Durian Tree: Divisive But Strangely Popular
The durian tree produces giant spiky fruits that have a distinctive pungent aroma, but is also popular throughout Asia. We share care tips!
Durian fruit gets a bad rap sometimes. Some people think the ripe edible fruit smells like sewage or rot, while others think the opposite and really appreciate it. The flesh is described as custard-like and sweet by lovers of the fruit or like onion sauce by those who aren’t fans. Love it or hate it, durian fruit grows on a durian tree, and you can grow your own at home if you desire.
It’s a divisive fruit that polarizes people who come into contact with it. It’s considered the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia, where several cultivars exist. In the United States, durian fruit is generally only one species of this multifaceted fruit. It may have a distinctive aroma, but eating durian can nourish the body with a wealth of nutrients.
If you live in tropical regions with climates similar to Southeastern Asia, you can grow your own edible fruits from durian trees and enjoy raw fruit, durian chips, durian paste, and durian leaf juice. It’s such a versatile fruit, despite its reputation. Why not try growing it yourself?
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Durian, civet cat tree|
|Scientific Name||Durio zibethinus|
|Days to Harvest||90 to 150 days from flower|
|Water||2 inches per week|
|Soil||Rich, loamy, well-drained|
|Fertilizer||Slow-release, NPK dependant on stage of fruiting|
|Pests||Psyllids, shot hole borer|
All About The Durian Tree
Durio zibethinus is one species of fruit trees found in markets in North America, while other species are located throughout Asia. Durian is in the family Bombacaceae and is commonly referred to as the civet cat tree. The species zibethinus is named after the civet, a feline creature that hangs out in durian trees on the resident durian plantation in Malaysia.
The origin of durian fruit trees is really interesting! It came from the Malay Peninsula, where it was called dûrî, the Malaysian word for thorn. This refers directly to the thorny outer layer of durian fruit, which often must be handled with gloves. Today, there are at least 9 different trees in the genus Durio that produce the durian sold commercially.
Durian trees grow up to 165 feet tall in their native tropical environment, though their roots are shallow. The leaves are evergreen, comparable to coffee leaves in shape, and up to 8 inches long at full maturity. Durian trees have two fruiting and flowering periods where bats pollinate the nodding, yellow, and lily-like flowers. When pollination is successful, the flowers fall to the ground leaving only the durian fruit. In areas outside of their native habitat, the trees can be hand-pollinated or may be pollinated by moths.
Durian trees fruit and flower in three to five years. It takes 3 to 5 months for fruits to mature after the flower grows. Durian flesh is covered in a hard external husk covered in spines. Inside the shell is another layer that protects the tender flesh and durian seeds. Raw durian has a cream-colored pulp and is highly fragrant with a rich glutinous smoothness. People eat durian in many ways. It’s eaten fresh, made into a paste, or occasionally cooked into delicious desserts like rich custard.
In some parts of Asia where durian is commonly cultivated, it’s banned for sale in markets due to its overpowering pungent odor. But it’s great for treating a fever patient. Some people think it smells like rotten onions, Limburger cheese, rotting flesh, and sewage. Others eat durians and find the aroma pleasant, and the flavor of the fruit very desirable. If you want to grow one, make sure you have the right conditions. Durian (Durio zibethinus) doesn’t get large enough to produce fruit outside of tropical and climate-controlled areas.
Plant durian seeds either indoors or outdoors. It’s also possible to plant durian trees from your local nursery. Unless you live in the tropics, plant your seeds or sapling indoors or in a greenhouse. Durian seeds do not have a long lifespan and are only viable up to a few days after extraction from the fruit. There are seed distributors who sell vacuum-sealed seeds that keep longer than a few days. Wait to plant your seed until the hottest and wettest part of the season at 30 to 50 feet apart. Plant the seed in a 1.5 foot wide and deep hole, prepared with compost. Push the seed in halfway, leaving the top half exposed. If you’re planting outdoors, plant the seed under a tree branch to simulate the shade canopy they would be under in the wild. Water it frequently to keep the ground moist for the first two years while the tree gets acclimated.
Inside, germinate seeds in a wet paper towel sealed in a plastic bag at room temperature. Give the bag at least 4 hours of direct sunlight and add moisture as needed to keep the paper towel moist. When the sprouted roots are longer than the seed, transplant them in rich, loamy, well-draining media. Water them daily to keep them moist. Make sure your container has good drainage holes.
Since durian likes warm climates, substitute environmental controls indoors or in a greenhouse as needed. Plant trees from a local nursery in the same setting as seeds. Use the same balance of compost and loam soil. Graduate the containers for potted durian as the tree grows, providing a few more inches of width and depth for each transplant.
Just because this tree is from Southeast Asia doesn’t mean it can’t be grown elsewhere. Let’s cover a few of its basic needs.
Sun and Temperature
Durian grows in direct sunlight, and trees need at least 6 hours of full sun per day. Like other tropical plants, durian only grows and produces fruit successfully in USDA zones 10 to 12. Ideal temperatures range from 75 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Durian can take higher heat as long as adequate humidity is present. Temperatures below 75 degrees will kill durian. Do not put your plant outdoors if you live outside tropical zones. Just a few degrees below 75 results in fruit and flower drop and slowed pollination.
Water and Humidity
Water your trees daily and generously, keeping the ground moist but not overly wet. Make sure your media soaks in and drains water easily and quickly. Pooled water around the trunk of a durian tree causes root rot. Drip irrigation is a great way to provide adequate moisture without disturbing the ground or soaking it too much. When the tree flowers, stop watering and allow at least 1 month of dryness, up to 2 months total. When the fruit forms, resume watering. Make sure these plants have at least 70 to 90 percent humidity.
