Tropical Gardening: The world beckons to us with tropical fruits

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Because of the pandemic, we haven’t had many travel options for a year. Even so, you can travel virtually by enjoying tropical fruits from all over the world in your garden.

In Hawaii we are fortunate that the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association trains and promotes tropical fruits.

Thanks to Ken Love, local farmer and fruit researcher and UHCTAHR researcher, we probably have more tropical fruits in Hawaii than anywhere in the US. Ken was responsible for bringing hundreds of species and varieties from Asia, but there are literally hundreds of fruits that can still be found in the forests and in local markets across South America and Asia.

Many of these fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and energy. So the lesson for us could be to consider fruit for your candy instead of cakes, pies, and cookies. Not only are those vitamin pills on your shelf quite expensive, they’re nowhere near as tasty and appealing as fresh fruit, especially if grown in your own garden.

You can purchase books on Hawaiian fruits at local garden centers and bookstores that contain descriptions, nutritional values, and uses for many of these fruits.

Take vitamin A for example. A papaya is said to contain 4,000 IU (International Units), while 5,000 IU per day is listed as appropriate. Passion fruit and relatives like banana poka, poha, avocados, and Suriname cherry are other South American fruits high in vitamin A. Other South American fruits include rollinia, cherimoya, and white sapote.

Some fruits known for their contribution to vitamin C are guava, papaya, soursop, poha, various cactus fruits and passion fruits. One of the fruits with the highest vitamin C content is the acerola or Barbados cherry.

The fruit is not a cherry, but a member of the Malpighia family. The family is a well-known ornamental shrub in many gardens and bears the fruits with the highest known vitamin C content. For comparison, oranges contain an average of 49 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of edible fruit (100 grams is about 3 1/2 ounces), while the Barbados cherry, which is picked when it turns green to red, averages more than 4,000 units each Contains 100 grams!

Don’t forget the pineapple. Although we often see them in stores, they are fun to grow your own. The pineapple produces several crops per year if you have a large number of plants; Varieties such as Red Spanish, Smooth Cayenne, Queen and Abakka can be found in our gardens. When grown in the home garden, they are typically much sweeter than the commercial fruit available in the supermarket.

In addition, there are dozens of lesser-known fruits such as the mountain apple and its relatives that make excellent ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as fruit producers. Jaboticaba, Pitanga and Grumichana are also very attractive with delicious fruits. The common Suriname cherry, also in this family, has fruits that vary from tasty to terrible depending on the seedling.

Another point to consider is the sapodilla, chicle, or chewing gum tree. It’s an attractive shade tree that grows up to 30 feet. The dark brown fruit is about the size of an orange and tastes like a combination of brown sugar and butter. It tolerates wet or dry conditions and grows from sea level to 2,000 feet.

Before planting, remember that a fruit tree’s adaptability to moisture, temperature, and wind conditions are important factors in its selection.

In addition to adaptability to temperature conditions, there are other factors to consider when choosing fruit trees. Home-use fruits should be selected based on the quality of the food rather than their market presence or consistency of shipping. The requirements for pollination must not be overlooked when selecting the fruits.

Pest resistance as a factor in choosing fruit trees is more important to the homeowner. The fewer pesticides needed, the better.

The selection of fruit for the home soil should ensure a long season of available fruit by using a number of early, medium, and late production varieties within the range for the species.

There are hundreds of fruits that can be grown in our Hawaiian gardens and we will have many more soon thanks to the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association.