Tuesday, January 10, 2023

A Guide for Independent-Minded Scientists

I have just published a book entitled A Guide for Independent-Minded Scientists. This is available free of charge from the website of FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). I am sorry to say that the FRIM website is very badly designed. You need to select from the menu: Publications, then New Books, then Other Publications, then E Book to finally get to my book. You can then download it. 

Be patient and you may find this book worth your trouble especially if you are from a developing country. There are many books about science but I know of none written by a scientist from a developing country, for readers in developing countries.  

I obtained my science degrees at the University of Tasmania (BSc Hons) and the University of Oxford (DPhil). I have published over 150 scientific papers and over 10 books. I was Deputy Director General of FRIM until 1990. After that, I was head of what was then the Service for Forestry Research, Education and Training of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, in Rome. This was followed by a stint as one of the founding Directors of the Centre for International Forestry Research, in Bogor, Indonesia. I resigned from both of these international positions because I felt they were of no help to the countries they were supposed to help. All this while I struggled to understand why science in developing countries is in such a miserable state even after 50 years of decolonization. This book is the result of the struggles I went through.  I have written it for scientists who are on a similar voyage of self-development. Others who are not scientists may find the book useful as guide to what science is all about.  

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Avocados that flower and fruit twice a year

The Malaysian climate is so uniform that every day is like every other day. The temperature and humidity are the same throughout the year. The day length in December and July differs by less than 30 minutes. There is no distinct annual dry season. Without seasons, we cannot tell by our senses which month of the year we are in. Trees cannot tell either.  There is no annual predictable flowering season in Malaysia. My avocado trees in Kuala Lumpur flower periodically but there is no way to predict when flowering will occur. The period between flowering events may be as short as 2 months or as long as three years. I also know of trees that never flowered in 15 years. Each tree expresses its own pattern of behaviour.  

After decades of research I now have clones that flower once or twice a year. The most exciting is a clone that I call Av5.  It has produced 7 crops between October 2018 and April 2022 i.e. two crops a year. The interval between crops has varied between two and seven months.

Flowering times of one tree of clone AV5

Oct 2018      first flowering, at age 3 years

Jan 2019      interval 3 months

Aug 2020    interval 7 m

Feb 2021     interval 6 m

Sep 2021     interval 7 m

Feb 2022     interval 5 m

Apr 2022     interval 2 m

I now think that by growing clones like Av5, that flower at close intervals of time, Malaysia can produce avocados commercially throughout the year with different trees producing at different times.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Amorphophallus leaf mystery explained

Descriptions of Amorphophallus have always emphasized that the leaves emerge from its corm one at a time, with a leafless resting period between leaves. This description is technically incorrect because it goes against the fundamental theory in plant morphology that leaves are lateral organs that arise from the side of a shoot. A shoot grows out of a bud and consists of a central stem bearing leaves on its sides (i.e. laterally) and terminating in an apical bud. Leaves cannot come straight out of a corm without being part of a shoot. The mystery was resolved in the Secret Garden of 1 Utama when new leaves were seen to be actually part of a shoot system in which two or more bracts precede the leaf. My interpretation is that a bud develops on the top of the corm, which develops into a highly condensed shoot that bears one or two sessile bracts (reduced leaves without stalks) followed by one giant leaf . As the leaf develops the bracts break up and wither away while the apical bud becomes permanently dormant. The shoot is then left with one giant leaf.

The photograph shows a cluster of  four shoots, arising from one large corm. In three of the shoots the  bracts have disappeared. One shoot is new, with its leaf just becoming visible above a bract that will soon wither away. I expect that eventually the corm will produce only one shoot at a time, each shoot represented by a single leaf. The ground cover in the picture is Arachis pintoi.


Thursday, October 15, 2020


Growing nangka (Artocarpus heterophyllus

I predict Nangka Royale is going to be the next big thing in the world of fruits after Durian Musang King. 

The picture shows the tree in my garden. I have begun to multiply the plant by bud-grafting.

The tree first fruited at 3 years old and it has become famous with my neighbours, relatives, workers (Indonesian and Vietnamese) as the best nangka they have ever tasted.It is sweet, succulent and small-seeded. The flesh can be stored frozen in the ice compartment of a refrigerator for months without any loss of quality. This tree has been kept short by periodic pruning at the top. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Do folia fertilisers work?

My gardener recently applied foliar fertiliser to the shade garden of the Secret Garden of 1 Utama and we were amazed by the improvement in the plants. The leaves grew larger and more colourful after two applications, once a week. Previously we applied granular organic ferlilisers on to the soil below the leaves. This was very difficult to do without trampling on the plants.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Biochar for gardeners

Biochar is charcoal used to improve the quality of soil for growing plants. Biochar particles mixed into soil will make the soil loose and friable for better water and air penetration To be effective the particles should be 1 - 10 mm diameter.

In the Secret Garden of 1 Utama, I mix biochar with soil in equal proportions and top up from time to time with pure biochar. We buy biochar by the tonne. Biochar is now available in small packets for  home gardeners, labelled as Horticultural Biochar Mulch.

Supplies can be purchased on line at http://shop.serbajadi.com.my/biochar

Those interested can get 10% discount if they cite Promo Code francis 10 Discount 10%