The edible wild fruits, nuts and seeds of Borneo that are found in the different forests from coastal seashores and islands, through the lowlands and hills, to the montane forests, and on different soils, are estimated to be in the region of 500 different species. These were consumed by the many groups of people inhabiting the island, over many decades. They were the ones who had initially discovered whether different fruits, nuts and seeds were edible, and that some otherwise toxic species become edible only after cooking or fermentation processes. Botanists and taxonomists have subsequently provided the scientific names for these plants and classified most of them into their respective families and genera. However, there are still new species being discovered in what are some of the most species-rich forests in the world, and for many genera, Borneo is their centre of diversity. Many species are rare and little known, and over 30% of plant species are endemic to Borneo.
There are several genera of popular fruits that have their centre of diversity in Borneo and these include the Durians, Mangoes, Mangosteens, Rambutans, Taraps, Figs, Tampois and Willughbeia, which supports the saying that Borneo is the 'Islands of Fruits', with the highest diversity of fruits in Malesia.
The lowland forests are particularly rich, with most of the species being trees, but treelets, shrubs and herbs also have species with edible fruits. This guide mostly introduces the better-known species, but to showcase this diversity, some examples of rare or little-known species are also included, resulting in a total of 34 families, 55 genera, and 109 species being illustrated.
Many of the lowland forests have now been cleared for the development of agriculture, forest plantations, towns and roads, and the diversity of varieties of some species has become greatly reduced. Though some germplasm has been conserved in agricultural stations and research facilities, much more needs to be done so that those species with good commercial potential can be selected and bred as future crops for farmers. Some species have already been researched, and selected clones made available, but there are still many more with good horticultural potential.
Anthony Lamb was born in Sri Lanka, where he had his early schooling and found his interest in the diversity of wildlife. He completed his secondary education in England and graduated in Agriculture from Cambridge University, followed by a Diploma in Tropical Agriculture at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, before joining the Department of Agriculture in Sabah in 1962. From 1967 to 1977 he was in charge of the Ulu Dusun Agricultural Research Station, where he started taking an interest in the great diversity of wild edible fruits in the forests there, aided by botanists in the Forest Research Centre at Sepilok.
In 1987, he married Anthea Phillipps, at the time ecologist with the Sabah Parks, and with her and Dr George Argent and Sheila Collenette jointly produced a book on The Rhododendrons of Sabah, followed by Pitcher Plants of Borneo with Anthea Phillipps and Chien Lee. More recently, he has been involved in a 2-volume edition of The Orchids of Mount Kinabalu, A Guide to Gingers of Borneo, a co-author in a monograph of Bulbophyllum of Borneo with Jaap Vermeulen and Peter O’Byrne, and in 2016, A Guide to Hoyas of Borneo with Michele Rodda.
He officially retired from the Department of Agriculture in 1992, but then took on the task of developing the Agricultural Park in Tenom until 2001 when it was opened. Since retirement he has worked in voluntary roles with the Forest Research Centre Sabah and its Herbarium. He has now retired in Kota Kinabalu with his wife and has a daughter and son.