Maxine Manickum, Photographic Competition First Runner-up: The ugliest specimen

If you were given one minute to describe this specimen, what would you say?
What you see is not what you get. The dried specimen is deceiving, the actual fruit skin is yellow or green in colour but when dried, it turns black. The skin of the jackfruit is not uniform but rather spiky and therefore when dried, it looks like a cluster of small ants or insects. When peeling the jackfruit skin, it is extremely sticky and therefore one should apply oil to the knife when peeling it otherwise you may just find your hands covered with sticky sap. It has a similar aroma to banana and pineapple.

What makes the specimen special?
Externally, it has a unique appearance. In the past 5 years, this specimen is the only plant specimen that I have seen which in my opinion resembles a bunch of tiny ants when dried. When I first took the specimen out to data-capture, I had to look at it from all angles to ensure it was in fact a plant specimen. If you look past its “ugly” appearance, you find a diamond in the rough. The jackfruit tree and fruit provide a host of benefits.

What is it known for?
It is typically known for its fruit, called Jackfruit. People enjoy this fruit in various ways such as having it as a pickle with their main food dish which I personally absolutely love, cooking it and having it as a curry, frying it and having it as chips, enjoying it as a raw fruit and some use part of the jackfruit to make custards and cakes.

What story does it carry with it?
Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is part of the Moraceae family, with other common species in the family being fig and mulberry. It originated in southern India and is cultivated in tropical areas around the world. The Jackfruit tree bears the largest fruit, weighing as much as 55kg and reaching 90 cm in length and 50 cm in diameter. In Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, jack fruit is their national fruit and in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it’s the state fruit. The jackfruit tree is a multipurpose tree, providing more than just a fruit. Fuel, timber, food and medicinal extracts are derived from the tree.

How does having it in your collection benefit society?…what value does it carry?
This specimen is found in the cultivated section of the herbarium. Knowing when and where it was collected helps researchers to find the specimen again if one wants to further study the species. The seeds for example carry approximately 18 % of the fruit weight and are rich in starch and protein. There have been studies that have looked at the seeds being an alternative source of starch. More research is needed in this area. Knowing when and where the species was collected is the first step towards conducting research and discovering the vast benefits that the jackfruit offers.

If you were forced to keep only five specimens in your collection, would you keep it?…why?
If this specimen had more plant information on the label and other plant features such as the leaves, seeds and stems, then yes I definitely would. Unfortunately the specimen only has the skin of the fruit which is not ideal for research purposes.

What is the one thing that people don’t know about this specimen?
Jackfruit flesh is used as a meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans, with the unripe flesh having a texture similar to pulled pork or chicken.

Congratulations Maxine and the SANBI KZN Herbarium team!