Month: July 2010

Challenging fruit

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Markets in the tropics offer a remarkable variety of fruit for sale; a lot of it unrecognizable to the UK based shopper! A recent enquiry from a Sudanese gentleman illustrates the point… he had four fruits in bag and wanted to know what they were.


This was the most difficult specimen to identify. It looks like a piece of white polystyrene with a few rootlets in it! It tastes acidic with a bit of an apple-ey note. And the word isn’t in any search engine. Gongoleze is the fruit of the Baobab tree, Adansonia digitata, which is found in sub-Saharan Africa. The Baobab fruits are filled with a pulp that dries and disintegrates into powdery white chunks. The Baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa. In Sudan, the tree is called Tabaldi. The fruit can be dissolved in milk or water and used as a drink. The seeds also produce an edible oil.

A difficult identification, part of the fruit of the African Baobab tree, fortunately it came with a sketch of the shape of the fruit!


The lalob is a fruit of the tree Balanites aegyptiaca, in English it is sometimes called the Desert Date and in Arabic it is also known as hidjihi or heglig. The fruit is edible, but bitter. In Africa; the leaves are eaten raw or cooked, the seeds are boiled to make them less bitter and eaten mixed with sorghum. The flowers are also edible. The tree has many medical uses, for example, the fruit is mixed into porridge and eaten by nursing mothers, and the oil is used to relieve headache.

Lalob fruit


The Doam fruit comes from a type of Palm tree, Hyphaene thebaica, which is commonly known as the Gingerbread tree. The tree was originally native to the Nile valley (it was sacred in ancient Egypt), and is common in sub-Saharan Africa. Tea made from Doum is believed good for hypertension. Doam also grows in southern India where it is known as Hoka.

The fruit of the “gingerbread tree” effectively a large date… wish I could get these in my local supermarket!


The Nabug was the only one I recognised immediately, it is commonly called jujube, and comes from the tree Ziziphus zizyphus which is in the buckthorn family and is able to tolerate very hot climates. The immature fruits taste a bit like apples. It ripens to a wrinkly and red or black. Jujube tea is used to treat sore throats. The fruits are boiled for several hours and the extract used to make herbal tea. Jujube fruit is eaten widely, in a lot of different dishes in Africa, India and southeast Asia.

Nabuq fruit, more commonly called jujube, these are slightly under-ripe and have an apple-ey taste. A very widespread tropical fruit. There is a good botanical story about the Latin name, but that’s for another day!

National Cherry Day

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Walking through the campus today I noticed a few dark red cherries on the trees in our green spaces.

The majority of eating cherries are cultivars of either Prunus avium, the wild cherry, or Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry. This put me in mind of an inconsistency in the naming of the cherry family. The literal meaning of the name of the wild cherry Prunus avium is ‘bird cherry’, but the tree which is commonly described by that name in Britain is Prunus padus. Both  trees are common in the area around Manchester. The Bird Cherry (Prunus padus) has beautiful white flowers, but the fruits are small and astringent and not good to eat.

Flowers of the Bird Cherry, Prunus padus, an enquiry made by Tom Goss, one of our educators, in April.

In some years the wild cherry produces bumper crops. Despite  the dry weather in June, this year has been good. There are lots of trees in the hedgerows near where I live near Warrington. There is a lot of variability between trees, some produce excellent edible fruit, others are poor.  National cherry day is on the18th of July, for further information click here.

A bumper cherry harvest picked from trees around Birchwood. This will keep us going for a few months!

Unusual Trees to Look Out for (6)

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Taxodium distichum, Swamp or Bald Cypress 165/9

Meaning: Yew-like, two ranks (referring to leaf arrangement)

Do you think all conifers are evergreen?  Think again.  This one’s deciduous, dropping its leaves in late November or December and being fully back in leaf around June.  There’s a handsome stand of half-a-dozen mature examples in the arboretum at Jodrell Bank.  This North American native was introduced in 1640; one of the largest British examples is at Syon House, Brentford, Middlesex, and measured 90’ x 14’-9” in 1968.  It was planted in 1750.  Our Manchester example here is just off Old Birley Street in Hulme, on vacant land opposite ASDA.  It’s clearly kept in gaol for its own good, but a rogue sycamore maple has found its way into the same cell.  The winter photo was taken in February 2010, the summer one in  May.

Daniel King

May walk

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Had a lovely walk in some bluebell woods in May. There’s a cycle track between new Mills and Hayfield.  At the Hayfield end we came across a gorgeous wood through a kissing gate at the side of the path.

Found a pretty little tea room too – Rosies.  perfect for a day out in the Derbyshire hills.

hungarian volunteers (2)

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Eva and Szilvi from the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest visited the herbarium this morning.  I showed them round and after a cup of tea they had a go at remounting plant specimens.  Nice work, ladies!

Hydrophobic surfaces

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Many years ago I worked as a polymer physicist and I still occasionally read polymer journals. I recently came across an article on superhydrophobic surfaces which use nanoscale structural elements to repel water. Water falling on them forms beads and rolls off. The article put me in mind of Lady’s Mantles, a beautiful group of plants that are grown in gardens as ground cover and are common in the wild in Britain.

Many species of Lady’s Mantle have hydrophobic leaves. The dense arrangement of hairs are such that the stable state for water in contact with the surface is a droplet or bead rather than the usual thin film. After rain, the beads make lovely subjects for macrophotography.

Beads of water on Small Lady's Mantle Alchemilla glaucescens in Scotland
Close view of the water droplets

The droplets were considered to be the purest form of water by alchemists. It’s easy to see why as they sparkle in the sun. Some even gathered the droplets for use in vain attempts to turn base metals into gold. It is from this practice that the Latin name for Lady’s Mantles, Alchemilla, is derived.