Tropical Fruits

Banana

The banana and plantain are native to southeast Asia, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Bananas have been grown in scattered locations throughout Florida since their introduction during the 16th century. Limited commercial production has occurred since the late 1800s. Florida is considered a climatically marginal area for commercial banana production due to our subtropical climate and occasional freezes. However, small scale commercial production does occur in southern Florida and producers supply local and regional markets.

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Carambola

Carambola grows best in tropical lowland climates; it also does well in warm subtropical areas that experience only occasional freezes. The carambola tree is small to medium in height, spreading, evergreen, and single or multi-trunked. Trees grow rapidly in locations protected from strong winds. The mid-canopy area (3' to 7' height) is the major fruit-producing area of mature trees.

The fruit is a fleshy four- to five-celled berry with a waxy surface. Fruit are 2" to 6" in length, with five prominent longitudinal ribs; they are star-shaped in cross section. The fruit skin is thin, light to dark yellow, and smooth, with a waxy cuticle. The flesh is light to dark yellow in color, translucent, crisp, very juicy, and without fiber. Good cultivars have an agreeable, subacid to sweet flavor. Fruit are sweetest when allowed to ripen on the tree. Green fruit will slowly turn yellow if picked before fully ripe. It takes about sixty to seventy-five days from fruit set to maturity depending upon cultivar, production practices, and weather.

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Citrus

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Coconut Palm

The coconut palm is typically found along tropical, sandy shorelines since it can tolerate brackish soils and salt spray. However, salt is not required for the growth of healthy plants and they can be successfully grown well inland. Coconut palms grow well in a wide range of soil types, provided they are well-drained, and a wide pH range, from 5.0 to 8.0. Successful growth requires a minimum average temperature of 72°F and an annual rainfall of thirty to fifty inches or more. The trees may be injured by cold when the temperature falls below 32°F. They require full sunlight and are tolerant to wind and temporary flooding.

Fruits are roughly ovoid, up to 15" long and 12" wide, composed of a thick, fibrous husk surrounding a somewhat spherical nut with a hard, brittle hairy shell. The nut is 6" to 8" in diameter and 10" to 12" long. Three sunken holes of softer tissue called “eyes” are at one end of the nut. Inside the shell is a thin, white, fleshy layer, about one inch thick at maturity, known as the “meat” or copra. The interior of the nut is hollow but partially filled with a watery liquid called “coconut milk." The meat is soft and jelly-like when immature but it becomes firm at maturity. The coconut milk is abundant in unripe fruits but it is gradually absorbed as ripening proceeds. The fruits are green at first, turning brownish as they mature.

The coconut palm starts fruiting six to ten years after the seed germinates and reaches full production at fifteen to twenty years of age. It continues to fruit until it is about eighty years old with an annual production of fifty to two hundred fruits per tree, depending on cultivar and climate. The fruits require about a year to develop and are generally produced regularly throughout the year.

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Jackfruit

The jackfruit is well adapted to the hot humid tropics and grows well in the humid subtropical climate of south Florida where there are only occasional freezes. Optimum growth and production occurs in continuously warm areas. The jackfruit is an erect, evergreen, fairly large tree, 30' to 40' tall in Florida. Fruit is moderately large to very large, weighing from 10 to 60 lbs. A few cultivars are small fruited, weighing 3 to 10 lbs each.

The skin is extremely rough and thick. Fruit skin color is green when immature and green, greenish yellow to brownish-yellow when ripe. The inside of the fruit contains the edible, sweet, aromatic, crispy, soft or melting pulp that surrounds each seed. Between the seeds and edible pulp is the inedible “rag.” Pulp color varies from amber to yellow, dark yellow or orange. Seeds are ¾" to 1¼" long and oval; the number of seeds per fruit varies from thirty to five hundred. The time from flowering to fruit maturity ranges from 150 to 180 days. The main fruiting season is in summer and fall. Some fruit may ripen at other times, but usually not in winter and early spring.

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Papaya

The papaya thrives best under warm conditions with abundant rainfall or irrigation. It cannot tolerate strong winds, flooding, or frosts, and it recuperates very slowly if it has sustained considerable leaf or root injury. Temperatures of 30°F or lower usually cause severe damage or death. Papayas are giant herbaceous, dicotyledonous plants which may produce fruit for more than twenty years. When cultivated, plants usually have a single trunk, but several branches may develop as the plants become older. Trees growing in fertile, well drained soils with sufficient moisture may reach a height of 30' or more.

The grayish trunk is marked by characteristic large leaf scars and has soft, pulpy wood. The large, deeply lobed leaves, sometimes reaching 3' across, have hollow, soft petioles 2' or more in length. The melon-like fruit varies considerably in size and shape, and hangs from short, thick peduncles at the leaf axils. In south Florida, if plants are set in the field in February or March, it is possible, with good care, to harvest fruit in October or November. This requires starting seedlings in a greenhouse or under plastic, and protecting them against frosts by heating or sprinkler irrigation. In cooler areas of the state, May and June are better months for field planting, and good yields cannot be expected before the following April or May.

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Passion Fruit

The yellow passion fruit is a tropical plant, and thus restricted to protected sites in the southern half of Florida. The purple passion fruit is adapted to subtropical conditions and endures a few degrees of winter frost without injury, but will not tolerate severe freezes. It thrives in the Tampa Bay area and in protected spots across the mid peninsula. The purple passion fruit bears dark-purple or nearly black, rounded or egg-shaped fruit about 2" long, weighing 1-1.5 oz. Fruit of the yellow passion fruit is deep yellow and similar in shape but slightly longer- 2.5"--than the purple passion fruit.

It weighs 2-3 oz and averages about 2.5 oz under Florida conditions. Fruits contain numerous small, black wedge-shaped seeds that are individually surrounded by deep orange-colored sacs that contain the juice, the edible part of the fruit. The purple passion fruit flowers in Florida in early spring and its fruit matures some sixty to eighty days later, so fruit may be expected from late May until early July. The yellow passion fruit flowers from spring until late fall--with a break in early summer--so that mature fruit appears at intervals from early summer into winter.

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Pineapple

Pineapples grow and produce best where the temperature is warm and relatively uniform throughout the year. In Florida they survive a temperature of 28°F, but sustain much leaf damage, and are killed at low temperatures. Plantings therefore are restricted to southern coastal area. Prolonged exposure to temperatures in the low 40s°F result in internal breakdown or “heart-rot” of the flesh. On the other hand, extreme high temperatures cause sunburning and cracking of the fruit. The climate of Florida is not suited to large scale commercial production of pineapples.

The pineapple is a small, herbaceous perennial, with long sword-like leaves arranged in a spiral around a short stem. Leaves may or may not bear marginal spines. Fruit develops from the inflorescence at the end of the stem, and it consists of many small, seedless fruits fused together. Size varies from 1-10 lbs or more. Oval to cylindrical in shape and yellowish to orange in color. In the tropics fruit is produced almost continuously throughout the year. Fruits ripen eight to twelve months after planting. In Florida the greatest production occurs during the summer months. Fruits should ripen on the plant for maximum flavor and sugar content.

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