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Seven Amazing Berries for the Subtropics

7/30/2013 11:50:00 AM

Tags: deep south, subtropics, berries, David Goodman, Florida

naranjillaMost of us are familiar with temperate berries. (Note: I’m using the word “berry” in the broad sense, as in “small fruit,” and not in the taxonomic sense). Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries … these are friendly and recognizable species.

If you’re a little more of a plant nerd, you might also be growing gooseberries, elderberries, currants and lingonberries.

But … what about further south? Like … really further south?

I talked to a very nice gal a couple months ago who lives in South Florida.

“Can I grow blueberries?” she said, “I really want to grow blueberries … but we’re too far south, right?”

I told her not to worry about blueberries. She’s basically in the tropics – and that means there are far more exciting small fruit you can grow with very little work.

Like what? Try these out for starters!

Acerola Cherries

The acerola cherry, also known as a “Barbados cherry,” is a delicious sweet-tart tropical fruit that’s totally packed with nutrition. The trees get big and will bear almost continuously. Ever seen vitamin C tablets that claim to contain “acerola?” That’s this guy. Plant one in the corner of your yard and you’ll pick baskets of fruit for the rest of your life.

Mulberries

Though these are known as a northern fruit, as I’ve written before, they’re also a southern fruit. They’ll grow and bear even in the tropics. This low-maintenance and easy-to-grow tree will produce more sweet fruit than you can handle. If you have a small yard, plant a dwarf variety or keep them pruned down to a manageable size. Bonus: they turn your fingers purple.

Surinam cherries

Surinam cherries range from tasting like varnish to tasting only slightly like varnish. They’re a highly productive plant that bears an abundance of lovely little pumpkin-shaped fruits with cherry-like pits inside. The best tasting varieties I’ve had are the deep purple black types. Don’t ever pick them early: they’re nasty. But if they’re fully ripe, cut them in half and let them sit in the fridge for a bit. The varnish flavor will go away and they’re good eating. I’ve also been told they make amazing jams and syrups.

Jabuticabajabuticaba

This small Brazilian tree (right) is hardy to the mid-20s and it bears delicious almost black fruit about the size of golf balls. Interestingly, the fruit grow right out of the trunk – and the trunks themselves are quite ornamental. Imagine a non-blooming crepe myrtle tree with perfect spherical gumballs glued all over its trunk and you have a good idea what the jabuticaba looks like. Since I’m a little too far north for these babies, I grow one in a pot on my porch. If you have a climate that’s warm year-round, your jabuticaba will bear 5-6 times throughout the year. That beats the living daylights out of any temperate fruit.

Jamaican Cherries

I don’t know what it is with people naming tropical fruit trees after cherries … but there you go. The Jamaican cherry is also named the “strawberry tree,” but it’s not the same strawberry tree that grows up north. Here’s its Latin name, just to make sure nobody gets confused: Muntingia calabura. These guys taste really, really good. Like cotton candy mixed with popcorn. The trees grow quickly and bear continuously as long as the weather is warm. If you live in zone 9 or warmer, grab one. It’s awesome.

Naranjilla

Naranjillas (top photo) are a perennial member of the solanaceae family. They taste a bit citrusy and grow into a really freaky looking spiked bush. The plant I have has really seedy fruit that aren’t really worth eating … but the bush itself gets a lot of comments. Better varieties are good for juicing or can be eaten fresh. They also start easily from seeds and adapt well to living in containers.

Sea Grape

Most people don’t think of sea grapes as edible, but they are. And they’re delicious. When I was in college, there was a huge tree in the middle of the campus and it bore abundant clusters of fruit. I helped myself, much to the bemusement of my classmates. Sometimes that was my only lunch. Though the fruit tend to get soft and overripe quickly, they can be made into a good sea grape jam and the trees themselves are highly ornamental.

Now … obviously … this is by no means a complete list. I hope, however, that those of you living in warmer climates will delve into the many varieties of delicious fruit that thrive in your area, rather than longing for something you can’t have.

Goji berries, kumquats, honeyberries, goumi berries, sea buckthorn, ground cherries … almost every location has something wonderful and berry-like you can grow: figure out what it is and sweet contentment will follow.

Unless you’re physically addicted to blueberries, then I suggest you talk to a licensed counselor.

For a massive serving of madcap gardening inspiration for the sub-tropics and beyond, visit David’s daily gardening site at www.floridasurvivalgardening.com.



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