Lots of early blooming fruit trees

BlueberryBlossoms
Quite a few of my fruit trees and blueberry bushes are blooming right now. The cool but not freezing winter has had quite a few warm patches that have confused the trees greatly.
My mulberry tree out back – the same Illinois Everbearing I mentioned in yesterday’s post on festooning – is pushing a lot of blooms and new growth.

The risk, of course, is that we’ll get a harsh overnight low in the next month or two that will burn off all the blooms and new growth, eliminating the year’s harvest of fruit.

I really hope that doesn’t happen. This is a tricky time. I can cover some of my smaller trees to protect them but the larger trees are now on their own.

Three of my peaches are blooming:

 

 

It’s hard to find more beautiful trees in the spring than peaches. The nectarine out front is also blooming but since it’s a tiny tree I don’t really want it fruiting yet so if any nectarines start to develop I’ll pinch them off. It needs to get good and tall before having babies.

My Anna apples are in bloom right now and the black cherry is also about to pop. Fortunately, my Japanese persimmons, pears, cherries, plums and other apples are still sound asleep.

I hope they stay that way for another month at least. Or that we get lucky and don’t see a cold snap that goes much below freezing.

I want fruit!

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David-the-good-books-revised

What To Plant in a Florida Orchard

PurpleFigs3
Luscious purple Florida-grown figs.

Last night I noticed this comment on the high-density orchard post over at The Brilliant Homestead:

Most people think “apples” when they hear orchard. What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard? –Phyllis Franklin

Ah-ha!

Thou art in luck: trees are one of my favorite topics!

For those of you who don’t know Phyllis, she is a writer with her own homesteading blog “Evolution of a Farm Girl.”

Even better, she’s a homeschooling mom. (Since I was raised by a homeschooling mom, I’m rather partial to that rare and wonderful breed of lady.)

Now: trees.

The question, “What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard?” is not easy to answer without knowing a location.

The one thing I wouldn’t plant anywhere in the state is citrus. Just don’t do it – you’ll lose the tree.

That aside, here are my recommendations.

Trees for a South Florida Orchard

A fragrant lychee.

In south Florida and large parts of coastal Florida, your options are incredible. My in-laws, for example, bought a house that had a small mango orchard planted in the front yard. The trees are now gigantic and bear incredible quantities of mangoes which bring them a decent side income during mango season.

My parents have a tamarind, a canistel, an acerola cherry and a jabuticaba tree in their front yard in Ft. Lauderdale. In the side yard they have a fig and a tropical almond. Out back there’s a chocolate pudding fruit, a mango, a Key Lime, a coconut palm, multiple bananas, cattley guavas, Surinam cherries, dragon fruit cactus, a Grumichama, a starfruit, plantains, papayas and probably a few more trees I can’t remember (they’re all parts of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project).

If you wanted an orchard in South Florida, all of those trees would be excellent choices.

I’d also add:

 

Sapodilla (Mmmm)
Jackfruit (Largest fruit in the world)
Mulberries
Longan (high market value)
Lychee (high market value)
Custard apple
Cashew (a fruit AND a nut!)
Macadamia (Awesome nut, nice big tree)
Soursop (anti-cancer!)
Ackee (poisonous unless harvested at the right time)
Loquat (grows in north and south Florida)
Jamaican cherry (delicious)
Tropical guava
Cinnamon (large tree and very beautiful)
Peruvian apple cactus
Coffee (Yep, it grows into a small tree)
Nutmeg (probably marginal)

 

…and probably a hundred more tropical trees.

The quantity of fruit you can grow down there is astounding. I’d bet on at least a 1,000 species since the Tropics are BY FAR a much more productive region than the world’s temperate zones.

Trees for a Central/North Florida Orchard

A tangy loquat.

The further north you move in the state, the more your options dwindle.

That said, you do pick up a few new species that cannot be grown in the southern tip of the state, such as plums, peaches and pears.

The transition isn’t immediate, but basically once you have overnight lows that go below the upper 20s, your tropical trees become a hard-to-grow liability rather than good orchard fodder.

My favorite three N/C Florida fruit trees are mulberries (white, black, Persian and Pakistan), Japanese persimmons (be sure to get both astringent and non-astringent types – they both have their uses on the homestead) and loquats. Finding improved loquat varieties isn’t easy but they’re worth buying since they bear larger and sweeter fruit than the landscaping seedling trees usually found for sale.

