I recently got to taste homegrown fruits for the first time of Cordia myxa, known as lasura in India. This is a fruit tree that reportedly thrives and produces crops in extremely high temperatures and in poor soil, a promising set of characteristics given the forecasts for climate change. On a personal note, getting to taste these fruits was a bit of triumph for me, because I’ve been growing this species for about 15 years without having any idea what it was.
Around 2005, a friend gave me a couple of plants of a fruit tree which had been introduced from Zambia in southern Africa. The information I got was that the tree grows in harsh, dry conditions in poor soil, and people there harvest and eat the fruits. That was enough for me to try growing it.
The person I got it from had more than one seedling of this tree. So I followed a procedure that’s good to do when dealing with an unknown fruit species: I got two different seedling clones from my friend, just in case this turns out to be a species which requires cross-pollination between clones to set fruit.
The foliage of this tree didn’t resemble any fruit tree species I knew. I found the mystery fruit tree propagates readily by cuttings, so periodically I would root a few cuttings of both clones (labeling them “Clone 1” and “Clone 2”). I tried planting one in the ground, but since I figured it was unlikely to be able to handle freezing temperatures, I located it in a spot with lots of sky coverage from evergreen trees, to minimize damage from radiational cooling on cold winter nights. The location didn’t really help – the little tree still froze to the ground every year during winters that got to 25F (-4C) and colder. It grew back reliably every spring, but because it was in so much shade, it never made much growth before winter came around again. This tree seems to strongly prefer full sun.
None of my plants of the mystery tree produced any flowers, which didn’t surprise me since this species normally grows into a tree, and my plants of it were little, never getting a chance to become anywhere close to tree size. After the extremely mild winter of 2018-2019, I figured it was worth the chance of trying this species in the ground in a sunnier spot to see if I might get it big enough to make flowers and fruits, so I could finally experience eating it. So in spring 2019 I set in the ground two plants, one of each clone of the mystery species. Those trees have done well, getting bigger than I’ve yet been able to get this species to grow here. So far, neither tree has produced any flowers. But in early May of this year, as I examined the plants of this species that were still languishing in three-gallon pots in my nursery, I was surprised to see that one of them was pushing out a cluster of flower buds.
I’m glad I spotted those buds, because a few days later they opened up into flowers which only lasted a single day. On that bloom day (May 16, 2020), I was able to get some photos of the flowers and leaves. I posted a pic to my Instagram stories, asking if anyone recognized it, and several people responded that it looked like a fruit in the Boraginaceae, Cordia myxa, which is called lasura fruit in India. Finally I had an identification of the mystery fruit.
My precautions about maintaining two clones of this tree for cross-pollination turned out to be completely unnecessary – the blooms on that little tree rapidly developed into fruits with no other lasura blooms anywhere around. Since this was such a small tree growing in a three-gallon pot, I expected those little developing fruits would most likely drop off without maturing. I was again surprised as the little fruits continued to expand over the following weeks, staying firmly attached to the tree.
In mid July, just about sixty days after blooming, the fruits ripened. It was exciting to actually got to taste the plant’s fruit after all these years. I compared them to photos and descriptions online, and confirmed that this does appear to be lasura, Cordia myxa.
Here’s what it’s like to eat them. Lasura fruit has two distinct layers of flesh, an outer layer just under the skin, and an inner jelly-like layer surrounding the seed. The outer flesh has a soft, melting texture, almost the consistency of mango, with wonderful sweet flavors of cherry, watermelon, and bubblegum. In the inner layer of flesh around the seed, things get even more flavorful – and also kind of strange. In that layer, the sweetness and flavor become more intense, like a cherry-watermelon candy. But the texture of that inner layer is like no other fruit I’ve ever eaten. It’s jelly, but with a kind of thick, glue-like stickiness. Despite the odd texture, that flesh is so tasty I found myself sucking every last bit of it off the small, flattened seed.
Afterward eating each fruit I was left with the twin sensations of stickiness on my lips and also a bit of coating on my tongue that both lasted a couple minutes before they went away. On some of the fruits, I thought I detected a tiny bit of astringency around the seed, similar to (but much less than) the effect when you eat an astringent-variety persimmon before it’s thoroughly ripe. On others of the handful of fruits I got, I did not detect that effect. The skin of the fruit has a slightly resinous flavor. After eating the first couple of fruits with the skin on, I found I enjoyed them more when I cut the fruit in half and ate the flesh out, discarding the skin.
The flavor of lasura is great. But the texture is partly familiar, and partly so unusual, I’m still not sure if this fruit is a “love” or just a “like” for me. My entire crop at this first fruiting was the small cluster shown in the photo, so it was not a lot of experience for evaluating a fruit. Also, the plant that produced these was in a three-gallon pot, which is generally not an ideal situation for a tree to make fruits of the highest flavor quality. Hopefully in the future I’ll get more abundant crops on a larger tree, so I can more fully experience this fruit.
Based on what I’ve heard of how productive lasura can be under harsh conditions, it seems that this species has great potential. One person in Kuwait City told me that this is one of the few fruit trees which survives the three months of temperatures frequently rising to 120F(49C). He said that the soil there is mostly sand with a pH around 8, with high salinity, and the tree is able to produce fruit without any soil amendments or fertilizer, just water. Lasura seems especially promising because of its adaptability to different conditions – not only does it thrive in extremely dry desert areas (given irrigation), it also grows well and is able to produce fruit in steamy humid conditions like what we get in Florida’s summers.
A breeding program could focus on reducing the odd, sticky texture of lasura fruit, while maintaining its excellent flavor. Since most of the stickiness seems to be in the inner layer of flesh, maybe it would be possible to simply select for that layer to be smaller, and a greater proportion of the fruit would be the outer layer that has a more familiar texture for most people.
Switching large areas of the world’s cropland from annuals to perennials, especially tree crops, is an important strategy to fight climate change directly – that land will sequester carbon at the same time as it produces food. Within that project, putting a special emphasis on planting and breeding tree crops with a demonstrated history of tolerance to extreme heat will help make our food production to be resilient to the effects of climate destabilization. Lasura seems a promising candidate to include in this effort.