The western Amazon region, together with south east Asia, is the home of the most diverse and extensive range of edible tropical fruits in the world. Some of the plants found there are already being cultivated and harvested on a large scale, while others may only be used regionally or hardly at all. Many of those that are currently under-utilized present unique opportunities, awaiting transport solutions or detailed evaluation and development studies which could then lead on to wider consumption and/or commercial operations. This book focuses on plants found in the largest protected area in the western Amazon, namely the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru which was established in 1982 and covers an area of 25000 square km. Information is given on 107 exotic species and for each, there are usually a number of beautiful full gloss colour photos of fruit and trees. The photography is so well done you could treasure the book solely for that reason alone.
To illustrate the range of fruit trees covered, the following lists some of those that have been distributed elsewhere and you could be familiar with or even have tasted:
Most of the others are less well known outside their local habitat, let alone in the developed countries of the world. The majority may only be found in the wild, and as they’ve not benefited from any serious selection processes or more systematic breeding programs, their attributes are currently still only in their native primeval state. The following four species, with comments from the book entries, are examples the Authors feel have good prospects.
The enticing photos of fruit for several of these relative unknowns, with locals obviously enjoying eating them, gets you wishing you could join in the party too. There’s not much detail on the botany and horticultural aspects of any of the plants as so many are only found in the wild and very little has been studied. Even with others that are actively cultivated, the scientific knowledge base is minimal. But aside from all this, the focus of the book is not on cultural detail anyway, but more to raise awareness of these little-known exotics in the outside world so they might be thoroughly evaluated. One of the interesting phenomena totally foreign to us here in the south west of WA is that when the Amazon floods each year, the whole area becomes one vast floodplain and these plants can be several metres under water for months at a time. Plants growing in such regions are obviously a long way from most of our species that don’t fare too well with wet feet for only a matter of days, and certainly not submerged almost to the canopy. With those species that are cropping during this seasonal flooding, the locals harvest their fruit by paddling round the trees in canoes – a water borne cherry picker equivalent!
Nigel Smith is a Professor of Geography at the University of Florida, USA who has a special interest in plants of the Amazon region and their use by indigenous peoples. Rodolfo Vasquez is a Peruvian forester and assistant curator of the Missouri Botanical Gardens and program director in Peru. Walter Wust is a forester, journalist, editor, professional photographer and environmentalist.