After those, I would add these trees to my North Florida orchard:

Pears (“Pineapple” is my favorite – tough and disease-resistant. Orient is a good pollinator.)
Plums (UF varieties)
Peaches (UF varieties or seedlings from locally-picked fruit)
Apples (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet, Ein Shemer. None are particularly easy to grow here)
Pecan (gets big, but has high market value)
Chestnut (fast producer of sweet nuts – get two “Dunstan” types)
Figs
Nectarine (UF varieties)
Avocado (cold-hardy types such as Lila and Mexicola. Subject to early death via disease.)
Bananas (Raja Puri, Orinoco, Red Dwarf, Ice Cream all survive cold)
Pomegranates (Note: some spontaneously die. Don’t get attached!)
Autumn olive
Goumi berry
Black cherry (gets tall – hard to harvest – flavor is amazing)
Japanese raisin tree (rare)
Sichuan Pepper
Jujube (Chinese)

 

Among these trees there are many cultivars and variations that should keep you quite contented as you plan. I currently prefer a food forest to an orchard; however, an orchard is better than having just a couple of trees… and a couple of trees are still better than lawn.

As you plant I would mix up the species rather than keeping them together in blocks of the same type. That makes it harder for pests to jump from tree to tree. Running chickens through the orchard on a regular basis also feeds the trees and knocks back potential pest problems.

Along with these trees, you can add a couple of wires for grapes as a nice upgrade. Or build an arbor.

Now go, Phyllis. Plant!

 

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David-the-good-books-revised

Lots and lots of promise in the food forest

GreenElderberries

One of the hardest things about planting fruit trees?

The wait. The long, long wait.

Some trees reward you with good things almost right away – like mulberries – but most trees do not. Now that I’ve been on my property for almost four years, however, the trees in my food forest are starting to come into bearing size and we have a smattering of delicious fruit that will be ripening soon.

For starters, the elderberries are really jumping this year:

Elderberries are a very interesting fruit. The entire plant is poisonous except for the blooms and the fully ripe fruit. It’s best for processing or drying, with an interesting flavor that tastes more “healthy” than “sweet.” If you have a moist or swampy area, you should grow these babies. They’ve been proven to help knock down colds and the flu. Good enough for me.
Here’s another fruit that’s on its way:
Though pears aren’t as fool-proof as some fruit trees are, the “sand pear” varieties are disease resistant and productive, provided you keep an eye out for fireblight and don’t let it eat your trees during long wet seasons. Pear butter… pear pies… pear preserves… pear brandy… mmm.
Another tree that I love: the Japanese persimmon. We’re getting our first few fruits this year on a tree I planted three years ago:
food forest persimmon
Persimmons are one of my top three favorite EASY fruit trees for North/Central Florida (the other two being loquat and mulberry). And… speaking of easy… check out these muscadine grapes:
If you haven’t tried a good fresh muscadine, you haven’t lived. The vines are vigorous and very disease-resistant, plus they make grapes.
Win. And wait… here’s more win. We have citrus this year. Check out this developing blood orange:
Though I don’t recommend citrus anymore, we haven’t lost ours to greening yet. I’m praying we don’t. Let’s take a look at some Key limes:
Those are on the tree I’m growing up against my south wall. It’s flying and needs a good pruning and tying back before winter this year.
It takes time to get a perennial system like a food forest going… but once it’s going, the bounty is hard to beat.
David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Mulberries

