Durian is a tree bearing large, spiky, odorous fruit much-beloved in Southeast Asia, where it occurs in humid forests extending from southern Thailand, through Peninsular Malaysia, to Indonesia and Borneo.
In the wild, the tree may attain heights up to 40 m (130 ft), though in cultivation is more commonly around half that height with a stout trunk supporting a densely branched crown, in young trees pyramidal-shaped, with age becoming rounded. The bark is grey or reddish-brown and flaking.
Leaves elongated oval with a pointed tip, 8 to 20 cm (3 to 8 in) long, on top light green or dark green depending on the variety, underneath rusty brown. They remain on the tree in all seasons, alternately arranged and drooping along the ends of the branches.
Flowers white, five-petaled with long stamens and large, around 6 cm (2.4 in) long by 2 cm (0.8 in) wide. They come into bloom in the dry season, borne in pendulous clusters arising at nodes along the branches. Opening in the late afternoon, they give off a strong sour-milk-like odour so as to attract bats, the tree's specialist pollinators.
The fertilised flowers are followed by roundish to oblong green fruit with very thick and tough rind, armed with stout, sharp-pointed spines. These hang from the branches on strong stalks needed to support their size, which may be up to 40 cm (16 in) long and weigh up to 8 kg (17 lbs), though are more usually around half that length and weight. They mature at about three to five months after fruit-set then self-detach and fall to the ground, where they land with a thud.
Mature fruit may be green or yellowish, depending on the variety, and begin to split along longitudinal lines, separating into three or four segments but needing force to pull them completely apart. Inside each segment and shielded by the thick rind are large brown seed, each of which is embedded in cream- or yellow-coloured pulp of a custard-like consistency. It is at the mature stage that the fruit give-off a strong and lingering odour that some have described as reminding of smelly cheese.
There are many varieties of Durian, differing in leaf colour, flower colour, fruit shape and size, fruit odour, as well as pulp colour and flavour. Least common are varieties with red flowers and red pulp.
Durian fruit are mostly eaten fresh-out-of-hand, the soft and melting custard-like pulp being the main focus of attention and occasionally enthusiasm, especially among connoisseur of the fruit. The taste has been described as somewhat similar to rich vanilla custard with a hint of garlic, onion or cheese. The pulp is also used in cakes, ice-cream and in sticky rice desserts enriched with coconut cream.
The flowers produce an abundance of nectar that not only attract bats but also honeybees, resulting in the production of a dark amber honey with a fluid consistency and pleasing sweet taste.
Durian trees produce a medium-weight wood, which averages around 580 kgs per cubic meter (36 lbs per cubic ft) and has a low to moderate natural resistance to rot and decay. The heartwood is an attractive pink-brown to deep, red-brown and when available is sawn into beams and planks used for light construction, joinery, panelling and for making plywood and furniture. However, the trees are not usually felled in areas where the fruit is eaten and has economic importance.
Durian pulp is a good source of folate, iron, niacin (Vitamin B3), potassium as well as carbohydrates and fibre.
Due to its strong odour, Durian is banned from many public spaces in Southeast Asia, such as on Singapore's public transport network, as well as from airports, airplanes and hotels.
Grows and fruits naturally in humid tropical climates, generally in frost-free areas with annual lows of 19 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 1400 to 4500 mm and a dry season of 3 months or less. Durian trees may fail to flower and fruit, or do so poorly, in areas where the average low of the coldest month is below 15 °C (59 °F).
Durian is also cultivated with irrigation in areas having a dry season lasting up to 5 months, such as in Darwin, Australia. When grown under drier-than-normal conditions, the trees benefit from a micro-climate where irrigation can be misted on them over the top of their canopy.
New plants can be started from seed, but seedlings do not come true-to-type, so vegetative propagation is preferred when selected varieties are to be cultivated.
Grafting cuttings of select varieties onto ordinary seedling rootstock has given the best results. The seed lose their viability quickly and should be sown soon after extraction from the pulp. Ideally, they are sown in a container with a free-draining potting mix and are then tended in a nursery under light shade. When around 50 cm (1.6 ft) tall, the seedlings are topped and grafted with the selected variety.
Durian trees perform best on free-draining clay-loam, loam, sand-loam and loamy-sand soils of a moderately acid to neutral nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. However, the young plants need shade for the first few years to prevent sun-scorching and it is common practice to plant them under a fast-growing, short-lived perennial, such as Banana (Musa acuminata).
Under ideal conditions, seedling trees start to flower and fruit when around seven years old, grafted trees when around four to five years old.
In areas with a bimodal climate (two rainy and dry seasons per year), flowering and fruiting usually follows after each dry period, such as occurs in parts of its native range.
Durian fruit deteriorate quickly after harvest, their shelf-life being only a few days, though this can be extended for up to two weeks if kept in cold storage at 10 to 15 °C (50 to 60 °F).
Durian has been recorded as having escaped cultivation, though there does not appear to be any record of it anywhere as a serious weed or invasive species.
The large, heavy and spiky fruit fall to the ground unaided, sometimes from a great height and can cause serious personal injury or damage to property.
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