Elephant apple crop is native to south-eastern Asia. Its botanical name is Dillenia indica (डिलिनिया इंडिका) and chalta (चाल्टा) is the name in one of Indian languages.
Chalta crop is probably a native of India. It is found growing wild in Indian forests along the base of Himalayas from Nepal to Meghalaya. It bears green fruits which resemble large apples. The fruit thrives in swamps and semi-tropical forests in deep soil and humid atmosphere.
Officially harvesting of chalta (elephant apple) from forest is prohibited in India as this fruits is one of the favourite fruits of wild elephant. The introducer of binomial nomenclature, Carolus Linnaeus told, ‘Dillenia has the showiest flower among all plants.’
Why the name is elephant apple?
The English name of the plant, elephant apple, came from the fact that in its native range, it is a very popular fruit with the local wild elephants. Fruits are really relished and dispersed by wild elephants, hence popular name ‘Elephant Apple.’
Why the botanical name of elephant apple is Dillenia indica?
Genus = Dillenia; Species=indica . In 1737, father of taxonomy Carolus Linnaeus named the genus to honour Johann Jacob Dillenius (1684-1747 A.D.), a German Botanist and Professor of Botany at Oxford. The species name was indica, because, the plant was indigenous to India.
Origin of elephant apple: -
Dillenia indica is a species of Dillenia which is native to south-eastern Asia, from India, Bangladesh and Srilanka east to south-western China and Vietnem, and south through Thailand to Malaysia and Indonesia.
- It is an evergreen large shrub or small to medium –sized tree growing to 15m tall.
- The slow growing tree is erect, with a few upward –reaching branches bending outward near the summit where they are subdivided into slender branchlets drooping at the tips.
- The leaves are 15-36 cm long, with a conspicuously corrugated surface with impressed veins.
- The deciduous, alternate leaves, dark green, leathery, often minutely toothed, blunt or notched at the apex, are dotted with oil glands and slightly lemon-scented when crushed.
- The flowers are large, 15-20 cm diameter, with five white petals and numerous yellow stamens.
- Dull red or greenish flowers are borne in small, loose, terminal or lateral panicles. They are usually bisexual.
- Its characteristic round fruits are large, greenish yellow, have many seeds and are edible.
- The fruit is a 5-12 cm diameter aggregate of 15 carpels, each carpel containing five seeds embedded in an edible but fibrous pulp.
- The fruit is round to oval, with a hard, woody, grayish –white, scurfy rind about ¼ inches in thick.
- The pulp is brown, mealy, odourous, resinous, astringent, acid or sweetish, with numerous small, white seeds scattered through it.
Special features of elephant apple:-
- Indigenous (native to India)
- Fragrant flowers or leaves
- Auspicious plant
- Attracts birds
- Attracts bees
- Recommended for creating shade
- Evergreen plant
- Suitable for avenue planting
- Good on seaside
- Grows best in humid and warm regions
Distinct characteristic: -
The leaves are 15-36 cm long, with a conspicuously corrugated surface with impressed veins, like potato chips.
Seed collection time is October to December. Chalta can be easily propagated from fresh seeds. Chalta seeds cannot be preserved for long time. Cutting can be used for vegetative propagation.
Chalta trees are often planted in gardens, mostly as specimen plants. New plants are raised from seed. Dillenia species flowers are complete, bisexual, i.e. with functional male (androecium) and female (gynoecium), including stamens, carpels and ovary. Pollination is entomophilous i.e. by insects.
Dispersal of elephant apple seeds: -
Seeds dispersed by barochory i.e. gravitational dispersal, zoochory i.e. dispersal by animals, anthropochory i.e. dispersal by humans. Dillenia indica produces a large hard fruit which is accessible only to the megaherbivores. Asian elephants appear to have a particular fondness for the fruits of Dillenia indica, and hence an important seed dispenser for this tree.
Cultivation of crop: -
In India, still the crop is not cultivated commercially. It has only arbitrary cultivation in a very small scale in few pockets of our country and mostly has forest growth. In Bangladesh, it grows all over the country under cultivated condition. In greater Barisal, it grows more under cultivation.
Flowering time: -
The tree bears aromatic, magnolia-like flowers in June for three weeks, but, the maximum extension from month of May to month of August.
Fruit bearing time: -
The tree bears fruit from October to January, but, the maximum extension from month of September to month of February.