Mulberry
Growing mulberries in Florida is a no-brainer… yet it’s surprising to me how rare they are as a fruit tree.
When you can easily grow organic berries in mass quantities, why would you fiddle around with finicky crops like blackberries, strawberries and blueberries?
I remember the first time I saw a mulberry tree. Growing up in South Florida, we were used to oranges, grapefruit, mangos and avocadoes.
But… a tree covered in berries? Wild!
I was 10 years old.
My little brother Brian and I were visiting our friends Rachel and Miles, who were eight and seven. Rachel took us down a little alley behind her house to show us “a blackberry tree.” We picked fruit and purpled our fingers and lips… totally amazed by the delicious abundance.
Rachel is now my wife; and though we no longer live in South Florida, we did take a trip back a few years ago and asked Rachel’s mom if the tree was still at the end of the alley. Sadly, it was toppled during a hurricane and then removed – but a far-sighted neighbor had taken cuttings before its demise and planted them across the street in an empty lot.
We took our children for a walk, met the friendly owner of the trees… and were invited to pick, since the mulberry trees were in full fruit. All of us came home purple and happy, our baskets loaded with berries.
In my yard in North Central Florida, I’ve probably planted a dozen mulberry trees.
The mulberry tree has been praised and demonized… overlooked… fed to silk worms… discovered by hungry travelers… and planted by the Founding Fathers.
Various species of mulberry grow across most of the United States and they are consistent producers of delicious berries. The range is actually astounding, when you consider that mulberries live and fruit in states with blizzards and ice… and in Miami… where people suntan in February.
I’m always amazed when people pick on mulberries as “messy.” That’s like saying “you know, the Mississippi is a great river… what a shame it’s so damp!”
As I say regularly… that’s not mess! THAT’S FOOD!
growing mulberries in florida

This Illinois Everbearing mulberry tree is only two years old and already bears gallons of berries!

Sure, songbirds sometimes eat the berries and then re-create Pollack masterpieces across the hood of your Honda… but that’s a small price to pay for mulberry pie… dried mulberries… mulberry brandy… mulberry cobbler… and smiling children with purple fingers.

I read – with horror – that some landscape-minded plant breeders have bred fruitless varieties. FRUITLESS! If I were them, I would watch the sky for lightning bolts. God makes one of the most productive and delicious fruits known to man… and you breed the fruit off it?

Okay – I’m done ranting.

Growing Mulberry Trees

Let’s talk about growing these things. Mulberries will grow in half-shade but prefer full sun. After the first year, they need basically no watering or care to survive. My kind of tree.
Something that’s really encouraging about the mulberry is that it has a juvenile period of almost zero, provided you grow it from cuttings or grafted trees. If you grow them from seed, it can take a decade to get fruit.

Mulberries produce in spring and are an attractive shade tree the rest of the year.

I’ve had tiny trees (not from seed) produce fruits. And when mulberries are young, they grow like weeds. They also respond very well to pruning. I’m trying different methods of tree shaping to keep the berries within reach for ease of picking. Untended mulberry trees can get tall quickly.

Mulberry Varieties

 

As for varieties, that’s where things get complicated. Morus albaMorus rubra and Morus nigra all look quite similar and hybridize readily, producing fertile offspring. In fact, Morus alba, the “white mulberry,” has been classified as invasive in some states due to its ability to hybridize with the native red mulberry (Morus rubra), threatening the species.

The white mulberry is the famous mulberry of the Oriental silk industry. Though it’s called “white,” it has fruit that range in color from purple to pink to white. Their flavor is said to be less delicious than the “red” or “black” mulberry species, though the fully white mulberries have a nice honey flavor.
There are varieties of mulberries known as “ever-bearing,” since they bear sporadic crops throughout the warmer months, rather than having one gigantic crop all at once in the spring. I own one and it’s wonderfully prolific over a long season.
One of my favorite varieties – for purely aesthetic reasons – is the Pakistan “long mulberry,” a tree that bears graceful 2-3” long fruit. Though my long mulberry is only 3’ high, it’s already bearing a few fruit.
Another use for mulberries that is now being rediscovered is its excellence as animal feed. Chickens and pigs will live happily on the abundant dropped fruit – and goats are inordinately fond of the tree’s leaves.
If you have space… and you’d like fruit within a year… and you want happy children… grow a mulberry. Right now. Growing mulberries in Florida is so simple a child could do it. Go get one – you’ll love it.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING: 

4.5 Spuds!

Name: Mulberry
Latin Name: Morus alba, Morus nigra, Morus rubra
Type: Tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Part Used: Fruit, sometimes leaves
Propagation: Grafting, cuttings, seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Fresh, dried, jams, jellies, and in awesome cobbler (thanks, Rach!)
Storability: Poor
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

David-the-good-books-revised

Growing fruit trees in poor soil

FoodForestLot1

Can you grow fruit trees in poor soil?

Will fruit trees grow in Florida sand?

Will fruit trees grow in pine scrub?

Will fruit trees grow on a train in the rain with a goat on a boat, etc?

If you have lousy soil or white sand in your yard, you may despair of ever growing happy fruit trees… yet all is not lost, even under rough conditions. Fortunately for you, God long ago planned ahead for “bad” dirt and created a variety of edibles that will handle conditions that would be miserable for many of our common fruit trees.

My friend Jeff (Democritus Xenophon III) and I were on our way to deliver a few fruit trees the other day when I had to stop the car because I saw something amazing in an empty, scrubby, rough, white-sand lot by the side of the road.

Here – can you see what made me stop the car?

Probably not. Look a little closer:

Can you see it now?

No? Then I’ll make it really easy for you:

Yes. I stopped for that. What can I say? I have incredible plant-sensing powers.

That there is a native Florida pawpaw… and it wasn’t alone.

Across this lot we found at least three different species of pawpaws. There are probably a hundred or so individuals altogether.

growing fruit trees in poor soil is possible - pawpaw!

There’s one up close. At this time of year, they’re in bloom and thus easy to spot.

In Florida, pawpaws tend to be shrubs, not trees. Here’s a shot from a little further back so you can get an idea of perspective.

After they bloom, pawpaws tend to blend into the prairies and forest edges, so keep your eyes open right now so you can identify little ones growing in your neighborhood. Unfortunately, they won’t transplant from the wild until you’re a total pro, so don’t even bother. The tap root is ridiculous and breaking it will kill the plant.

Now – back to my theme of growing fruit trees in poor soil. We now know pawpaws will handle it, but the natives don’t usually bear abundant crops. But – after seeing the pawpaws, I stepped a little further into the lot and started poking around.

To my delight, I saw this:

That, my friends, is a native persimmon tree. And like the pawpaws, it wasn’t alone. There are probably at least fifty of them along the forest edge, with more seedlings scattered here and there.

Now we have two edible fruit trees that grow in “bad” soil. But we’re not done yet. The next plants I discovered aren’t trees… but they are wonderful fruit.

Check this out:

It just looks like a bunch of scrubby shrubs, doesn’t it? Look closer:

Those are native Florida blueberries. Here’s an even closer shot:

Some of these plants are completely covered in berries right now. Our native blueberry plants don’t have the large berries of cultivated varieties – but they make up for their tiny size by packing an incredible burst of blueberry flavor you have to taste to believe. In this one lot, there are likely hundreds of blueberry bushes.

Beyond the fruit, I also found multiple other useful and edible species, including spurge nettle (edible root), prickly pear (edible pads and fruit), sumac (edible fruit) and Yucca filamentosa (a source for fiber).

Along with these directly useful plants, there was also a large population of poison oak, a couple of pines, scrub and turkey oaks, various aster family members, smilax and this amazing milkweed:

That’s this guy. Beautiful stuff.

Here’s another shot:

Can you spot the monarch caterpillar in the image above?

Sneaky.

Now, to answer the question “can you grow fruit trees in bad soil?”

YES, YES, YES!!!

Basically, this entire vacant lot is a wild food forest containing a healthy community of plants interacting and producing food with no help at all from humans.

This is why you need to look around at nature constantly and quit trying to force things. You might have a hard time growing apples, peaches, bananas and pears (though some of the pears I carry in my nursery, like the “Pineapple” pear would probably do well) on a lot like this… but you’d probably do great by getting “improved” relatives of the plants that are already there.

If I was going to grow a food forest on land like this, I’d plant Japanese persimmons, rabbiteye blueberries, nopale cactus, cassava and chaya (relatives of spurge nettle), and of course, some pawpaws.

Almost wherever you are, you can grow fruit trees if you let nature be your guide.

Now go.

And look.

And learn with childlike wonder as you see what the Great Gardener has planted.

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Pears

Pearsweb
growing pears in florida

Photo credit born1945. CC license.

If I were to ask you your favorite fruit, what would you answer?

My Dad likes apples.

I love mangoes.

My kids all love bananas.

My wife likes… hey… just a minute… let me go ask her…



…okay, after much discussion, the answer seems to be papaya. Or apples. Or bananas. She would prefer apples if we lived further north… papaya if we lived in the tropics… and also raisins, but only if…

Nevermind.

The point is, if you were to ask a bunch of people to name their favorites, I doubt very much you’d have anyone proclaim their undying love for the humble pear.

