As part of the planning for Kew’s IncrEdibles Festival, the Library, Arts and Archives team scoured the collections for all things fruity. Kiri Ross-Jones and Julia Buckley write about how the search revealed several interesting stories about fruit and some beautiful illustrations.
An unassuming volume turned out to be one of our earliest records of fruits grown at Kew. In a small notebook, Thomas Torbron, gardener to the Earl of Aberdeen and the Countess of Bridgwater, detailed the fruits grown at Kew from 1808-1810: eleven (!) varieties of pineapples, vines, peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, plums, apricots, figs, cherries, currants, gooseberries, melons and strawberries grown for the royal household at Kew Palace.
Most of our records on fruit relate to edibles grown in the far corners of the empire. Botanic gardens around the world corresponded with Kew, asking for advice on cultivation, as well as exchanging plants and specimens, introducing new varieties of fruit to the colonies.
Van Nooten painting of Java's snake fruit
Miraculous fruit of West Africa
One fruit which caught the attention of Kew was the “Miraculous Fruit of West Africa.The Kew Bulletin describes a plant whose red, oval berry fruits “could change the flavour of the most acid substance into a delicious sweetness”, the Synsepalum dulcificum. The volume describes how the berries were used in Sierra Leone to “render sweet and palatable” Aggade bread, sour fruit and bad palm wine. Interest in the plant continues today, with attempts to commercialise the fruit’s ability to make bitter food taste sweet.
We hold a beautiful volume entitled “The Cultivated Mangoes of India” by Charles Maries (1851-1902).
Illustration of a mango by Charles Maries
Maries illustrates the different types of mango he encountered during his time in India, where he was employed as Superintendent of the gardens of the Maharajah of Durbhungah, having been recommended by Kew’s Director Joseph Hooker. His interest and expertise in mangoes is recorded in the volume, which was never published, and his illustrations skilfully capture the diversity, vibrant colours and deep texture of this fruit.
The Art Collections
Many of the fruits will be familiar to today’s consumer but how extraordinary they must have appeared when first drawn. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) illustrated the colourful flowers and fruit of the banana in Christoph Jacob Trew’s ‘Plantae Selectae’ (1750-73) while the Dutch artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten produced vivid depictions of the papaya and snake fruit she saw in Java in ‘Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de l'ille de Java’(1863).
. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) illustrated the colourful flowers and fruit of the banana (Musa)
Kew holds a small number of pomology books including Giorgio Gallesio’s ‘Pomona italiana’ (1817-39) featuring mouth-watering engravings of fruits such as figs, pears and peaches.
Image from Giorgio Gallesio’s ‘Pomona italiana’
Look out for images from Kew’s Library, Art & Archives during the IncrEdibles Festival in various locations from text panels to the patterns on some of the staff uniforms!
- Kiri & Julia -
Book tickets for the IncrEdibles festival
- Read the Directors’ Correspondence Team blog about some of the stories they have uncovered relating to edibles encountered by plant hunters and those living in the colonies
Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.
- newly discovered
- around the world
- of use
- ground breaking
- english garden
- garden plants
- english heritage
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