What exotic fruits can I plant?
March 28, 2017 7:35 AM   Subscribe

What exotic fruits could I grow (in US Zone 9)?

Inspired by this post, I wanted to survey AskMe to see what kinds of exotic (to the US) fruits I can and should try to grow in my yard here in North Florida, USDA Zone 9. Assume a moderate level of gardening competence, a decent but not extravagant amount of space, and a moderate willingness to spend money to make this happen (so no $50 seed packets). We've done Cape gooseberries in the past and loved them, and plan on doing them again eventually. They were in many ways the perfect fruit for this kind of experiment: cheap seeds, grew readily, produced lots of fruit in a relatively compact bush, we'd never even seen one much less tried one, and the flavor was great and completely unique.

Just for context, we've currently got two grapefruit trees (one white, one Ruby Red), a Meyer lemon tree, a peach tree, two Gros Michel banana trees (tiny, several years away from fruiting), some strawberries, a raspberry bush, and a ton of tomatoes and hot peppers going in our spring/summer garden. We're planning on putting in a pineapple guava tree soon.

I'd really love to add a few fruits that we'd never find in any store, that taste great, that my daughter could bring to show and tell to wow her classmates, that are relatively easy to grow, and that I could actually readily find seeds for. What would you suggest?
posted by saladin to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Loquats grow like crazy here in central TX, zone 9b. You'll rarely see them on the shelf because hey ship poorly, but they are strong producers and taste great.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:38 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I visited south Florida, I went to the Fruit And Spice Park near Miami. I know that's not close to you, but if you're ever doing a vacation trip, put that on the list. I'm a northern gardener, there's no way I could actually grow those fruits, but being able to see the groves of mangos, bananas, and avocados with over a hundred different varieties each was an amazing point about how even though you can buy mangoes at the store you can only buy 3-4 varieties. Then there was the chance to taste things I'd never heard of (whatever is in season you can taste at the visitor center, plus picking up and edible windfalls. So mamey fruit is interesting but I can confirm I wouldn't want a whole tree of it) and to see things growing in ways I didn't expect (Jabuticaba). So I don't have a specific plant to recommend, I can only recommend a vacation, but that place was amazing and inspiring!
posted by aimedwander at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Miracle fruit are pretty cool, if of limited use. https://www.justfruitsandexotics.com/JFE/product/miracle-fruit-plant-synsepalum-dulcificum/
posted by cgs06 at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here in Zone 7 we are on the northern boundary of where you can grow figs. They're not exactly exotic but they're delicious and rare to find fresh in the store.
posted by workerant at 9:03 AM on March 28, 2017

I grew a boatload of pineapples in my yard. They're nice because you just plop the tops in the ground after you eat your pineapple and they sproing up. On the minus side, it takes years to get a pineapple.

Figs grow well.

I have a 3-yr-old Parson Brown orange tree about six feet tall. It did nothing last year but this year it lived up to its whimsical name. Hundreds and hundreds of heavenly smelling flowers and now tiny little fruit, and I've been an extremely lackadaisical orange parent.

You can grow ginger and tumeric, which is kind of fun.

My fruit guy at the farmers' market has cherimoya and limequat and papaya--but he's got greenhouses. I really wish durian and jackfruit would grow.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:08 AM on March 28, 2017

Have you considered growing kiwi? It's a beautiful vine. The farm where we get our CSA has several varieties growing, and they're beautiful.

You can also pull of passionfruit vine, with the bonus feature of the amazing flowers.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Longans? A quick Google seems to indicate they might work, and they're delicious.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:13 AM on March 28, 2017

How about pomegranates? You can grow them from seeds.
posted by mareli at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely figs! They're delicious off the tree and I miss them.

You could try dragon fruit too, they're super cool. Actually, Logee's has a whole section of tropical fruiting plants that you can peruse and see if anything strikes your fancy. Here in snowy MA I'm jealous just thinking about it.
posted by lydhre at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2017

I have a quince tree. Never seen one in the store before; it looks like a peachfuzzy granny smith apple. The "flavor" is certainly unique. Tastes like extremely tannic crabapple. I'm still not really sure what to do with them each season.

From the "wowing classmate" factor, I would plant a romensco brocolli. It can be found in some specialty stores, but it's still pretty amazing to see in person. No idea if they grow in your zone.

Giant pumpkin in also really fun; packets can be bought online. Again, no idea about the zone though.
posted by TomFoolery at 9:49 AM on March 28, 2017

Oh, yeah, pomegranates! They definitely work. Loquats too, for sure.

