By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Most people are familiar with a certain number of “common” tropical fruits such as bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, pineapple, grapefruit, dates and figs. However, there are a wide variety of lesser known tropical fruit varieties that are not only fun to grow but also delicious. Exotic fruit growing is not difficult if you pay attention to the specific growing requirements of the plant.
Growing Tropical Fruit Trees
Many exotic fruit plants can be grown in regions in the United States that have temperate or tropical climates. Some plants can even thrive indoors if grown in optimal conditions. When picking out your tropical fruit plants, be sure that you understand which conditions are best.
Most exotic fruit plants require a southern location near a house or other structure that will provide protection and heat during the winter. In addition, exotic fruit plants require well draining soil with plenty of organic matter.
New plants should be watered frequently to keep the rootball moist. It may be necessary to water several times per day during the hottest months of the year.
Never use chemical fertilizer on exotic plants during the first two years. A healthy layer of organic compost will provide beneficial nutrients as it breaks down.
Types of Exotic Tropical Fruit
Some interesting tropical fruit varieties to try include the following:
- Jackfruit – These massive fruits are members of the mulberry family and the largest known fruit to man that is produced on a tree. Some jackfruits grow up to 75 lbs. This fruit is native to the Indo-Malaysian region but is commonly grown in tropical regions throughout the world. Jackfruits can be eaten raw or preserved in syrup. Seeds are edible after boiling or roasting.
- Mamey – This fruit is native to Mexico and Central America but frequently grows in Florida. Trees reach a mature height of about 40 feet and are commonly used as specimen trees in the home garden. The fruit has a brown peel and pink to reddish brown flesh with an interesting and sweet taste. Fruit is often enjoyed fresh or used in ice cream, jellies or preserves.
- Passion Fruit – Passion fruit is a beautiful vining plant that is native to South America. Vines require a sturdy trellis or fence and well-drained soil to thrive. Fruit can be purple, yellow or red in color and has an orange sweet pulp and many seeds. Juice from this fruit is used to make punch or can be consumed raw.
- Kumquat – Kumquats are the smallest of the citrus fruits. These small evergreen shrubs with white flowers produce golden-yellow fruits that vary in size from 1-2 inches around. Having a thick spicy rind and acidic flesh, they may be eaten whole or preserved.
- Soursop – The soursop, or Guanabana, is a small slender tree of the West Indies. It bears large deep green and oval-shaped spiny fruit, which may weigh in at as much as 8-10 pounds and a foot in length. The white juicy flesh is aromatic and often used for sherbets and drinks.
- Guava – The guava is native to tropical America where it has been cultivated for centuries. The small tree or shrub has white flowers and yellow berry-like fruit. It is a rich source of Vitamins A, B. and C and commonly used in preserves, pastes and jellies.
- Jujube – This fruit is indigenous to China and is also grown elsewhere in the subtropics. It is a large bush or small spiny tree with small dark-brown fleshy. It is eaten fresh, dried or preserved and is also used in cooking and making candy.
- Loquat – Loquat is native to China but is now grown in most tropical and subtropical areas. It is a small evergreen tree with broad leaves and fragrant white flowers that produces yellow-orange fruits. This fruit is used fresh and is made into jellies, sauces and pies.
- Mango – Mangos are one of the oldest of tropical fruits indigenous to Southern Asia, though widely grown in all tropical and some subtropical areas. The fruit is a fleshy drupe with a thick yellowish-red skin and a blend of sweet, acidic pulp.
- Papaya – Native to the West Indies and Mexico, the papaya is grown in the tropics and subtropics. The fruits are fleshy berries that resemble yellow-orange melons. They are used for salads, pies, sherbets and confections. Unripe fruits are cooked like squash or preserved as well.
- Pomegranate – The pomegranate is native to Iran. The plant is a bush or low tree with orange-red flowers and round berry-like yellow or reddish fruits. Pomegranates are very refreshing and are used as a table or salad fruit and in beverages.
- Sapodilla – The fruit of the sapodilla tree is quite sweet. The tree is grown in Florida and in the tropics and subtropics.