Tropical Gardening: South America calls with tropical fruits

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE The pineapple, originally from South America, is easy to grow in Hawaii as long as it has well-drained soil and sun. It can be propagated by using the top of the fruit or side shoots.

Last year’s International Palm Conference in Colombia was amazing, so Voltaire Moise and I decided to go back and see what we can learn about tropical fruits of the Caribbean coast of the South American nation. We also plan to travel via New York City to experience the Caribbean influence on this culturally diverse mega city.

A trip to less industrialized tropical and subtropical regions of the world can be very enlightening in some unexpected ways. By visiting these places, we can learn more about what tropical fruits are integral to the colorful cultures of South America.


In Hawaii we are fortunate to have the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association educating about and promoting tropical fruits. According to Fern Gavelek, the 29th Annual Conference is scheduled for Sept. 27-29 at the Royal Kona Resort. You should register by Aug. 1 to get information and discounts.

This will be followed by mini conferences on Oahu, Kauai, Molokai and in Hilo.

This year’s conference is titled “Growing and Marketing Exotic Brazilian Fruit in Hawaii.” Keynote speakers will be two Brazilian fruit experts, Marco Lacerda and Antonio Morschbacker. Check out the website at or call Ken at 323-2417 for details.


There are literally hundreds of fruits yet to be found in the forests and local markets throughout South America. Many of these fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and energy.

So the lesson for us might be instead of pies, cakes and cookies, consider fruit for your sweets. Those vitamin pills on your shelf, besides being pretty expensive, are not nearly as palatable and eye appealing as fresh fruit, especially when it is grown in your own backyard.

You can purchase books about fruits of Hawaii from local garden centers and bookstores that give descriptions, nutritive value and uses of most of these fruits.

Take Vitamin A for instance.

One papaya is supposed to contain 4,000 IU’s (International Units) while 5,000 IU’s per day are listed as adequate. Passion fruit and relatives such as banana poka, poha, avocados and Surinam cherry are other South American fruits high in Vitamin A.

Other South American fruits to consider are rollinia, cherimoya and white sapote just to mention a few.

Some fruits famous for their contribution of Vitamin C are guava, papaya, soursop, poha, various cactus fruit and passion fruit.

One of the fruits highest in Vitamin C is the acerola, or Barbados cherry. The fruit is not a cherry but a member of the Malpighia family. The family is a fairly familiar ornamental shrub in many gardens and bears the highest known Vitamin C content fruit.

As a comparison, oranges average 49 milligrams of vitamin per 100 grams of edible fruit (100 grams is about 3 1/2 ounces), while the Barbados cherry, picked as they are turning green to red, average more than 4,000 units per 100 grams.

And don’t forget the pineapple.

Even though we see them commonly in the stores, it is fun to grow your own. The pineapple will produce several crops a year if you have a large number of plants; varieties such as Red Spanish, Smooth Cayenne, Queen and Abakka are found in our gardens. When grown in the home garden, they tend to be much sweeter than the commercial fruit found at the supermarket.

In addition, there are dozens of lesser known fruits, such as the mountain apple and its relatives that make outstanding ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as fruit producers. Although the mountain apple is native to India and Malaya, jaboticaba, pitanga and grumichana are also very attractive with delicious fruits.

The common Surinam cherry, also in this family, has fruit that vary from tasty to terrible depending on seedlings.

Another favorite in its homeland is the sapodilla, chicle or chewing gum tree. It is an attractive shade tree that grows to about 30 feet. The dark brown fruit is about the size of an orange and tastes like a combination of brown sugar and butter. It will tolerate wet or dry conditions and grow from sea level to 2,000 feet.

Before you plant, remember the adaptability of a fruit tree to moisture, temperature and wind conditions will be important factors determining selection.

For example, West Indian avocado would have a chance of success in warmer, lower areas, but would be a definite gamble in high, wet inland locations. By the same token, Mexican strains are desirable in the higher, cooler areas.

In addition to adaptability to temperature conditions, there are other factors to consider in selecting fruit trees.

Fruits for home use should be selected on the basis of eating quality rather than their market appearance or shipping endurance.

Pollination requirements must not be overlooked in selecting fruits. Solo papaya need no pollinators, but avocado varieties should be chosen with regard to assuring proper pollination.

Pest resistance as a factor in selecting fruit trees is more important to the homeowner than to the commercial grower because the commercial grower has equipment for pest control while the homeowner may not. The less pesticides required, the better.

Selection of fruits for the home should assure a long season of available fruit by use of a series of varieties of early, mid-season and late production within the range for the species.


There are hundreds of fruits that can be grown in our Hawaii gardens. Thanks to the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers efforts, we are soon to have many more.

If you need help selecting fruit trees, contact the Master Gardener Helpline at 322-4893 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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