Tropical Fruits

Everyone enjoys the refreshingly exotic flavors of tropical fruits, and with the proper care & environment, many of them can be grown right here in Michigan. Of course, they'll need to come inside for the winter, but they can make exciting container plants, and some can even produce fruit during the shortest days of the year indoors. While not all of the fruits listed here are true tropicals (some are sub-tropical, or from the Mediterranean region), none of these plants are winter hardy for us. Often, their stories are exotic as the products they produce. Here, we also include temperate nuts & spices. Also, be sure to check out our specialty products for feeding & caring for these exotic plants.

Citrus Greening Disease - Know before you grow!

If you grow, or plan on growing citrus, please make an effort to educate yourself about this devastating disease. Citrus supplies have bacome scarce, and with good reason. Huanglongbing (Citrus Greening Disease) is a terminal bacterial disease spread by insects, & is now found throughout the world, including the U.S.A. There is no cure for affected plants. Please make sure to obtain your plants from a reputable source outside the Federal ban area. Our citrus come only from safe, indexed disease-free sources.

Learn more about Citrus Greening Disease HERE. 

TROPICAL FRUIT QUICKLINKS:

Avocado Cinnamon Guava Limon Papaya
Banana Coffee Jaboticaba Mango Passion Fruit
Bitter Melon Dragonfruit Kumquat Miracle Fruit Pineapple
Calamondin Figs Lemon Olive Pomegranite
Chocolate Grapefruit Lime Orange Star Fruit    

Avocado (Persea americana)

Native to both Americas & the Caribbean, it is actually related to Cinnamon & Bay Laurel. The fruit, technically classified as a berry, is high in fiber, higher in potassium than Bananas & is known to lower LDL & triglycerides. Althogh they can grow 20-25', they are easily prunable plants & suitable as a sun-loving houseplant. They grow easily in potting mix that is allowed to dry slightly between waterings. Like Bananas, the fruit matures on the tree, but will not ripen until picked. To produce fruit, Avocados need plenty of sunlight & a second plant for cross-polination. Feed during the growing season with Espoma Citrus-Tone.

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Banana (Musa spp.) 

We actually sell Bananas as ornamental tropicals, rather than fruit bearing plants. It is possible, however, with the right conditions & some patience, to get them to flower & fruit. Each stem is capable of producing only one potentially fertile flower before it dies, but will produce "pups" which can be divided from the mother plant. The flower stalk actually produces two flowers; one female (which if pollinated produces the fruits), and one male (a bulbous appendage at the end of the stalk), called the banana "heart", which is also edible. Because of our latitude & the seasonal angle of the sun, it may take up to two years from the first formation of a flower bud to develop mature fruit ready to harvest. (Some of our customers have reported accomplishing this in a one year period.) For best chances, it is recommended to maintain a minimum of 23 leaves on the plant at any given time. Perhaps a daunting task, we post this information for those interested in giving it a try. Any of the Musas can bear edible fruit, including the dward varieties, but some are more palatable than others. Ensete will bear only unedible fruit. Of those we carry, these are the best varieties for fruit production:

Cavendish (8-10'), Dwarf Cavendish (6-8'), Super Dwarf Cavendish (2-3'), Ice Cream (8-12'), Basjoo (6-10'), & Cheeka (1-2') 

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Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)

This vine, related to Cucumbers, produces the most bitter of all fruits. Native to Indo-China & Northern Africa, it is a prized element in Indian & Chinese cuisines. The reported health benefits of Bitter Melon are nearly endless in indigenous homeopathy & has been tied to increased life expectancy. Currently, the compounds within are being studied to treat diabetes, certain cancers, HIV, & to aide in digestive disorders, but should not be consumed by pregnant women. Vines will thrive in average soils with lots of sun. 

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Calamondin (x Citrofortunella mitis)

This citrus plant, generally grown for its ornamental value, fragrant flowers, & manageable size makes an excellent high light houseplant. Producing small 1-2" fruit resembling an orange in appearance, is starkly sour, while the thin skin is sweet. Often used in Asian cuisine, it can also be used to make tasty sweet & sour preserves or marmalades. Like many other citrus, it can flower & produce twice yearly in the right conditions. Citrus are highly reliant on the micronutrient mangenese. We recommend regular feeding during the growing season with Espoma Citrus-Tone, which is well tailored to the needs of this plant.

