A hundred years ago, a nerdy botanist poking around Penang Island on vacation found a new species of durian that fruited on the trunk and roots of the tree. He named it Durio pinangianus, after where he found it, and then nobody cared. Except I guess me.
Maybe there was already so much of the unequivocally delicious kinds of durian on Penang that nobody could be bothered about the island’s only native durian, not even the Penang Botanic Garden. Although we tried, we couldn’t find Durio pinangianus on Penang Island either.
We found it in Sungai Sedim, a small national park that boasts the world’s longest canopy walk, a kilometer long steel bridge suspended 80 feet over the jungle. The irony was that for once, our durian lay on the jungle floor.
Going to Mainland Penang
Although I’ve been to Penang many times, I had never crossed the 8.4 mile bridge to the mainland. We always come and go by ferry, since the mainland side is right next to both the train and bus station, and the other side is right next to the main
It’s so easy, and we’ve always been so focused on getting to the durian on the island, that I had never bothered to explore mainland Penang. So I was nearly as excited just to cross the bridge as I was about going to look for a new (to us) species of durian.
We set off early in the morning by motorbike from Georgetown. I sat behind Rob as he braved the morning traffic and put-putted us over the placid waters of the Selatan Strait.
Since I wasn’t driving, I distracted myself from fear of becoming pavement butter with the beautiful view of Georgetown over the water. In the angled sunlight the water was a placid mirror pocked by silhouetted islands and fishing boats, reflecting cheerfully puffy clouds that wouldn’t be bothered at all if their husband’s driving tipped them over.
“Whoops, did we mist the yellow line? I guess we’ll just have to evaporate again.”
Sungei Sedim Tree Top Walk
Sungai Sedim is a small national park in Kedah, the state bordering Penang. It’s named for the chilly and crystal clear Sedim River, which runs through the park, but the main attraction is the nearly 1 kilometer long bridge that puts you up close and personal with the fruit and foliage of the immense jungle giants.
It costs 10 RM ($3.30 USD) to stroll around the canopy, which was deserted the day we visited. For a couple of fruit nerds, there was so much to look at we spent over an hour completing the loop.
The bridge is made of steel, and felt very stable. But it’s hard to tell just how far up you are through the dense cluster of trees beneath the bridge. The bridge gradually went up and down, and every so often, there were signs posted alerting us of just how high up we were.
If we could figure out the unit of measurement, that is.
Whatever the numbers, we were way, way up there.
And the coolest thing is that being so far up in the air gave us a whole different perspective on jungle trees, letting us see the flowers and fruits that are basically invisible when you’re standing on the forest floor.
Jungle trees are really huge, many of them growing 200 feet high or more. And more of them made fruit than I ever would have guessed.
A lot of trees fruit directly from the trunk, what scientists term cauliflory even though it has nothing to do with cauliflower. I thought these red and green fruits were beautiful.
We were so close, we could literally reach up and pick these wild relatives of the jackfruit, which I’d found smashed on the forest floor in Penang.
There were vines, and odd shaped flowers.
And whatever this is. Flower? Fruit? Mario cart?
The bridge was scattered with these winged seeds from a class of trees called Dipterocarps. If you throw them in the air, they spin like helicopters.
This would be a great activity to do with small children. Or me.
I had way too much fun throwing handfuls off the bridge and cackling in delight as they spun frantically to the forest floor a hundred feet below.
But as much fun as our canopy walk was, it didn’t help us find our durian, which for once was on ground level.
Finding Durio Pinangianus
It was an ironic morning. After weeks tromping around the jungles of interior Penang, we finally found the durian next to the women’s restroom at the lower parking lot.
We found it by asking one of the staff members, who knew right away what we were talking about. They called it durian hantu, the ghost durian, or durian kura kura, the turtle durian, which was the same name of a totally different durian we found in Borneo.
We had obviously missed its main season, and most of the fruits were cracked and turning old and brown, clinging to the gnarled bunch of roots and knobs. If this tree was really any of the places we looked for it on Penang, I don’t know how we could have missed it.
But a few of the fruits were still the beautiful, red-purple hue I’d been hoping to see. Eagerly, we cracked one open to get a look at the inside and found…
Not much. The aril was thin and waxy, a pale cream color streaked with red. There wasn’t even anything worth putting in our mouths.
It might make another animal salivate, but not me.
Still, it was cool to see another of the many strange forms fruit takes in the Malaysian jungle. It’s as bizarre as anything a Sci Fi novel.
Imagine this: the main character crash lands on a strange planet of towering trees and vines as thick as his wrist. As he’s clambering up a hillside, swatting biting, buzzing insects and freaking out at every strange noise, he sees a tree covered in a cluster of bright red and purple, spiky orbs.
This is the stuff of movies like Avatar, except that it’s real. For now.
There’s a lot of ridiculously weird life forms on this planet, in a million surprising colors and shapes, and there’s something about just knowing they exist that makes me love life even more. It’s why even if I can’t eat a durian like this one, I still enjoy that somehow, for some reason, it evolved into this beautiful oddity.
So go out and have your own other-worldly adventure in the jungle too, before very rare and odd trees and fruits like this don’t exist anymore.
Video of Durio Pinangianus
Come with us on our adventure to Sungai Sedim!
If the video doesn’t load you can also watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtEqw2URB-8
Getting To Sungai Sedim
Sungai Sedim is easy to get to thanks to the plethora of signs pointing the way, starting about 20 km from the park.
To get there, take the main highway from Butterworth to Kulim. From Georgetown, it took us a little more than 1.5 hours by motorbike. Most of the way you’ll go straight. At some point you’ll take a right, and then a left, where you’ll spot your first sign. Shortly after the left you’ll pass the Taman Khulim Hi-Tech Park, so you’ll know you’re in the right place. From here you can just follow the signs.
Or better yet, just follow the directions on Googlemaps.