I never really knew the amazing world of topical fruit with all its lively colors and healthy flavors until I moved to Florida. For most of us, our introduction to tropical fruits comes from our travels to tropical regions, and their fresh flavors linger long after we return home. Unfortunately, our access to all these diverse tropical fruits is limited to only a handful of varieties, such as bananas, citrus, avocados and pineapples. Yet fortunately, tropical fruit products in the form of juices, powders, jams and jellies, dehydrated or freeze dried snacks and health drinks are becoming more readily available in our markets. This is due to the exceptional health benefits found in tropical fruits that meet rising health awareness and the demand for such products.

The amazing diversity of tropical fruit is astounding. They come in just about every color, each with its own unique flavor, texture, appearance and growth habits. There are so many cultivars with some being easy to grow while others are quite challenging. Yet, there is nothing like walking out to the fruit orchard to pick some fresh, ripe guavas for breakfast. Most all fresh tropical fruits are sweet and juicy with the added benefit of being steeped in healthy antioxidants. The world of tropical fruit opens up new possibilities for delish food to be our medicine, while their lively colors, flavors and smells provide inspiration for a plethora of products. I have no doubt that the vivid colors adorning tropical homes have been inspired by the surroundings drenched in the festive colors of tropical fruit.

Easy To Grow Abundance

Bananas, avocados, mangos, guava and papayas are easy to grow for fruit abundance. Just one banana tree will eventually give you multiple trees. A banana tree dies after it fruits, but it produces new shoots from the ground nearby, called “pups”, which quickly grow into new trees. There are many varieties, and I am fond of the small, sweet bananas and especially the red bananas.

There are also abundant cultivars of avocados and mangos. Avocados are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and most varieties require several years before they produce fruit. Mangos, often called “the king of fruits”, originated in India and have over a hundred varieties. Mango trees need good pruning for abundant production, and the new cultivars are smaller trees for easy harvesting. Mangos come in different shapes, sizes and many shades of yellow, red and orange, with some being better for juice and others for eating. The former tend to have more stringy fiber while the latter can be sliced into big chunks right down to the seed. I recently had a Pina Colada mango that was just too good to be true.

There are far less guava varieties, but guavas are fast producers with some trees growing very tall. Like mango and avocado trees, there are new dwarf cultivars including a bush that I am now growing. You know when your guavas are ripe and ready by the intense smell that permeates the air. Once picked and placed in a bowl on the kitchen counter, their strong smell will fill the entire house.

Papayas come in both tall and dwarf sizes. Tall papayas are challenging when it comes to harvesting as the tree has virtually no branches, with all the fruit clustered at the very top. There is significant fruit loss with heavy ripe papayas falling to the ground, but the opportunity for new papaya shoots due to its many seeds. A bowl of bright orange papaya chunks with lime is rich with vitamins and digestive enzymes.

Exotic Fruit Challenges

Pineapple, pomegranate and dragon fruit are examples of exotic looking fruit plants that are more challenging to grow. I have heard that growing pineapples in pots assures more success, as they do not fair well in the heavy Florida rains. While they are sun lovers, they are vulnerable to leaf burn from the strong tropical sun. I am testing this hypothesis with some in the ground and some in pots. I am hoping for more success as a fresh picked pineapple is beyond tasty and like papaya, full of beneficial enzymes.

Like pineapples, pomegranates require patience and I know few folks growing them with success here. Due to their Mediterranean origin, I do not think they like the high heat and humidity in Florida. I am determined to grow them, with new smaller varieties in pots now, as their brilliant red flowers are so exquisite and their health benefits are superb.

Dragon fruit has the most exotic appearance of all tropical fruits while needing the most patience to grow. This fruit has an intense hot pink color with a ruffled, overlapping texture and bright yellow/ lime tipped edges for a smashing color contrast. The fruit is creamy white with tiny seeds and tastes like sweet custard. The plant is like a cactus that grows up a pole, through a wire mesh at the top from which it will eventually cascade down and begin to bloom. Mine is finally after several years poking through the top of the wire, as I eagerly await its downward growth.

Superfood Tropical Fruits

The three superfood tropical fruits I am trying to grow are açaí, soursop and jaboticaba. The açaí palm is native to tropical South America and Central America. I have been growing it since it was about 5 inches tall, and it is now a 4 foot tall lovely palm. It lives in the lath house now where it thrives on some needed shade. Acai can tolerate cold only down to 30 degrees when it is a mature tree, so I will have to wait until it outgrows the lath house, and then plant it in a protected spot surrounded by other trees. The deep purple açaí berry exceeds all other berries with its antioxidant properties to protect cells from damage and give the immune system a super boost.

The jaboticaba tree is native to Brazil, and as a mature tree, can handle some freezing temperatures. I am growing it in a pot now after is suffered in the ground, and will wait for it to regain its health. It can take up to 8 years before it begins to fruit, and it remarkably produces its almost black berries out the bark! The berry is more like a grape in taste and texture, with each variety having a slightly different flavor. Jaboticaba juice has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-aging health benefits, too many to even list here.

Lastly, I have been growing a soursop tree, also known as guanabana or graviola, that is a native of the Caribbean. I chose this tree for its outstanding healing benefits, as it is super high in vitamin C and other phytonutrients, and has been extensively studied and tested for its anti-cancer properties. Soursop cannot handle any cold below 40 degrees, whereupon it drops all of its leaves, so it will never go in the ground here. It has been living in a pot for 6 years and is now about 5 feet tall. I await its flowering and beautiful green, soft prickly fruit, and whose flavor is said to be tangy, sour and sweet simultaneously with added strawberry aromas.