Personally, I didn’t care for pears until I tried them fresh and fully ripe. We bought a house in TN with mature pear trees growing in the yard. They were some variety of dessert pear, pale green and yellow when ripe, and endowed with a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth flavor. My opinion of pears as hard, watered-down apples with unpleasant texture was transformed.

Now I love pears.

When I moved to Florida, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to grow any varieties worth eating. Fortunately, I was wrong. You can grow good pears from about the middle of the state north. Further south than that and you’ll have chill hour issues and may have to mess around with forcing dormancy by leaf stripping, etc… and that’s a topic for another day. Growing pears in Florida is easier than you might think.

Unlike Apples, Peaches, Plums and Nectarines, pears are relatively care-free trees. The biggest disease issue they face is “fire blight,” a nasty bacterial infection that usually starts at the ends of branches and works its way down towards the trunk. Fortunately, if you’re observant, you can often head off the infection with a good pair of pruning shears and a spray-bottle of alcohol.

Create Your Own Florida Food Forest by David The Good

In my book I cover growing pears in Florida, along with lots of other plants.

Sterilize your pruners with alcohol, then cut at least 12″ further down each infected branch than the closest patch of infection. The infection is easy to identify since it looks like the name implies: charred brown leaves and wood. Make sure to sterilize your shears between each cut so you don’t inadvertently spread the disease.

Once you’ve removed all the infected wood, burn it. Don’t throw it in your compost or let it fall around the base of the tree. You want it gone.

Beyond the occasional brush with fire blight, Florida has some good pear varieties to get excited about. We can grow the classic Kieffer pear, the old-fashioned Pineapple pear (which apparently has a touch of pineapple flavor to the fruit), gourmet Oriental pears and other good varieties like Hood, Spaulding and the low-chill UF cultivar Flordahome.

On my property, I’ve planted a Hood, a Kieffer and a Flordahome. I’m about to add an Asian and a Pineapple this week.

When you plant pear (or any other) trees, make sure you keep the
grass back from around the trunks to a distance of 4-5′. Grass will
consume your tree’s resources and choke it… don’t let it do that. A
ring of mulch is always a good idea.

Pears take a few years to get big enough to bear well, so plant them as soon as you can. The wait is worth it. We used to harvest hundreds of pounds off our two trees in Tennessee. That made for a lot of delicious pear butter… salsa… slices in syrup… dried fruit and Perry (pear wine).

Finally… pear trees are also beautiful beyond their functionality. I’ve come to love their interesting shape, the rough bark, the wild branches and the lovely blooms in spring.

Though they’re an easy survival tree for Florida, they don’t make my top three (which are mulberries, loquats and persimmons) but they’re a very close four at the moment. Plant a few for extra-good pollination and redundancy… and you’ll be enjoying fruit before you know it.

Growing pears in Florida may not be as glamorous as growing oranges… but they’re well worth it.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

4 Spuds!

Name: Pear
Latin Name: Pyrus (spp.)
Type: Tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Grafting, seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Cooking varieties, cooked. Fresh, out of hand.
Storability: Depends on cultivar; generally good
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

David-the-good-books-revised

Florida native pawpaws: an interview with Terri Pietroburgo, Pt. II

AsiminaObovata-PygmaeaCrossFlowerweb

The following is the continuation of yesterday’s interview with Terri Pietroburgo on Florida native pawpaw trees:

DAVID: If I were to buy and plant a PawPaw in my yard, would it need a second one for pollination?
florida native pawpaw flower

Asimina obovota/pygmaea cross

TERRI: They are not self-pollinating so you need two plants to have fruit. It is not that they have only male or female flowers – God made them perfect in that they have both male and female parts of the flower. But, just like middle school, the female part has matured and moved on before the male part has matured. They do cross pollinate easily between species, resulting in some really pretty flowers.

florida native pawpaws

Asimina parviflora bloom

DAVID: Do we need to hang rotting chicken necks around the trees to get fruit? My wife really doesn’t like that idea!

TERRI: Pawpaws are pollinated by beetles and flies not bees. Some growers up north hang dead chickens or roadkill in their groves to
attract the pollinators. This is not at all necessary for the homeowner to do. I get plenty of fruit off the ones in my yard and not a dead chicken in sight. If you plant it the pollinators will come.

