In the jungles and backyards of Malaysia and Southern Thailand grows a species of durian that nobody really seems to know about. At least, nobody realizes it’s anything special because on the surface it looks very similar to the durians sold in markets throughout Asia. A little bit different maybe, but nothing to make a fuss about. It’s so discreet, that it completely slipped under our durian radar. Looking back, I’m almost certain we ate it without being aware that it was anything special
From the outside, Durio lowianus is at a glance indistinguishable from normal durians. What’s noticeable is its deep green exterior. It has long pointy spikes, and is about the same size as durians seen for sale all over Malaysia. What differentiates it enough to be its own species is that the flowers are pink, instead of white and the spines are conical instead of pyramidal. Getting down to the nit picky details,
Not having tasted Durio lowianus myself for sure (although I’m pretty certain we ate it in Jerantut), I am going off reports from a variety of sources. It’s a bit of a futile exercise, as there’s almost no documentation of what the fruit actually tastes like. Botanists get so excited running around with their measuring tapes that they apparently forget about finding out whether or not their subject would do well on the dinner table.
That said, from what I’ve ascertained Durio lowianus tastes a lot like a kampung durian. The aril runs the gamut from a nice yellow color to a dull white, thick and pretty firm like the texture of a dense cake. The flavor is totally durian, but stronger and the odor more pungent. I think I would like this durian.
The only solution to finding out what this durian really tastes like is to go back and find it myself this summer. Wish me luck.
Distribution and Season
When Rob and I were wandering around Taman Negara looking for durians, we were told about Durian Daun, which means “leaf durian” because the fruit is green on the outside. At the time we had no idea the name referred to an entirely different species.
Sources list two other local names used in Malaysia, and one in Southern Thailand: durian sepeh (Terrenganu), durian au (Kelantan), Thurian-don (Thailand)
Scientific Name: Durio lowianus Scort. ex King
Durio lowianus was named by an Italian priest-botanist who had the bad luck of dying before he could publish his findings.
|Photo from the database of the Biodiversity Clearing House
The priest’s premature death meant that forever after he would have to share the credit of naming the fruit with Sir George King. Around the same time, King was the director of the Botanical Garden in Calcutta. His lofty position enabled him to pay people to send him specimens from all over the world. In 1891 he published his description of a durian from Perak under the name durio wrayi.
The species lived with the two names for more than 60 years, when finally AJ Kosterman decided that durio wrayi and durio lowianus were really one and the same fruit. He chose to discard wrayi, maybe out of a sense of fairness to the Italian priest, or because lowianus honors one of the most influential (in a good way) governors of Malaysia.
Durio lowianus is named for Sir Hugh Low, by all accounts an all around good guy. During his term as governor of Perak, he abolished slavery and restructured the governance of Malaysia, including local leaders and headmen in governmental positions. Sounds like a man worthy of being honored with durian.
Growing Durio Lowanius
A lot of research has been done on using Durio lowianus as rootstock for commercial durian orchards because it appears to be resistant to fungal infections, particularly Phytophthora palmivora. Studies by MARDI suggest that while Phytophthora infection averages about 50% in clones grafted on susceptible rootstock, it is reduced to only 7.5% using Durio lowianus as rootstock.
- Sir George King
- Malaysia Biodiversity Clearing House
- Durio of Malaysia by Salma Idris
- Durio: A Bibliographic Review by Michael J. Brown
- The Genus Durio Adans by AJ Kosterman
- Flora of Malay Peninsula by Henry Ridley
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