of these conditions is a serious
detriment to the normal growth of the plant, or may wholly prevent its
fruiting. It is scarcely tolerant of shade, and in Hawaii large trees
are almost invariably found growing in the open."It may be observed
that in those parts of Central America where the breadfruit is
cultivated it is found only in the lowlands, disappearing at elevations
of about 2,000 feet. It is evident, therefore, that it is only
successful in regions of uniformly warm climate.
Propagation of the seedless breadfruit is effected in the Pacific
islands by means of sprouts from the roots. Mac-Caughey writes: "When
growing in the soft moist soil which it prefers, the breadfruit roots
shallowly and widely. Often a network of exserted roots is visible
above the ground. This habit is of the greatest value in propagation.
The wounding or bruising of the root at any given point stimulates the
production of an offshoot, and young plants for transplanting are
produced solely in this way. This mode of propagation is naturally very
slow and laborious, as the young shoots grow slowly, and are very
sensitive to injury."
P. J. Wester has developed in the Philippines a method which is more
expeditious and satisfactory. Root-cuttings are used. The method is
described by him as follows:
"A plant bed or frame should be filled with medium coarse river sand to
a depth of 7 or 8 inches, - beach sand will do provided the salt has
been thoroughly washed out. If sand is not procurable, sandy loam may
"Larger cuttings may be made, but for the sake of convenience in
handling and in order not to impose too severe a strain upon the tree
that supplies the material, it is inadvisable to dig up roots for
cuttings that are more than 2\ inches in diameter. Roots less than \
inch in diameter should be discarded. Root cuttings 10 inches long have
been very successful, but it is probable that a length of 8 inches
would prove sufficient, and, if so, this would allow the propagation of
a larger number of cuttings from a given amount of roots than if longer
cuttings were made.
"Saw off the roots into the proper lengths and smooth the cuts with a
sharp knife. Then make a trench and place the cuttings diagonally in
the sand, leaving about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches of the thickest end of
each cutting projecting above the surface, pack the sand well, water,
and subsequently treat like hardwood cuttings. When the cuttings are
well rooted and have made a growth of eight to ten inches, transplant
to the nursery. Great care should be exercised in not bruising, drying,
or otherwise injuring the material from the digging of the roots to the
insertion of the cuttings in the sand.
"The work should be done during the rainy season."
Seeds of the seeded breadfruit do not retain their vitality more than a
few weeks, and should be planted promptly after they are removed from
The varieties of the seedless breadfruit are numerous but imperfectly
known. As many as twenty-five are said to occur in the Pacific islands,
although MacCaughey states that only three are known in Hawaii. It is a
curious circumstance that a tree as important as the breadfruit should
have received so little scientific study; but exceedingly little is
known regarding the cultural methods best suited to it and the relative
merits of the different varieties propagated vegetatively. Concerning
such matters as its place in Polynesian folklore, its history, and the
uses of the fruit, however, there is an abundance of information in the
accounts of early voyages as well as in the writings of modern authors.