CLICK HERE to learn about Citrus Greening Disease

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Chocolate Tree (Theobroma cacao)

We offer this plant as a curiousity, and for educational purposes. Originally native to the northern Amazon region, it requires fertile soil, consistant moisture, bright, filtered shade, and very warm temperatures. It will not survive outside without protection beyond 20 degrees North or South of the Equator. Even southern Florida is too cool for this plant, as it can be injured at 50 degrees, and 40 degree temps can be terminal. Pink blooms form directly on the trunk, & will need to be hand pollinated outside its native habitat. Mature pods weigh 1-2 lbs., and become yellow-orange when ripe. Within the fruit, the seeds contain 40% fat (cocoa butter) and were used by the Aztec to produce a bitter drink for rituals; all other parts are toxic. The name, 'Theobroma' means "Food of the Gods" (Latin), while 'cacao' is derived from the Aztec 'cacahuatl' meaning "bitter waters". Introduced to the west by the Spanish explorer Cortez in 1519, it was met with disfavor (disflavor?) until sugar was added, and the popular confection spread through Europe & beyond.   

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Cinnamon (Cinnamomun zeylanicum)

Originally native to a small area of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the use of this spice may pre-date recorded history. The first recorded use outside this region was in ancient Egypt (circa 2000 B.C.). It's source was elusive & kept secret by traders (likely to inflate its trading value) for over 3000 years! By Roman times, the high price kept the spice exclusive to royalty, and Nero (who liked to burn things) lit an entire years supply on fire at his wife's funeral, before picking up his fiddle. In cultivation, the plants (trees) are actually maintained more as a bush, being cut back twice a year, to encourage young suckering stems to grow from the roots. From these young shoots, the bark is pealed & becomes the Cinnamon we know. Cinnamon has known health benefits, including an ability to help moderate blood sugar & insulin production. It likes sunny areas and is suitable to container culture, but can be damaged or killed by temperatures near freezing.

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Coffee Tree (Coffaea arabica)

Producer of one of the largest cash crops traded throughout the modern world, Coffee trees make outstanding, if not stunning houseplants! The shiny ruffled leaves are attractive, as is the papery peeling bark. Well suited to growing in containers, they take well to pruning, and don't mind being prevented from reaching their 10 - 12' height. (In cultivation, they are cut back often to maintain them as a shrub, to make harvesting easier. Sweetly fragrant blooms, produced directly on the trunk, last only a day, but are produced in profusion over a few weeks, twice yearly. Flowers are self-fertile, so coffee beans are readily produced, even in home culture. The seeds, surrounded by a soft pith (edible), turn reddish in color as they ripen. The pith is removed, beans are roasted, ground, & brewed. Coffee grows best in very bright light, with some protection from the hot afternoon sun, and watering needs are average. We recommend feeding them during the growing season with a well-rounded fertilizer including Manganese (Like Espoma Citrus-Tone), to prevent maturing beans from prematurely dropping from the plant.

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Dragonfruit (Hylocereus sp.)

Also called "Strawberry Pear" or "Pitaya", this is the edible fruit of one of several cactus species. Native to Central & South America, Pitaya are night blooming plants with large white, fragrant flowers. Once open, blooms typically last only one night, fading by dawn. Largely unnoticed for centuries, it is now grown on six continents, is one of Viet Nam's largest exports, & is incorporated into many popular drinks under major labels like Snapple, Tropicana, Sobe, & Hawaiian Punch. As a cactus, they make great low-maintenance house plant for high light, & prefer to kept dry. Because these plants rely on moths & bats for pollination, it is (hopefully) unlikely they will fruit when grown indoors. We occasionally carry this plant as a night-blooming curiousity.

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Fig Tree (Ficus carica)

Native to the sub-tropical band from southern Indo-china to the Mediterranean, Figs have been cultivated as a food crop for thousands of years. Archeological evidence indicates the practice may pre-date the cultivation of wheat, barley, rye, & legumes by as much as a thousand years. Figs are rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium & several antioxidants. Dried figs are high in polyphenols & flavonoids, & have been shown to increase plasma's capacity to carry antioxidants.

While most fruits are the seed-holding product of pollinated female flowers, the fig is quite different, indeed. Technically, a synconium, the fig itself is an inverted (inside-out) flower (both male & female parts), enclosed within swollen stem tissue. The "seeds" of the fig are actually unfertilized ovaries which give figs the flavor for which they are known. Figs are excellent plants for containers, and, although they can grow to 20' or more, take very well to pruning. The flexible branches can also easily be trained by "weighting" or tying them down. Figs like as much sun as you can give them, & prefer good drainage over fertile soils. They grow well in soiless potting mixes, & can produce two crops annually, if kept warm year-round.

Fig Varieties: 

Atreano - Compact variety with light green fruit & sweet, dark red flesh.

Black Jack - One of the smallest fig trees; black skin with red flesh.

Black Mission - Very sweet fruit with black skin & red flesh.

Brown Turkey - Very large, sweet brown figs with light amber flesh.

Chicago Hardy - Root hardy variety with sweet flesh. aka 'Bensonhurst Purple'

Ischia - Green fig with dark pink flesh.

