The durian has been known and consumed in southeastern Asia since prehistoric times, but has only been known to the western world for about 600 years. The earliest known European reference to the durian is the record of Niccolò Da Conti, who travelled to southeastern Asia in the 15th century.Translated from the Latin in which Poggio Bracciolini recorded Da Conti's travels: "They (people of Sumatra) have a green fruit which they call durian, as big as a watermelon. Inside there are five things like elongated oranges, and resembling thick butter, with a combination of flavours." The Portuguese physician Garcia de Orta described durians in Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India published in 1563.
In 1741, Herbarium Amboinense by the German botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius was published, providing the most detailed and accurate account of durians for over a century. The genus Durio has a complex taxonomy that has seen the subtraction and addition of many species since it was created by Rumphius. During the early stages of its taxonomical study, there was some confusion between durian and the soursop (Annona muricata), for both of these species had thorny green fruit.
It is also interesting to note the Malay name for the soursop is durian Belanda, meaning Dutch durian. In the 18th century, Johann Anton Weinmann considered the durian to belong to Castaneae as its fruit was similar to the horse chestnut. Durio zibethinus. Chromolithograph by Hoola Van Nooten, circa 1863
D. zibethinus was introduced into Ceylon by the Portuguese in the 16th century and was reintroduced many times later. It has been planted in the Americas but confined to botanical gardens. The first seedlings were sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to Auguste Saint-Arroman of Dominica in 1884.In southeastern Asia the durian has been cultivated for centuries at the village level, probably since the late 18th century, and commercially since the mid-20th century.
In My Tropic Isle, Australian author and naturalist Edmund James Banfield tells how, in the early 20th century, a friend in Singapore sent him a durian seed, which he planted and cared for on his tropical island off the north coast of Queensland. In 1949, the British botanist E. J. H. Corner published The Durian Theory, or the Origin of the Modern Tree. His theory was that endozoochory (the enticement of animals to transport seeds in their stomach) arose before any other method of seed dispersal, and that primitive ancestors of Durio species were the earliest practitioners of that dispersal method, in particular red durian (D. dulcis) exemplifying the primitive fruit of flowering plants. Since the early 1990s, the domestic and international demand for durian in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region has increased significantly, partly due to the increasing affluence of Asia.