Wang Takrai garden estate in Nakhon Nayok boasts many trees, but during a visit there recently my son was intrigued by one in particular. After one look at it, he pronounced it "ugly". When I asked why he thought so, he said it was the fruit and not the tree that he found unattractive. "The fruits are covered by thorns, round but not quite so and look very stiff," he answered. The tree is Bixa orellana, or annatto. We have one on our farm, but he might not have noticed it. If he had, he would have thought differently, for annatto is a beautiful tree with beautiful flowers and fruit.
BLUES ARTIST: Left and below, flowers of the butterfly pea tree are used to create a food colouring.
Known in Thai as kam-ngor, annatto is a small, bushy tree about three to five metres high. It has large, evergreen leaves that are oval to heart-shaped with pointed tips, and bears clusters of attractive white and pink flowers borne at the tip of branches. These soon give way to clusters of heart-shaped fruits covered by dense, soft bristles that mask their deflated form. The fruits are initially red, then turn green, and are reddish-brown when mature. It is only when they have remained too long on the tree that they look stiff.
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