I have always found it rather difficult to track down a potted Breadfruit tree and when I do, they tend to be REALLY expensive. To get around this problem, I have learned how to propagate my own breadfruit trees.
Breadfruit trees can be propagated by seed (if you have a seeded variety), root cuttings, air layering, and even stem cuttings. The breadfruit is most often propagated by transplanting suckers which naturally grow from the roots of the parent plant.
Propagating breadfruit can be really easy. It is also a challenge and that’s what I like about it. I love taking cuttings and making airlayers that I get to study and watch take root over the following months. Will my tinkering succeed? I get so excited when my creations take root.
Breadfruit, or ‘Ulu in Hawaiian, is one of the most important trees you can grow in the tropics. It produces such an abundance of nutrient and calorie dense fruits that one tree can feed a family in times of famine. If you are concerned about food security, then you are going to want to have a breadfruit tree growing nearby.
Related: If you are going to be Airlayering Breadfruit, you really should be using a good knife. The best knife I have found is a grafting knife, which works really well when it comes to prying up the bark. I have added a link to the best grafting knife that I have ever used.
Growing Breadfruit by Seed
There are some varieties of breadfruit that have seeds in them. However planting an ulu by seed has no guarantee that it will be similar to the parent plant. For this reason, most breadfruit trees tend to be propagated by root cutting.
But if you insist on growing breadfruit by seed and have access to a seeded variety, here is the process.
The seeds of a breadfruit tree do not stay viable for long, so it is important to plant them soon after harvest. Ensure that you have at least 50% shade for the breadfruit to succeed in germination. Young breadfruit trees love to start up in the shade.
Take the fresh seed from the root and plant it in sandy, well draining potting mix. Keep it in the shade and soil moist until it begins to sprout. As it reaches 10”-12” in height, you can begin to slowly harden off the baby tree by slowly introducing it to more sunlight over the course of 2 weeks.
It is said that the seeded varieties grow best in coraline limestone soils of Micronesia whereas the seedless varieties do best on the sandy coral soils that are more regularly occurring throughout the South Pacific and Hawai’i.
More Breadfruit from Root Cuttings
The most common way that breadfruit is propagated is through root cuttings. And even then there are two ways to take root cuttings.
The easiest way is to remove a sucker, or young root sapling, by cutting at the root. These suckers naturally occur with breadfruit trees, but you can also induce the tree to produce more suckers by uncovering a root and injuring it.
Pruning the parent plant will also induce more suckers. As the suckers mature to the point you are ready to make your cutting, do a light pruning of the roots a couple times over 2 months to get the sucker ready for the big shock that’s coming up.
To make your cutting, find the lateral root and the feeder roots shooting off it. Cut off a couple inches of the lateral root on either side of the sucker, trying to keep all feeder roots intact.
Transplant into a pot with well draining soil, maybe a cinder/sand/peat moss mix? Make sure when you replant the cutting that you plant it at the same depth as it was in the ground. Place the pot in partial shade for about 8 weeks or so. Harden it off to the sun and it is ready to plant in the field.
If you are looking to propagate an even larger amount of breadfruit, then you can try another form of stem cutting.
With this method, you begin by finding a root that is about 1” – 2” in diameter and about 4” – 8” long. Wash the soil off the cut root section. Apply 4-6 shallow cuts into the bark of the root with a clean, sharp knife and dust the root with rooting hormone. Plant the root about half as it is long into a soil bed or pot filled with sand.
They must be watered a couple times a day for several months, until the plant is about 2’ tall. It is wise when you are doing this type of propagation that you invest in setting up an intermittent mist system that will bring you success with a number of difficult to propagate species.
Can You Propagate Breadfruit With Stem Cuttings?
Much of the literature out there says that propagating breadfruit can’t be done, but I have something else to say about it. I found research by Len Muller of Australia (Access Here) that laid out how he was able to propagate breadfruit by cutting. I borrowed on some of my own research and attempted some cuttings of my own.
I took stem cuttings from both a parent plant and suckers that were about an inch in diameter and 8” – 10” long. I discarded the leaves since they tend to just die off anyhow. I cut the cuttings with a pruning saw rather than pruners, based on Mr. Muller’s recommendation.
I stuck the cuttings in pots filled with 100% peat moss in the bottom half of the pot and a 50/50 mix of peat and sand for the top half of the pot and moistened it thoroughly. The cuttings are pressed in into the pot so the base is the cutting is at the top of the pure peat moss layer.
I put all of my cuttings into the shade where I have an intermittent mist system. I have been propagating cuttings for years and have learned about intermittent mist from an online grower by the name of Mike Mcgroarty. I am sure it is one of the main reasons I saw as much success as I did.
After 2 months or so I began to see roots and leaf growth. By month three, I was able to repot some of the cuttings as they were getting too large for their original pots.
My success rate was between 60% – 70%. I am sure that as I come up with a system I could increase the success rate. Taking stem cuttings can be a game changer for propagating breadfruit. It is a lot faster to take some stem cuttings than root cuttings, allowing for many more plants to be propagated in a shorter amount of time.
