Tropical Gardening: The world beckons to us with tropical fruits

  • Courtesy photo Local gardeners such as Janice and Kannan Eluthesen are about to enjoy the delicious and infamous durian fruit provided by Voltaire Moise, left. They planted more than 30 durian trees at their home in Kona. It will be several years before the trees produce fruit, but when they do, Janice, who really loves them, will probably eat most of the fruits of their labor!

We haven’t had many opportunities to travel for a year now because of the pandemic. Nevertheless, you can virtually travel by enjoying tropical fruits from around the world in your garden.

In Hawaii we are fortunate to have the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association educating and promoting tropical fruits.

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Thanks to Ken Love, local farmer and fruit explorer, as well as UHCTAHR researchers, we probably have more tropical fruits grown in Hawaii than anywhere in the United States. Ken has been responsible for bringing hundreds of species and varieties from Asia, but there are literally hundreds of fruits yet to be found in the forests and local markets throughout South America and Asia.

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 items, 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, nutrition value and uses for many 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.

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 C 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!

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. 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 to consider 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 will 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.

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 also must not be overlooked in selecting fruits.

Pest resistance as a factor in selecting fruit trees is more important to the homeowner. The less pesticides required, the better.

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Selection of fruits for the home grounds 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 and thanks to the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association, we are soon to have many more.

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