Humans began colonizing the vast Pacific more than 3000 years ago, and over the centuries, islanders developed hundreds of cultivars of breadfruit. Some varieties were widely distributed while others were localized to specific islands. Breadfruit was an essential part of life, shaping the landscape and island cultures. Unfortunately, modern life and climate change have taken their toll. The cultivation and use of breadfruit has decreased in many areas and numerous trees have been lost due to drought, storm damage, and neglect. Global warming is a special concern to the low-lying coral atolls due to the increase in number and severity of devastating storms and saltwater intrusion into the water table.
A number of cultivars of breadfruit have already disappeared or are becoming rare. The loss of traditional knowledge is also accelerating. Wild populations of breadfruit in Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Guam, and the Mariana Islands are also under serious threat as native forests disappear.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii has been involved in the conservation of breadfruit germplasm since 1977. The Breadfruit Institute was established in 2003 to promote the conservation, study, and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation.
The Institute curates the largest and most diverse collection of breadfruit in the world, with three species and 150 cultivars conserved in field genebanks. Breadfruit from 34 islands across the vast Pacific is conserved, including some cultivars that are now rare or vanishing in their homelands. The geographical scope of the collection also includes accessions from Indonesia, the Philippines, Seychelles and Honduras.
All 350 trees in the collection are mapped and labeled. An extensive computerized database containing location, accession numbers, names, provenance information and general descriptions facilitates collection management and use.
NTBG’s unique breadfruit collection represents a global resource to support efforts to advance regenerative agriculture and agroforestry, food security, and economic development. Visitors, students, and researchers can experience the marvels of breadfruit at Kahanu Garden on Maui and at McBryde Garden and Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai.