Just 2 weeks to a month ago was the peak of the Durian seasons and Ubin, if nothing else, has a large number of durian trees. Just walking along the Ubin road a month ago would hear a sudden rustle amongst the trees and suddenly a big THUMP would be heard.
No, it's not the coconuts, althought they have been reputed to not see where they drop. It's the purportedly more "intelligent" durian trees dropping its ripe fruits on the ground. [editor's note: sadly, these trees have been known to drop its thorny missiles on hungry and unwary fruit collectors. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "A durian falling on a person's head can cause serious injuries or death due to the fact that it is heavy, spiky, and may fall from high up, so a hardhat is essential when collecting the fruit. Because of this, the durian is sometimes called the most dangerous fruit in the world." So, beware!] However, looking at this durian below, one might wonder how big these ripe fruits area.
A tiny durian picked up by my mother along the road on Ubin. Photo by November. 11 July 2005.
Indeed, these "organic durians" are plentiful and delicious. It is no wonder Singaporeans, Ubin residents and even the wild boars on the island all vie for a taste of the King of the Fruits during its fruiting seasons (rumoured to often be after an extended period of hot weather and rain). [editor's note: please correct me if im wrong or if it's a certain time of the year] According to Wikipedia, durian fruits mature 3 months after pollination and if you don't know, they are pollinated by bats! There are always abandoned shells and seeds littering the roads - a sure way to help disperse its seeds! There were also abandoned bicycles at the start of trails, another sure sign of durian hunters on the move.
2nd abandoned bike spotted in one day, with ample space on the basket behind for durian collection. Squeals of wild boars were heard later - perhaps a tussle between man and boar for these sumptuous durians? Photo by November. 11 Jul 2005.
There is even a fenced up property on the island that displays a sign saying "organic durian and rambutan" and I believe they are not only for sale but allows visitors to partake in some fruit picking themselves but probably for a price. While not having checked with the owner, I have seen "illegal pickers" being hurled out by owners or NPark officers. The next time I saw them, they were carrying more rambutans and durians than they could finish so I suppose they must have paid for their spoils. Surely a point to investigate. [editor's note: If anybody knows more about this place, please enlighten me!]
Although "a typical durian tree can bear fruit after 4-5 years" (Wikipedia) - or perhaps longer if not grown in a plantation, however, don't underestimate these trees - they are known to have a lifespan up to 80 and 150 years (source)!
An almost hundred year old durian tree in Kamariah's garden. Photo by November. 31 Jul 2005.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for me is that Ubin is home to many of these century old durian trees. According to my father, Ubin is perhaps the only place in Singapore that has these old durian growths. Of course I was rather skeptical when he insisted I write about this "pride of Ubin". I had put it out of my mind as a belligerent child would. Of course parents are always wise and knowing and I was soon put in my place. When I visited Kamariah's house during the Kampong Cooking Class, I was told that the very big and old durian tree was almost a hundred years old!
Of course the disbelieving skeptic in me had to do the maths and concluded that if a tree is almost a century old, it has to be probably from Kamariah's grandfather's time. However, she told me that it was from her mother's time, which means that it is probably almost a hundred years, like about 80-90 or so. Still, I am sure it is (hopefully) not in any danger of disappearing anytime soon. Otherwise, what would the connoisseurs do when they crave for organic durians? The plantation durians wouldn't do after you've had a taste of these great old ancient ubin durians!
Next time you're on Ubin, look out for the golden-brown sheen of the durian tree crown and you might just find yourself in for a feast of organic fruits and maybe even spot the family of oriental-pied hornbill that has made their home in the durian trees!
Ubin's Oriental Pied Hornbill on a durian tree. Photo by November.
For more biological information about Durians:
Fruits of warm climates: Durian and related species
Know and Enjoy tropical fruit: Durian and Mangosteens
Durian OnLine: Everything you want to know about the King but was (sic) afraid to ask!
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Durian - The real Forbidden Fruit
Durio zibethinus (Bombacaceae)
Durian Palace, a tribute to the King of the Fruits!
The Infamous Durian and other pics