Kadota - Non-drought tollerant variety with yellow-green fruit & amber flesh.

Lattarulla - Highly productive variety with light green fruit & honey-colored flesh.

Magnolia - Excellent canning variety with medium sized brown fruit & amber flesh.

Negronne - Popular dwarf variety with nearly black fruit & tasty dark red flesh.

Peter's Honey - Gourmet variety with yellow-green fruit & dark amber flesh.

Stella - Reliable, high-yied variety with large fruit & purplish-red flesh.

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Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)

 Not a naturally occuring fruit, Grapefruit are actually a hybrid first developed in Jamaica. Like it's parents and most other cirtrus, it produces fragrant, white, four petaled blooms. Grapefruit are prunable trees or bushes which like full sun & well-drained fertile soil. They can thrive in containers with a quality potting mix & a regular supply of well balance food including manganese, such as Espoma Citrus-Tone. 

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Guava (Psidium guajava)

Guava fruit is produced by small trees originally native to Mexico, and Central & South America. Related to Myrlte (Myrtus) & Eugenia, the flowers are typical of the family with five white petals & numerous stamens. They like full sun and warm temperatures, and should not be allowed to fall much below 45 degrees. Very well suited to growing in containers, Guavas are grown throughout the world, not just tropical & subtropical climates. High in fiber, they are rich in Vitamins A & C, Calcium, and antioxidants. 

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Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora)

Also known as "Brazilian Grape" the fruit of Jabaticaba are formed directly on the trunks of mature wood. Often eaten raw, they are also used for making jams, juices & wine. Plants like full sun & should be kept evenly moist. The bark is an attractive collage of colors. Although it can take several years before plants begin to flower & bear fruit, we do have a few customers who have reported success. These plants are typically found in our Bonsai department.  

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Kumquat (Fortunella obavata)

These slow growing shrubs or small trees are related to citrus. The fruit, resembling a small, oval orange has a sweet thin skin and sour pulp. Flowers are citrus-like, but yellow. Plants will take frost, & even brief periods of freezing, but require warm temperatures (above 75 degrees) for consistant production of fruit. Because they are slow growing, they perform well when confined in containers, & take well to pruning (just be wary of the small barb-like thorns which may form on the branches. 

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Lemon (Citrus limon)

Originally native to southern Indo-China, it was first introduced to Europe in the first century A.D., but not readily farmed until the Italian Renaissance. Seeds were first introduced to the western hemisphere by Christopher Columbus. In northern climates, Lemon trees are ideally suited to container culture. Fragrant white  flowers can produce two crops per year, if conditions are right. They like as much sunlight as possible & good drainage. Reliant on the micronutrient Mangenese, they should be feed with a fully rounded citrus food like Espoma Citrus Tone. Greening Disease has affected availablity, but typically, we carry the varieties; Lisbon and Eureka (the most common varieties), & Ponderosa which is prized for its humungous fruit.

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Lime (Citrus x lattifolia) 

Native to the Himalayas & India, limes became most popular during the 1800's when british sailors bagan consuming them in qualtity to prevent scurvy (a vitimin C deficiency). Lending to the spread of Limes throughout the world, this lead to "limey" being used to refer to Brits. Fragrant white  flowers can produce two crops per year, if conditions are right. They like as much sunlight as possible & good drainage. Reliant on the micronutrient Mangenese, they should be feed with a fully rounded citrus food like Espoma Citrus Tone. Greening Disease has affected availablity, but typically, we carry the 'Bears Seedless' & Key Lime varieties. Occasionally, we are lucky enough to offer Kaffir Lime, prized for its leaves & fruit in Thai & Indian cusine. 

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Limon (Citrus x Limon 'Eureka Variegated Pink')

Limons are a cross between Limes & Lemons, and feature the attributes of both. Maturing fruit are yellowish-pink, striped green, turning yellow when ripe. Fragrant white  flowers can produce two crops per year, if conditions are right. They like as much sunlight as possible & good drainage. Reliant on the micronutrient Mangenese, they should be feed with a fully rounded citrus food like Espoma Citrus Tone.

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Mango (Mangifera indica) 

Indigenous to India, Mangos are prized throught the world for the sweet flavor & fragrance. While they can exceed 33' in height, they are prunable. Flowers are a spectacular panicle of fragrant whitish blooms. In favorable conditions, fruit can ripen in three months, but may take up to six. Mangos develop a tap-root, so are best suited in the north to the deepest containers possible. Mangos like high light, good drainage, but should be kept evenly moist (especially during the fruiting process.) 

