Here’s a really rare fruit treat for the ultratropical gardener: known as lanzón in Spanish and langsat in English, this fruit tree has great potential for home gardeners in warmer regions of the country.
Langsat (Lansium domesticum Corr.) is an ancient Malaysian tree that was spread across the Pacific to the Philippines, and then on to the neotropics by the early 1900s. Since then, rare fruit growers around the world have been experimenting with langsat.
This tree is for wet or humid tropical regions of the country, from sea level to 750 meters in elevation. It needs a humid atmosphere and plenty of moisture, and will not tolerate long dry seasons. Some shade is beneficial, especially during the early years.
The trees reach 10 to 15 meters in height, with reddish-brown, furrowed bark, and the leaves are pinnate with five to seven alternate, elliptic-oblong leaflets. The fruits are borne on racemes with up to 30 fruits on each cluster.
They are about three to five centimeters in diameter, much like the shape of a plum, but yellowish, brown or grayish in color.
Inside the fruit, you’ll find a pearl-like pulp that comes in six sections. The taste is hard to describe – sweet like a grape, but not as juicy and with an aromatic after taste. The few seeds in the pulp are not to be chewed, since they have a bitter, astringent taste. Most growers just eat the fruit fresh from the tree, but you can also prepare jams and jellies with it.
Langsats are perishable and spoil after four days at room temperature. If you are lucky, you can find them in some local markets or supermarkets from September to October. From these fruits, you can collect the mature seeds for planting. The seeds are said to last only several days before they dry up and lose their ability to sprout.
Plant the seeds in plastic nursery bags with prepared potting soil. Keep them well watered and in a shady area until they germinate and begin to grow; then slowly move them into an area with partial shade.When the seedling trees reach 30 to 40 centimeters in height, or before they become rootbound, transplant them to a permanent site that enjoys partial shade from other trees.
The soil should be rich loam, high in organic matter; langsat does poorly in clay or alkaline soils.
Remember that these trees need lots of moisture and suffer in the dry season without irrigation. It is also important not to plant them in floodplain areas, since the trees can die if their roots are submerged in water for more than 24 hours. Trees should be spaced eight to 10 meters apart in orchards. In the Philippines, they are frequently planted around the edges of coconut plantations.
If you happen to come across a mature tree, you might want to ask for a stem cutting to propagate at home. Researchers in Puerto Rico had success starting langsat cuttings treated with rooting hormone while grown under intervals of mist. Another method of achieving the same purpose is to cover the pot and the cutting with a clear plastic bag,much like gardeners do with rose cuttings. This keeps moisture in the potting soil so the stem doesn’t dry out.
Grafted and stem-propagated fruit trees usually produce fruit in three to five years, instead of the 10 or more years for production by seedlings. Once the trees are mature, they may produce up to 13.5 kilos of fruit annually.
Gardeners who would like to try their luck growing langsat may contact Brain Trentham at 396-6206. Brian has been growing rare fruit trees for more than 20 years in Costa Rica, and offers seedling trees from his nursery.