Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

17 October 2012

Roxburgh discovers the Bread-Fruit tree in India

Logo for Botany in British IndiaThis subject-oriented blog post is part of the Botany in British India Project.
To see all blog posts related to the Project, search for: bibi.


Why this file of correspondence?

IOR/P/241/12  pp 1609-16 is one of the earlier botany files. Within it, we learn of the activity of a key botanist, Dr Roxburgh, building on existing (often Indian) knowledge as shown in the extract by John Ellis. It highlights the special and exotic nature of the bread-fruit tree at the time, in particular the great potential it presented.

 Bread Fruit

John Ellis, A description of the Mangostan [mangosteen] and the Bread-fruit (London, 1775) p.10 ‘The Bread Fruit’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

What is Bread Fruit and Why all the Excitement?

As can be seen here, botanists in the 18th century recognised the bread fruit as a highly valuable food source. This same interest and potential in breadfruit as a healthy and sustainable source of nutrition continues today, as recognized by Crops for the Future.

Plants for Prizes: Exchange of Plants and Plant Knowledge between India and England

Roxburgh refers to a letter (included) offering prizes called ‘premiums’ of a gold medal or fifty pounds for anyone able to bring to the Society in London the most bread-fruit trees in the form of at least three plants of one species between 1 June-15 August 1777. The file is one of many which provide evidence of the great intensity of plant collecting and exchanging of knowledge between the two countries.

Bread Fruit Wired Case
Botanical Detail
An extraordinary amount of detail about plants can be found in these records! Roxburgh gives particular detail about his efforts to procure the tree and his method for propagating it. I wonder if any other methods exist and whether anyone has tried it?





John Eliis, A description of the Mangostan [mangosteen] and the Bread-fruit: p.21 'A Wired Case for bringing over the Bread Fruit Tree, the Mangostan, or any other usefull Plants from East India or the South Seas’ Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Over to you!

Why not drop us a comment here and we will gain new perspectives on the records and their context!

Claire Norman
Project Officer: Botany in British India


Further Resources

Ellis, John, A description of the Mangodan and the Bread fruit, the first esteemed one of the most delicious, the other, the most useful of all the fruits in the East Indies - search for this in the BL catalogue.
Bligh, William, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792, Project Gutenberg – expeditions to obtain the bread-fruit tree.
Breadfruit at Crops for the Future



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