I think it's too cold for longans, unfortunately.

Romanesco grows like mad in zone 9. Also there's a gorgeous deep velvety purple cauliflower. I'm eating it right now, as it happens!

I wanted to see if I could grow kiwi but got scared off by youtube videos--apparently it takes over the planet.

These things showed up in the farmers' market a few years ago and are pretty yummy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physalis

Roselles are really easy to grow. The flowers are pretty and the fruit look like the eggs in the Alien movies. You can make tea or jam out of them or just munch on them if you like things to be really really sour. I made a faux rhubarb pie that was... interesting.

I also grow nopales. If you get the right sort you can harvest the little paddles when they're very young and eat them without gloves and elaborate prep. Just crunch them down or cut into strips and saute. These, honestly, you just put the paddle on the ground and it grows. You don't have to do anything at all. Some varieties have a totally uninspiring-tasting but really pretty disco-purple fruit.

Finally, persimmons. I hate them, but they do grow well.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:52 AM on March 28, 2017

Figs! They're very pretty plants with great foliage and they ship terribly and are expensive. And you can do a ton of things with them, from broiling them with honey and putting ice cream on them to making a fig barbecue sauce--so really versatile.

IMO anything that ships poorly is an especially great candidate for home gardening.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:01 AM on March 28, 2017

It's not going to produce very much (each plant makes one fruit), but I adore my pineapple that I grew from the crown of a store-bought fruit. It's just now fruting after two years, but the flower is pretty and I bet the bromeliad would be much happier in Florida than in Central Texas (I bring mine in during the winter).
posted by theweasel at 10:12 AM on March 28, 2017

When I lived in Santa Barbara I'd always make a point of stocking up on Feijoas, aka Pineapple Guava, at the farmers market. According to the internet, Zone 9 is in the their sweet spot.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:25 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

You mentioned planting pineapple guavas/feijoas: many years ago when we grew them, ours were not self-fruitful―so you may need two or more. (Each tree of ours also didn't flower every year, but we had them on a hillside and with 8-10, there were always fruits.) Also I am a fan, but my partner is not.

You might consider the Slow Food "Ark of Taste" as a source for unusual or special heirlooms etc. There's also a speed to fruiting thing you should consider with these recommendations, because any tree you grow from seed will be years before fruiting, and may not grow true.

Loquats are fantastic (nisperos if you need to search them out in Spanish). The tree is easy. Know that you're committing to pruning it, because they will get very tall.

Similar to nopales, you could try pitayas (pdf link). There are also "pitahayas," aka dragon fruit. In both cases, you'd have to consider spines + children. But they are both delicious, easy to grow, climate appropriate, and importantly the fruits look weird.

This one's a plant where you eat the leaf, but I really like hoja santa/tlanepa. The plant will train into a tree. It's common in soup and cut up with eggs in Carribean Mexico. It has naturalized in some parts of the US south as "root beer plant," and while the version there does kinda taste like sassafras, when I eat it in Mexico it tastes "greener" and with notes of sorrel.
posted by migrantology at 2:13 PM on March 28, 2017

Quinces need to be cooked before they're eaten.
posted by brujita at 9:50 PM on March 28, 2017

Loquats, figs and pineapple guava all grow fabulously here in zone 10. All of them would also excel in 9.
posted by 26.2 at 11:44 PM on March 28, 2017

One fun fruit to grow would be Common Pawpaw. When ripe, the flesh has roughly the texture and flavour of banana pudding; it's in the same family as cherimoya & custard-apple, if you've ever had those. It's never in supermarkets as a fresh fruit because it bruises so readily; and it grows wild in much colder climates than yours.

Also, did you find this list from an exotic seed supplier in your internet searches?
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:16 AM on March 29, 2017

I have a quince tree. Never seen one in the store before; it looks like a peachfuzzy granny smith apple. The "flavor" is certainly unique. Tastes like extremely tannic crabapple. I'm still not really sure what to do with them each season.

When you cook quince into a thick paste, you end up with deliciously sweet and almost floral membrillo.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:05 AM on March 29, 2017

Great answers all around, thanks everyone. I think we've settled on a loquat tree for now.

If anyone's still reading this, has any ever had a Barbados cherry or a "Pakistani mulberry"? Both trees were randomly available at our local Home Depot this weekend in the Fruit Tree section. I'm intrigued!
posted by saladin at 11:59 AM on April 5, 2017

Hey, glad you went with loquat. I was just eating some of those last weekend. You might check with county Extension for this and all gardening questions. They may have advice/ideas.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:28 PM on April 5, 2017

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