Peacock Flower

One of the most popular ornamentals cultivated in many gardens around Cambodia is Peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima). This shrub produces striking flowers in red, orange, pink and yellow colours, and as a result of its beauty and ease of cultivation, it has spread to just about every corner of the tropical world. In fact, the plant has been grown so widely that its exact origin is a matter of dispute – some botanists believe it was first discovered in the Caribbean (one of the plant’s popular name is “Pride of Barbados”) or central America (where is is known… Continue reading

Mangosteen – World’s Best Fruit?

In “Exploring for plants”, a 1930 book written by American botanist David G. Fairchild, the author calls the mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) “queen of tropical fruits”. This reference undoubtedly hints at the fruit’s excellent taste, but perhaps it also attempts to proliferate the (often quoted but unproven claim) that England’s Queen Victoria was particularly fond of this exotic fruit and even offered a large reward to anybody who could procure it for her. Many of the early explorers and botanists who tasted mangosteen gave it superb references. As an example, English explorer Frederick William Burbidge expressed the taste as… Continue reading

Tasting Cempedak

Another interesting fruit found in many parts of south-east Asia is cempedak (Artocarpus integer). The first time I noticed it in the markets of central Cambodia I thought the vendors were selling breadfruit, but later I started wondering whether it was some sort of a mini jackfruit or even a small durian. As it turned out, it was none of the three. Although related to jackfruit and breadfruit — all three belong to the Moracea family characterised by large stately trees that can reach up to 20 metres (in contrast, durian is a member of the Malvaceae… Continue reading

Cambodia’s Black Tarantula

The large, hairy and venomous tarantula spider is found throughout the world in as many as 900 species. Here in south-east Asia the most common of them is the Haplopelma genus. Its habitat ranges from Myanmar to Vietnam and as far south as Borneo where it is found burrowing deep in the soil of humid rainforests. The tarantula comes to the surface to hunt for insects, such as crickets and cockroaches, but it is also known to be able to capture larger prey, including lizards and mice. Some species are extremely aggressive and won’t hesitate to attack and bite a… Continue reading

Meet the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is a species of dolphin whose distribution extends from the Bay of Bengal to northern Australia. The most interesting aspect of this oceanic mammal, which measures up to 2.3 metres and weighs up to 130 kilograms, is the fact that it can also be found in large rivers, deep inside the Asian continent. The fresh waters of the mighty Irrawaddy river in Myanmar (from where it gets its common name) as well as the illustrious Mekong river in Laos and northern Cambodia are two places where these animals live in small colonies. Unfortunately… Continue reading

Salak – the Snake Skin Fruit

Continuing on the journey of discovery of exotic fruits here in Cambodia, today I’d like to present salak (Salacca zalacca). A product of a palm tree, salak belongs to the category of really unusual foods, normally found in traditional markets only. It won’t be to everybody’s palate – its strong, somewhat sweet but mostly sour taste would probably make many people frown, but others might find the exotic experience pleasantly invigorating. The flesh of the fruit isn’t particularly attractive; unlike the pure white flesh of rambutan or mangosteen, salak, with its dirty-looking yellow to brown patches, might be… Continue reading

Introducing Langsat

The tropical world is home to an incredible variety of unusual and tasty fruits, many of which are completely unknown outside of their natural location. One of them is langsat (Lansium domesticum), a delicious product of a tree from the Mahogany family that I discovered a couple of days ago here in Cambodia. At first sight the little fruits resemble small potatoes, but below the thin skin are white translucent  segments that easily separate from each other. They might contain a seed or two, although I understand that the langsat produced by commercial farming is of cultivated… Continue reading