Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Weird and wild tropical fruit in South Florida

I really had fun in Ft. Lauderdale two weeks ago working on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, visiting the beach, seeing family... and of course,wandering around and staring at other people's plants.

I'm like a botanical Peeping Tom, staring over fences, furtively snapping photos of roadside trees and casting lingering glances into backyard gardens.

The fruit above is an Ackee, one of the most popular fruits of Jamaica which also thrives in South Florida. It's also a very attractive tree.

Speaking of attractive, the next plant on today's list is the coco plum, a tasty native edible fruit from the coast that is often planted as an ornamental hedge:

That's a white-fruited variety, though coco plum fruits also come in blue-black. Both taste good, though they are a bit stringy with a big seed in the middle. Sort of like a sweet-fluffy cotton candy.

This next fruit is a really weird one. It's called a "screw pine", also known as Pandanus utilis

The fruit is reportedly starchy and edible, though I've never had a chance to give one a try. Here's what the entire tree looks like:

Very weird-looking - I wish I could grow one up here.

Another fruit I wish I could grow is the sapodilla:

I can't tell you how delicious these things are. This tree was growing in the same yard as the ackee fruit in the first picture. Someone is a gardener after my own heart.

Finally, here's an under-utilized fruit tree from the tropics that I really love:

Those, in case you didn't grow up as blessed as I was, are sea grapes.

My grandma and grandpa had them growing in a hedge along the back wall of their yard in Ft. Lauderdale when I was a kid. My brother and I used to try to walk the entire wall in between their huge and twisting branches... and we also ate the fruit. The wood of the sea grape is also a bright and lovely hardwood with an incredible red-orange color.

This Florida artist has used it in a hand-carved bowl:

The fruit is really best for jam-making but I used to eat it right from the trees in season. Some are really good... and some taste weirdly over-ripe.

Even if you couldn't eat the fruit, however, the tree is a thing of beauty.

I imagine one day having a food forest in the tropics where I can plant sea grapes, ackee and other wonderful tropicals together...

...until then, I'll try to be happy with visits down south. 

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At July 7, 2015 at 7:17 PM , Anonymous Andi | Greenbasket.me said...

Screwpine is to SE Asian cooking what vanilla is to American cooking, but it's difficult to find good screwpine essence here. I have been tempted for years to try and keep a screwpine tree in a big pot but I don't know if it could survive a winter inside the house. Maybe if I got a special light...

Those tropical gardens. I wonder if they wish for apples and plums?

At July 8, 2015 at 10:31 AM , Anonymous David The Good said...

That screwpine has been growing in that yard there since I was a little kid... it always fascinated me. I had heard somewhere it was edible but didn't realize how useful it was until doing some research for this post. They seem tough - might be worth trying indoors.

At July 10, 2015 at 12:50 AM , Blogger rycamor said...

Ackee is really tasty. I love the Jamaican breakfast dish "ackee and saltfish." Cooked that way, ackee almost looks and tastes like scrambled eggs.

BTW, you have to be VERY careful not to eat unripe ackees. They can be extremely toxic, even deadly on occasion.


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