Air Layering Breadfruit
Air layering is a great method for you older folks who don’t want to go around digging in the dirt to take root cuttings, but it should only be done on immature breadfruit trees that have yet to fruit.
You will start by choosing a branch that is 3” – 5” tall. Look for a leaf node in the top half of the branch. Just under the leaf node make 2 cuts, about 2” apart around the whole diamter of the branch, just cutting into the bark and not any deeper.
Remove the bark and score the green cambium layer with a knife, like you are peeling a carrot. Do this lightly.
Take some moist Peat Moss and wrap it around the wound. Enclose it by wrapping clear plastic such as plastic wrap around the peat moss. Tie it down with rubber bands on the top and bottom ends of the wound. In 6-8 weeks you should be seeing roots through the plastic.
At this point you can cut your air layer from the parent tree and plant it into a pot with a well draining mix of Peat and sand and place it in the shade for a year. After that you can harden it off and plant it in the field.
Related: You really need the right Peat Moss in order to be successful. I have had a great success rate with the Peat Moss that I have posted to below.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Breadfruit?
As far as fruit trees grow, breadfruit reaches the fruiting stage relatively quickly.
A tree planted by seed can start fruiting as early as 5 years, but can take up to 10 years. This is a long time, giving you another reason to propagate breadfruit some other way.
Trees planted by root cutting, stem cutting or air layer can reach maturity much quicker. Breadfruit trees have been known to fruit as early as 3-5 years from taking the cutting. This can have a huge effect on creating food resiliency in a relatively short amount of time.
Although trees can begin fruiting a few short years, the breadfruit tree itself doesn’t actually reach full maturity until it reaches 30 or 40 years and can live up to 80 years.
Is Breadfruit Native to Hawai’i?
Breadfruit isn’t native to Hawai’i but it was brought by the first people who settled here. Considered a canoe crop, breadfruit was brought here because of its importance in the tropical diet.
It was one of the first edible tree species that was widely propagated in the islands. Its importance was second to that only of Kalo. Breadfruit is known to be a protein and calorie rich food that is so abundant that one tree can feed a family with almost no work.
Breadfruit was so important for the islanders that there is historical evidence of a breadfruit forest that ran across the slopes of Hualalai on Hawai’i Island for over 20 miles. A 20 mile long breadfruit forest! Imagine that.
Breadfruit actually originated in New Guinea and the Phillipines. It was widely distributed by the polynesian migrations and then by Capt. Bligh who brought it to the Carribean as a food crop to feed the slaves.
How to Grow Breadfruit
Once you have potted up breadfruit ready to be planted in the field, you have to prepare the soil. Like most plants, breadfruit prefers rich, loamy soil. However it is loved for being able to adapt to the harshest of conditions.
If you are able, prepare the soil for your future breadfruit tree. Add compost, fertilizers, manure. Whatever you can find and give the tree a good home.
I have also had good success just finding a crack in the lava, dropping a tree in there and covering it with mulch. As long as it gets some mulch from time to time, it does pretty well on its own.
Lately I have been taking my rooted cuttings and planting breadfruit keikis in empty lots all along my street in a subdivision in Pahoa. My hope is that these trees will one day grow to give my family and my neighbors food security for generations.
How to Prune Breadfruit for the Backyard Garden
Breadfruit trees can get huge. Like 80’ tall huge. Not really something you want growing on a small postage stamp sized lot. But it can be managed.
First off is to cut the central leader. I did this to my tree after about 6 years of growth. This will encourage the breadfruit tree to grow out rather than up.
Then every other year after fruiting, I will prune about ⅓ to ½ of the plant. Breadfruit can take a heavy pruning, but I like to keep it a little light. I look for overcrowding branches, branches that are getting too long and growing too far out from the main truck (normally those branches break off on their own).
I see what shape I want the tree and I try my best to keep it there. What can be helpful is to take a picture of your tree when it is the perfect size for you, then just keep trying to match that size every time you prune. It is really easy to let the size of the tree get out of hand if you don’t have something to base the desired size on.
When is Breadfruit Ripe?
The fruit of the breadfruit can be eaten somewhat green for a more starchy, potato-like food or ripe to overripe when it resembles a banana.
When the fruit is growing on the tree, you want to avoid harvesting the fruits that are still bright green with very little sap coverage on the fruit. As the fruit matures a bit more, the sap begins to flow and covers the rind of the fruit. The light green color of the rind also darkens, sometimes turning dark yellow even. This is when you want to harvest.
The best way to harvest the fruit is with a basket fruit picker. Having the fruit fall to the ground can cause damage so it is best to harvest with care.
Once harvested the fruit can go from hard and starchy to soft and mushy in just over 3 days, so be sure to harvest only what you can eat. There are many great resources continually being added everyday on the internet to help you turn breadfruit into an amazing dish. So if you do find yourself with too much, you’ll have plenty of ideas for what to do with it.
Breadfruit is one of the best food crops to get the people of Hawai’i onto the road of food sovereignty. The government is not going to help the people. The people have to help themselves. If you get into propagating your own breadfruit, propagate extra and share it with your neighbors. The more each of us do this, the better off we will ALL be.
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