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Ice Cream Bean Inga Edulis ; The Sri Lankan experience

By Ranil Senanayake

Ice Cream Bean is a term applied to the fruit of a number of species within the genus Inga (Fam: Leguminosae). The common name arises from the white, sugar rich pulp that surrounds the seeds. The pulp is lightly textured and juicy sweet. This combined with the smooth texture of the pulp is perceived to taste like ice cream. The Ice Cream Bean has been appreciated for its fruit for a long time in its centre of origin, central and south America.

The best fruit yielding species of this genus are I.feuillei, I edulis and I.diversifolia, although many other species remain unevaluated for their fruit potential. The fruit is eaten fresh. The ripe fruit splits open when twisted exposing the succulent pulp that is scooped out with the fingers. Each species has an ideal degree of maturity for eating.

The widespread use for trees of this genus is in providing shade for plantation crops such as coffee or cocoa. A seedling normally provides sufficient canopy to cover plantation crops within three years. The ability to regenerate from a stump makes it suitable for pollarding and training as a plantation shade tree. In addition some species (I.edulis ) has been used successfully in alley cropping trials in Chile.

Leaves from most Inga species provide good fodder. As with most legumes, trees of this genus nodulate and fix nitrogen in the soil around them. Measurements of nitrogen fixation in Mexico demonstrated the amount of nitrogen fixed to be about 50kg of nitrogen per hectare per year. The improvement of soil texture around the base of growing Inga trees, makes them specially valuable in rehabilitating eroded land. The genus is extensively used for feeding cattle in Mexico. The growing leaves possess extra floral nectaries that are used by parasitic wasps and other insects useful to agriculture. The leaves are large and decompose slowly, thus providing the beneficial effects of a surface mulch on the soil below its canopy.

Biomass and regenerative capacity

The trees of the genus are fast-growing and have been identified to be useful in fuelwood production programmes . The growth of wood is rapid, increment in trunk diameter has been recorded at over 2.5 cm per year. The wood burns well and has been used for charcoal production in many of the countries where it occurs naturally. Inga wood is moderately heavy, with a specific gravity of 0.57. It can be used for light construction, crate wood , furniture making and general carpentry.

Establishment in Sri Lanka

Although trees of this genus hold much promise for tropical countries outside its native range, it has not been dispersed to Africa, Asia and Indo China. One major reason may be poor seed viability. The seeds usually start to germinate inside the pod. It stores poorly, losing viability in a matter of weeks. Thus, in an experiment to assess the utility of this genus in tree crop development in Sri Lanka, six seed of I.edulis was obtained from Rosebud Farm in Karunda, Australia, in 1986 and planted out in a nursery at Ambepussa, Sri Lanka. Four seeds germinated successfully and was grown on for one year for quarantine observation. In 1987 two plants were set out at the NeoSynthesis Research Centre (NSRC) field station at Mirahawatte and two plants were set out in a coconut plantation in Kurunegala, the first location being in the highlands at 4000 ft elevation and the second being on the lowlands at 100ft elevation.

Choose from 5 varieties at different stages of growth.

Fruition is usually in 3-4 years

Price for rare exotic species ( fruiting / specialist)

<under 1 ft = Slr 500 above 1> ft = Slr 1000 above 2> ft = Slr 2000

Contact : Richardo @ Belipola Arboretum +94777524056 for pre orders and delivery options

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