Tropical almond trees in Con Dao townlet

Many things on Con Dao Island leave deep impression on tourists. However, the first and most impressive one must be century-old tropical almond trees.

In 1862, Governor of Cochinchina Bonard signed a decision to build a prison on the island. It was also the time first tropical almond trees were planted there. Since then, the trees have grown up and engraved the island’s history and trace of time.

Con Dao’s tropical almond trees impress with their quantity, age and appearance. In Con Dao town, this kind of tree is everywhere: on streets, in Con Dao Prison’s outdoor space, in offices, along the beaches and in parks. These trees are very big with roots looking like giant pythons. In spring, the trees' leaves turn red, adding their color to Con Dao Island as seen from a far distance. When all the leaves fall, the trees with no leaf this time look like giant fossilized skeletons. However, after a short time, new buds appear, turning the trees into giant umbrellas to shade the town from the sun.

Phan Hoang Oanh was a prisoner of war (POW) on Con Dao Island from 1971 to 1975. As a resident in An Giang province, he was among few POWs making decision to settle down on the island. For decades, he has kept a habit of plucking tropical almond leaves, watching them for a while and then chewing them to enjoy the acrid and salty taste.

According to this man, the trees are closely attached to POWs’ memories in Con Dao. In the shade of the trees in jails named Phu Hai, Phu Son and Phu Tho, the enemy barbarously tortured POWs and POWs resiliently fought against warders.

Tropical almond tree hollows became POWs’ secret postboxes in which revolutionaries hid documents, leaflets and other information with different signals.

For POWs, tropical almond leaves, tropical almond seeds and even tropical almond skin were their food and medicine which helped them maintain their lives to keep combating against the enemy and nurturing their hope.

“However, warders never allowed prisoners to do this. We had to secretly pick up the leaves. For those being caught red-handed, warders used iron pliers to hit their mouths, breaking off their teeth to take the leaves out of their mouths”, Oanh recalled.

Not only being historical witnesses and forming a unique scenery on Con Dao Island, the trees have been very familiar to locals’ daily life. In souvenir shops, it is easy to find such a tree on fine arts works, paintings, photos and other art works.

Notably, tropical almond seeds, which are useless in the mainland, have become a specialty of Con Dao Island. Tourists will never forget savoring thin, long red-brown tropical almond nuts which are mixed with spices and roasted.

In 2012, nearly 100 old tropical almond, thi (known as diospyros decandra) and bang lang (crape myrtle) trees in Con Dao townlet were recognized as the national heritage trees.

Let’s visit Con Dao in spring and walk in the shade of tropical almond trees to enjoy the peaceful air there.

Translated by Mai Huong