Taste of elephant apple: -
Inside of an elephant apple, the gelatinous pulp surrounding the sepals is mildly sweet, but acidic. The fruit is seldom consumed raw, but those who choose to eat typically add sugar to improve the taste.
Most locals value elephant apples not for its jelly-like pulp, but rather, its crunchy outer “petals.” At best, the taste of the petals resembles unripe apples. At worst, the flavour is mealy, astringent, and resinous. Some also find elephant apple’s odour offensive.
Table-1:- Nutritional value of elephant apple per 100 gm of edible flesh
|3.||Fiber||2.10-2.50||7.||Ascorbic acid||4 mg|
|4.||Ash||3.54||8.||Total calorie||59 kcal|
(According to the book “The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts)
Uses of elephant apple:-
- Its branches are used to make good firewood.
- The fruit pulp is bitter – sour and used in Indian cuisine in curries, jam and jellies.
- It is often mixed with coconut and spices to make chutneys.
- It is extensively used in dal and in fish preparations in Assam.
- It is a main source of food for elephants, monkeys and deers.
- It aromatizes curry and the flesh’s acidity counter balances the curry’s oils.
- Unripe petals are used to make pungent pickled chutneys.
- Crushed elephant apple adds a piquant flavour to dal recipes. Use half of a crushed elephant apple for every 250 gm of lentils.
- In Thailand, sour bamboo salad recipes incorporate elephant apple’s shoots and leaves.
- The jelly-like pulp is used for jams and preserves.
- Upon adding sugar, the fruit makes a light, refreshing juice. Mix the pulp with water and then strain with a fine sieve. Add cumin, pepper and salt for slaking thirst.
- Sri Lankans mix the pulp with coconut milk and sugar to create ice-cream, milkshakes and mousse.
- Indians in Uttar Pradesh use the leaves to wrap tobacco, as they possess ideal qualities such as texture, slow burn rate, resistance to decay and flavour.
- The bark and leaves are astringent. Dried leaves are used as a substitute for sand paper in polishing ivory and horn.
- Tea like liquid is prepared from elephant apple fruit and it has pleasant taste.
- Excellent shade tree.
- Wood is widely used as timber.
- Popular ornamental tree for large garden.
Health benefits of elephant apple
- It has curative properties.
- Fruit treats nervousness, stomach upsets and fatigue.
- The bark and juice from the leaves are given as a treatment for diarrhoea and cancer.
- When the fruit’s gummy substance is rubbed into the scalp, it treats dandruff and reduces hair shedding.
- Fruit has antidiabetic properties and high amount of phytochemicals.
- The fruit has antimicrobial properties.
- Bark of the tree has analgesic qualities.
- It has anti-inflammatory properties.
- The fruit is rich in phenolics may provide a good source of antioxidant.
- Elephant apples contain potent cytotoxic activity.
- Fruit extracts show significant anti-leukemic activity when tested in human leukemic cell lines.
- Chemicals from elephant apple contributed to the production of a nasal gel that exhibited favourable mucoadhesive properties.
- Pulp also serves locally as a hair wash.
- Bark is used medicinally to treat the mouth infection.
- Bark of the plant is a component of medicine for sores caused by mercury poisoning.
- The fruit is said to possess tonic and laxative properties and is used for abdominal pains.
Due to pressure of population in our country day by day food requirement is going to high. To meet the demand, several measures are taken by farmers themselves as well as public and private extension agencies are disseminating various measures to farming community.
The major crops of cereals, millets, pulses, oilseed, sugar, fruits, plantation and spices-are getting importance for enhancing their quantitative and qualitative production and these crops are always hijacking teaching, research and extension attention. But there are several unfamiliar crops those are still out of limelight though these crops have hidden potentiality to accelerate our country’s food production.
In this arena, Dillenia indica is one of such plants which needs more focus for developing a confirmed package of practices as well as commercialization of this crop in large scale. Considering its uses, the crop has high potentiality of food processing and value addition.
The crop’s medicinal properties are also remarkable. This neglected crop can also be grown in neglected places such as –pond bund, side of compost pit, backside of home, corner of garden as well as any kind of fallow land and no need of so much care, no need of so much agricultural inputs i.e. manures, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation water etc. though influence the farmers’ economic situation upto a certain extent. Therefore, the time has come to consider this plant as an important food producing plant. Hence, the extension agencies public or private in their technology dissemination process should include this plant with other important food plants.
Department of Agricultural Extension, College of Agriculture,
Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, Agricultural Farm-713101; Burdwan, West Bengal, India;