Durio Oxleyanus Griffith


Durio oxleyanus is a petite, pretty durian with long green spines. It's powdered sugar sweetness is encased in a creamy, mildly fruity flesh that is totally lacking in durian aroma.  It's a wonder this little-known durian is not the belle of durian markets across Southeast Asia.

Rob and I didn't start looking for Durio oxleyanus until we got to Borneo. Like most people, we thought mainland Malaysia held only treasures of the zibethinus kind. If we'd known better, we could have been enjoying this little sugar-bomb all along. In fact, Durio oxleyanus was first collected and described in Penang, an island off the east coast of Malaysia.

 

Description


Durio oxleyanus is a beautiful, spring-green durian with long, sometimes curly spikes. The spikes are broader and blunter than most durians, curving away from the fruit body like stocky tentacles. Rarely growing larger than a one pound (500 grams), and never more than two (1 kilogram), it's a durian you can easily hold in the palm of one hand.  It's small size and appearance invites comparisons to a green sea urchin.

Inside, the flesh is a creamy white or grey tinged with yellow. Each section cradles only one or two seeds. Even when very ripe, it is nearly odorless with a saccharine sweetness that makes it extremely popular among even those who normally dislike durian.

The most distinguishing characteristic is that, unlike every other durian, it has only four seeded-sections. All other durians have five.


Distribution


Durio oxleyanus is distributed throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. It's supposedly one of the most common durian species in Borneo.

Rob and I have strange luck, apparently.  Although it was the very first durian Rob and I stumbled upon our first night in Kota Kinabalu, we didn't see hide nor hair of another one for two months. We had an easier time finding the decidedly more rare Durio testudinarum and Durio dulcis.

It's also important to note that ever accelerating deforestation in the last century has drastically changed the landscape in many areas and where Durio oxleyanus was once plentiful it may be no more.

 

Local Names


There may have been more Durio oxleyanus around than Rob and I were aware of, since we didn't always know how to ask about it. Borneo is home to many tribes that all speak their own language and refer to durian species by different names. When hunting durians, it's important to pay attention to local nomenclature.

We came across these names: Keranatangon, Sukang, Durian Isu.
Other people have found these names: Dian, Lai Bengong, Kartungan, Ketungan, Ladyin Tedak, Durian Daun (Sumatra), Tungen (Punan Malinu, East Kalimantan), Yang Luang (Merap, East Kalimantan), Da' Eng (Kenya Uma tribe), Durian Hutan (Peninsular Malaysia) Durian Beludu (Malaysian Sarawak).

 

Scientific Names


To most local people, the name Durio oxleyanus is meaningless. Actually, it is pretty meaningless. It's a made-up Latin moniker created by a Victorian gentleman botanist in honor of his buddy, Dr. Thomas Oxley.

Many scientific names seem to originate not in logic but in personal preferences, vainglorious back-patting, and sheer luck. In the case of Durio oxleyanus, the man who originally collected the fruit didn't get any of the credit. Maybe that's because he died. The man who actually did do the naming barely squeaked into the record books before he was dead too.

The Danish physician Johann Voight was the first westerner to collect a sample of Durio oxleyanus while on a plant hunting trip in Penang.. Before he died in 1843 he sent the specimen, along with a lot of nutmeg samples, to Thomas Oxley, a physician in Singapore with a real thing for nutmeg. Oxley owned a 173-acre nutmeg plantation in the area still known today as Oxley Rise.

At some point, maybe when the nutmeg market crashed and he lost everything, Oxley sent the unnamed durian to William Griffith, the English botanist who would eventually be responsible for naming the fruit.  Why he named it for Oxley, the nutmeg tycoon, and not Voight is anybody's guess. Maybe voightianus just didn't have the right ring.


It was the only durian Griffith would get the chance to name, although later someone would name a durian after him; Durio griffithi. Maybe they felt his story was tragic enough to warrant a monument in nomenclature. Griffith had so deeply fallen in love with the flora of Malaysia that he moved to Malacca to study the plants of the region. He immediately fell ill and died two months later, without making a single collecting trip. In a coincidence that seems bitterly ironic, his namesake durian bears inedible fruit.

Shortly before his death, Griffith published his description and name suggestion in Volume 5 of the Calcutta  Journal of Natural History, which you can read for free. The reference to Durio oxleyanus is on page 115.


Growing Durio oxleyanus


Oxleyanus is one of the tallest of the durians, reaching heights of 40-50 meters (160 feet!). In the forest, it prefers moist, lowland dipterocarp regions up to altitudes of 400 meters in Peninsular Malaysia and 640 meters in Kalimantan. It prefers frequently flooded hillsides with sandy soil or alluvium. It's tolerance to flooding has inspired some agriculturalists to suggest using durio oxleyanus as a rootstock for commercial durian farming in wet areas. The germination rates of Durio oxleyanus is 85% in 9-36 days.


Other Uses


In traditional medicine, an extract of the bark is used to treat malaria and the crushed seeds are applied to ulcers and wounds. Recent studies found a high concentration of lignans and triterpenes in the bark of Durio oxleyanus, which may aid in treatments of various cancers and diabetes. The wood is harder than in most durians and is sometimes used for timber.


What's This?


When I learned that durio oxelyanus was first collected in Penang, I immediately thought of this durian that Mr. Chang gave me for my birthday. He called it "Monkey Durian" and said that the tree was over 100 years old. The spikes are really short, fat and curvy, and the fruit body is tinged green. I've never seen another durian like it. What do you guys think?  Could it be durio oxelyanus hybrid? Probably not...


References

*Please remember, all photos published on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Year of the Durian and Lindsay Gasik . If you want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!