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Miracle Fruit (Syncepalum dulcificum)

Native to Wast Africa, this well-named oddity produces fruit high in a unique glyco-protein (miraculin) which inhibits the ability to detect sour & metalic flavors. (It makes raw lemons taste like lemon candy!) The miraculous effect lasts 30 - 60 minutes. Because of its properties, it is used in conjunction with chemotherapy, to stimulate appetite & mask flavors which often becomeunpalatable during the course of treatment. Miracle Fruit is a small bush (up to 6') which likes full sun. It is well suited to container potting mixes, and can be grown indefinitely in 7 gallon sized containers (about 12"). Trees can live up to 300 years! 

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Olive (Olea europaea) 

Native to the Mediterranean basin, it has been at the core of culture, commerce, & cuisine in that region for more than 5000 years. The fruit, which can be produced in abundance from a single tree, are naturally bitter, and typically cured in brine before consumption. Raw fruit is also pressed for the popular oil. Olives like very sunny locations, are very prunable, & well suited to growing in containers. They make attractive specimens which thrive in poor, well-drained soils, & require little attention. Do not over-feed or over-water these plants. Expose them to the cool temps of early fall (but avoid frost) to encourage fruiting before bringing indoors for the winter. 

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Orange (Citrus x sinesnsis) 

Orange trees are believed to be an ancient hybrid between Pomelo (Citrus maxima) & Tangerine (Citrus reticulata). Fragrant white  flowers can produce two crops per year, if conditions are right. They like as much sunlight as possible & good drainage, but should be given consistently ample amount of water during fruit production. Reliant on the micronutrient Mangenese, they should be feed with a fully rounded citrus food like Espoma Citrus Tone. Greening Disease has affected availablity, but typically, we carry Washington Navel, Valencia, Mandarin, & Blood Orange. 

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Papaya (Carica papaya)

Native to the tropical Americas, Our Papaya are small trees (up to 6') which can bear from an amazingly young age. Often forming in clusters, directly on the trunk or branch crotches, even the green wood of this plant can pruduce viable fruit. The attractive, deeply cut, glossy green leaves have seven lobes. Typically, the sweet fruit is consumed, but the seeds, said to have a unique spicy flavor are also edible. Papayas like full sun, rich well-drained soil, and should be kept evenly moist. Because of their size, culture, & attractive qualities, Papaya are an excellent choice for growing in containers, & can bear fruit year-round!

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Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis)

This exoitic fruit, native to central South America, grows on vigorous, tendril climbing vines. Flowers, about 3" across, are extremely showy, fragrant, & self pollinating. While many passiflora can produce fruit, this is the variety to grow for consumtion. Easily grown in containers in sunny areas, it is only the rampant growth whcih presents a challenge, and may require some creative methods of support & confinement. Use a low-nitrogen food to inhibit excessive green growth, & to promote flowering & fruiting. (We've found Organica's Flower-Booster to be an outstanding organic suppliment.) 

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Pineapple (Ananus bracteatus / Ananus comosus)

Contrary to the popular belief of many northerners, Pineapples do not grow on trees. Technically, a bromeliad, they are more akin to a bush, growing as a rosette of stiff, strap-like, barbed leaves. Each plant will typically produce only one pineapple, rising stalked from the center of the plant. After fruiting, the "mother" plant will produce "pups" (or offspring) which may be divided off & planted. (If the first fruit is harvested early, a second generation may be produced, but is generally smaller, and less sweet.) When available, we offer the species 'comosus' (most commonly used for fruit production, as well as bracteatus 'Rubra' (an ornamental red-leaved variety) and bracteatus 'Tricolor' (variegated white & pink leaves.) While the latter two are not used for food production, the fruit of this species, though small, is pink, edible, & quite sweet. The pineapple is considered throughout the world as the sign of hospitality.   

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Pomegranate (Punica granatum / Punica g. nana) 

Native to the Persian flats, the Pomegranate has been cultivated since ancient times, making its way to Europe by the dawn of the iron age. The seed capsules (arils) enclosed within the rind are typically eaten raw or juiced and are rich in antioxidants like lycopene. Pomegranates grow well in sunny containers & take well to pruning. The flowers are very showy, six petaled & ruffled, glowing red-orange in color. We carry the variety 'Wonderful' for its favored fruit, as well the dwarf (nana) which produce miniature flowers & fruit (unfortunately less edible than cute).

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Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola)

Believed to originate from Sri Lanka, Carambola has been popular throughout Indo--China for centuries. The sweet, juicy fruit is entirely edible, including its waxy skin. They like as much sun as possible, year round, and good drainage, but should be kept evenly moist. Though they may not produce fruit until 2 - 4 years of age, they are worth the effort and can reward the grower with heavy yields from a single plant. Star Fruit plants are extremely frost sensative & should be kept indoors until night temps are safely & consistantly above 40 degrees. 

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