The medium for your durian tree should be rich, loamy, and well-draining. As long as there are no floods, you can cultivate it in poor soil. However, they will do best when you adequately prepare the ground with good, well-rotted compost and a little bit of sand. Use a pH tester to assure the soil is slightly acidic at 5.5 to 6.5. Make sure you have loamy soil!
Nitrogen and potassium are the two most essential nutrients for your durian tree, but it does need phosphorous as well. For trees over 6 years of age, 1-2 kilograms of nitrogen and 2-4 kilograms of phosphorous are necessary every year, although not all at once.
There are two NPK levels that are used at certain stages of growth if doing liquid fertilization (or “fertigating”). At 1-2 months before flowering, during fruit set, and after the harvest, a 9-27-27 liquid fertilizer diluted in the irrigation system is considered ideal. This is lower in nitrogen but very high in both the phosphorous and potassium that the tree needs for fruit production or initial recovery from fruiting.
During the flowering stage, the post-flowering stage prior to fruiting, and the flushing stage when the tree is going into its non-fruiting period each year, a 14-7-28 liquid fertilizer is better. This provides the higher nitrogen the tree needs to recover and to produce new leaf growth.
If using a slow-release granular fertilizer rather than a liquid, you can opt for a higher P-K ratio for the flowering and fruiting stages, and a higher N-K ratio for the rest of the year. Pay attention to the timing that your fertilizer takes to release its nutrients and apply accordingly. Remember that there will be a period of time when the tree is not producing fruit where it will need much less fertilizer, as with all other tree species; this is when the tree is resting and recuperating from the fruiting stage, and it’s less nutrient-hungry at that time although not truly dormant.
Prune your durian in the first two years to avoid the need to cut back the tree severely when it’s mature and too tall. In Malaysia, people prune the trees in cone, elliptical, and dome-like fashions. They’re generally pruned at various other stages during their lifespan. If you’re concerned about pruning a large tree yourself, consult an arborist.
As a tropical tree, it’s not deciduous. Leaves will not fall to the ground in cooler seasons. Old fruits can be thinned about one to two months after fruit is set.
As mentioned in the planting section, you can propagate durian by seed. You can also graft two species of durian: one, an older plant, and one, an embryonic tree that is about 2 months old. This tree could come from a seed you planted, or from a nearby durian farm.
When the sapling shows signs of new leaf growth, graft another durian branch onto it. Use sanitized cutting shears to remove a 6 to 8-inch section of branch from the older plant. Remove the leaves, and cut the end into a point with a sharp knife. Then, bisect the baby durian and put the pointed branch into the bisected area. Secure the branches with a rubber band and cover with plastic wrap. If you’ve managed to propagate the two, they’ll produce young leaves in one week.
Harvesting and Storing
You’ve cultivated your Musang King for years and finally, there’s fruit. Let’s talk about how to harvest and store your fruit for your favorite meals.
When your fruit is between 4 and 11 pounds, snip them off to eat the flesh. Either use a ladder to reach the fruits or use a cutting implement on a long pole to cut them off from the ground. Leave a small 1 inch bit of stem at the top of the fruit. Do not eat fruits that have fallen to the ground, as they will be damaged. Despite their gnarly appearance, durians are sensitive. Keep the fruits in a basket and avoid touching them to the ground. Place them in containers while they wait to be eaten. Durians should rest for about 1 week before they are cracked open. If you feel inclined, open one and do a few occasional wafts to see if the flesh is right for you. If so, great! If not, give it away, or sell it at local markets.
Whole durians don’t smell when uncut and whole and will keep for a few days at room temperature. Because they can be stinky, the cut flesh of these fruits should be wrapped in plastic wrap, and then sealed in plastic bags. This goes for whole or sliced thin. They’ll keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Frozen, they keep for 2 months.
Unless you want to contaminate your dehydrator with the intense smell of durians, it’s not recommended to dehydrate. The same goes for when you are canning.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you grow durian. Keep these in mind and you’ll have sweet fruit multiple times a year.
As mentioned before, flowers and fruit drop if it gets too cold. For durian, that’s under 75 degrees. One other bad effect that comes from the wrong conditions is root rot from fungally-infested planting media that doesn’t drain well. Ensure your tree has well-draining soil. Another thing to look out for: don’t over-prune saplings. This prevents production. The fleshy arils turn brown and decay in trees that are not planted properly. Try to remove them and hope they will produce in future seasons by transplanting the tree, ensuring the roots are placed correctly.
Psyllids are insects that resemble whiteflies, or flat green scale. They congregate in large groups on the trunks of durian and scatter when disturbed. In large numbers, they cause sap-sucking damage. Neem oil is recommended in spray form applied every 7 to 10 days on affected areas until psyllids are gone.
Shot hole borers are beetles that drill small holes in the trunk of durian. They enter and consume the sap and trunk matter, causing branch wilting and loss of leaves at the end stages of their infestation. Unless you catch them on the surface of the trunk, you may lose the plant. Contact your local extension office to determine which treatments are best for your region. Prevention by maintaining a healthy tree is usually better than trying to treat them once they’ve moved in.
Leaf blight is caused by a fungal pathogen. The first symptoms show on the center of leaves in yellow or red blotches that travel to the edges. The best treatment for these is copper fungicide in spray form applied every 7 to 10 days. If the disease does not improve, contact your extension office for removal tips.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take for durian tree to bear fruit?
A: After the flowers grow, it takes about 3 to 5 months for the fruit to form.
Q: Where do durian trees grow?
A: They love Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Q: Is durian grown in USA?
A: Yes, but only in greenhouses or in tropical regions.