Want Safer Streets, More Bees and Good Food? Grow Tamarind Trees, not African Tulip Trees

Tamarind pods, Tamarindus indicus

Tamarind pods, Tamarindus indicus

I’ve just made Dulce de Tamarindo from tamarind pods, a mouthwatering Mexican sweet that’s guaranteed to stimulate your tastebuds.

What could link safer streets, more bees and good food? Here’s a blog on sustainable arboriculture as not practised by Brisbane City Council. Let’s start with an end product before making the case to ‘grow me instead’.

Dulce de Tamarindo is based on sour and tangy tamarind pulp which makes a soft and chewy snack combining sweet, sour and peppery flavours.

The tamarind tree (Tamarindus indicus) originates from tropical Africa. Grown worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions, their durable hardwood is valued for carpentry.

Tamarinds have few pests, they’re drought tolerant, storm-resistant, non-invasive and non-suckering. Saplings grow at a moderate rate, forming attractive, long lived shade trees. In short, Tamarinds are ideal street and park trees for cooling Queensland’s coastal cities.

In a very rare fit of common-sense and good planning, Brisbane City Council planted Tamarind trees around town about fifteen to twenty years ago. There are also older specimens said to be planted in the 1920’s by migrants. Council has since stopped planting Tamarinds, but the younger trees are now cropping in Bayside Brisbane, and yesterday I made Dulce de Tamarindo from some locally gathered pods.

How to make tamarind paste

To make Dulce de Tamarindo you first have to prepare tamarind paste.

Like soy and chilli sauce, Tamarind paste has become a cosmopolitan ingredient, adding its unique flavour to sauces and meals worldwide. Most people buy it ready made, but all you need to do is:

Pick some fresh, healthy looking pods. Wash them;

Place whole pods in a saucepan, and cover with water;

Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for twenty minutes;

Pour off half of the liquid, and wait for the contents to cool;

Place a sieve over a bowl, line the sieve with a linen tea towel;

Ladle some pods and juice into the centre of the tea towel, gather the corners, and gradually wring the paste out into the bowl. When the paste stops flowing, discard the waste and repeat. The waste composts quickly.

Tamarind paste can be frozen for later use.

How to make Tamarind sweets – Dolce de Tamarindo

Pour 4 cups of Tamarind paste into a large saucepan, gradually bring to the boil.

Stir in 2 cups of raw sugar, half a level teaspoonful of salt and one level teaspoonful of chilli powder.

Pour into a cup cake tray (smaller cake sizes make smaller, bite-sized sweets) and allow to cool and set (You may find lining the trays with cup cake holders may help the next stage).

When the contents have set, remove sweets from the tray and dust with castor sugar. Traditionally bite sized pieces are moulded and rolled into balls and coated with castor sugar. Store in a cool place.

Grow Tamarinds instead of African Tulip Trees

Tamarind would be a perfect replacement tree for the damaging African Tulip trees (Spathodea campanulata) currently littering Brisbane streets.

It’s disappointing that councils spend rates on maintaining weed tree species like the African tulip tree. It invades bushland and vigorous, suckering roots damage underground services like water, sewage and gas pipes.

African tulip tree is notorious for poisoning native bees with toxic pollen. The flowers collect dew and rain which mixes with nectar forming a noxious brew. In their native habitat nectar is a lure for birds. But where native stingless bees (Tetragonula, syn. Trigona) occur they are either killed by the pollen or  intoxicated after drinking the solution and drown.

African tulip tree wood is brittle, so it must never be grown in playgrounds or as a street tree. They readily shed limbs on roads in a storm. They are the first tree to collapse across streets in a cyclone. Few trees are as risky to grow in a city than the African tulip tree.

Weeds Australia describes African tulip tree as being invasive in the tropics, however, the specimen planted in Sydney Botanic Gardens (warm temperate suckered and set viable seed. This tree is an invasive weedy in frost free regions, that is, wherever it can grow outdoors.

If Council is being honest about wanting to reduce wasting money on city repairs and litigation as a result of their trees wrecking our built and natural environment, maybe it’s time they replaced African tulip trees with tamarinds.

Sustainable arboriculture is holistic, it’s about creating a beneficial, cost effective legacy.

Gardeners comments about African Tulip trees from my public Facebook page:

M. Rawle: I didn’t realise that they killed bees – wont be planting one of them!

M. Kornbrekke: I used to love popping the seed pods as a kid. Won’t be doing that anymore, I didn’t realise it was a weed, let alone a Bee killer.

G. Howard: Didn’t realise they killed bees.

D. Smith: used to love these trees as a kid, planted them around the property, then a little wind came and blew them all down. Not the greatest root system.

A. Cooke: Anyone know how I can kill mine?

B. Hamley (ecologist): Killllll!!!

C. Komp: well I am definitely glad I got rid of mine years ago!!! It’s roots are terrible, it suckers and makes a mess. I didn’t know about the bees either. Definitely not one for the back yard!

D. Weber: Thank you Jerry for this info. They are not very attractive trees anyway. I will let the people in the Bushcare Group to know to look out for it…….and DESTROY!!!!

K. Campion: I was admiring your beautiful picture (of African tulip tree) thinking I must make space for one of these glorious flowers, then read the rest of the post. No not in my garden, only beneficial plant for my beneficial insects. Thanks for all of your wonderful information via sharing on FB. I really appreciate it!😊

P. Venables: used them (African Tulip tree) as water pistols as a kid. First tree to come down in a cyclone.

Gardeners comments about Tamarind trees from my public Facebook page:

M. Carra: There are a couple of streets on the (Brisbane) southside where the council is maintaining existing plantings of Tamarind trees. There is Dornoch Terrace at Highgate Hill where I have noticed recent plantings of Tamarind trees to replace older trees. There is also Ekibin Road through Annerley which has old street tree plantings of Tamarinds. They are a beautiful tree and should be used more often.

V. Bland: I have just seen the new plantings of Tamarinds down the road on Dornoch Terrace. How exciting. These are historical Tamarinds. Planted in the 1920’s by immigrants I believe. When they fruit we get lots of Indian, Sri Lankan and Asian folk gathering seed pods from them (we gather as well) I have found out that they also use the new leaves in stir fry and curry for tamarind tang and as a green vege. The one outside our garden is big!

Jerry Coleby-Williams
16th June 2013