A beetle pollinating a pawpaw flower

DAVID: Excellent. There’s one less objection… but aren’t PawPaws a pain in the neck to grow? Why should we bother?

TERRI: Pawpaws are easy to grow if you are given good growing instructions and follow them – and don’t treat them like your other
plants. There are so many reasons to plant a pawpaw in your yard. They are the only plant the caterpillars of the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly will eat. They have very beautiful flowers and are very hardy
after they are established. The edible fruit feeds us and the wildlife. They are drought tolerant, cold tolerant and very long lived.
florida native pawpaw

Asimina obovata growing in the shade

DAVID: That makes sense. Now, being a total plant nerd, I really want to grow some. Where should I plant them and what do I need to do to
keep them alive?

TERRI: Seven of our Florida pawpaw species will take shade to full sun after the first year they are planted out. They must be shaded for the first year as they are very sensitive to the sun until they are established. After that they bloom better in full sun but will bloom and produce fruit in the shade as well. It is important not to let the root system dry out completely until established but they also don’t like wet feet either. I use a tomato cage with some shade cloth on it for the first year. These species like well drained and not very fertile soils… like most of our Florida soils.

Asimina obovata (Bigflower Pawpaw) fruit

The eighth species, which is the Asimina parviflora or “Smallflower Pawpaw,” is an tall understory shrub to small tree. It likes the shade and its growth habit is effected by how heavy the shade it gets. In dappled shade it will be a shrub and in heavy shade  it’s more of a small tree. It fruits fine in the shade. It also likes moist, fertile but well-drained soil.

DAVID: From what I’ve seen, you seem to be pretty much the only
person in the state raising our native PawPaws for sale. Where can we find your price list and ordering info if we want to pick up a native Florida pawpaw or three?
TERRI: I do plant shows across the state. My plants are $15 for all
species. I do ship and sell retail and wholesale.

Terri Pietroburgo

Pietro’s Pawpaws

33930 Washington Ave

Leesburg, Fl 34788

352-504-6494

352-742-1098

Email: 1bushwoman (at) embarqmail (dot) com

DAVID: Very cool. Thanks a bunch for answering my questions. See you at the Master Gardener Spring Sale!

Asimina angustifolia (the Slimleaf Pawpaw) in the wild

David-the-good-books-revised

Florida native pawpaws: an interview with Terri Pietroburgo, Pt. I

AsiminaReticulataweb

I’ve always been fascinated by rare and exotic fruit trees. For years I wanted to see a Florida native pawpaw tree in the wild but never had any luck – until I went on a foraging trip with Green Deane. He found a teeny little tree by the side of a path and announced “Ah, a pawpaw.”

florida native pawpawI couldn’t believe it. That little shrub – a pawpaw? Deane assured me it was – and told me that the pawpaws in Florida were often tiny things; not the decent-sized trees we’ve heard about up north.

I started to wonder: how many times had I passed one and been unable to identify a Florida pawpaw because it didn’t fit my expectations? I had the same problem with persimmons. Though I’d walked past a tree in my neighborhood dozens of times, I didn’t see it until my wife pointed it out one day. “Look at that – what kind of fruits are those?” Persimmons! I’d always missed it because the tree was small and tucked into the woods.

Since I’m volunteering for the upcoming Master Gardener Spring Sale here in Marion County, I checked out the list of vendors and saw there was a booth space rented by “Pietro’s PawPaws.” I couldn’t take it. I had to call and find out who this person was and what they were growing. The phone was answered by Terri Pietroburgo, the booth’s renter and the owner of (so far as I know), Florida’s only native PawPaw nursery. After talking to her for a few minutes, I realized she was a gal after my own plant nerdy heart… and I asked if she’d agree to an e-mail interview. She did – and not only that, she provided me with some of her incredible photos of pawpaw tree species from across the state.

Without further ado, I present part one of my interview.

*    *    *

DAVID: Terri – how did you get into growing PawPaws of all things?

What’s your story?

Asimina obovota (the Bigflower Pawpaw)

TERRI: Pawpaws are Florida natives and the host plant for the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly. They have beautiful white or purple flowers and edible fruit. I searched for five years for pawpaw plants for our butterfly garden. In 2005 I drove two hours to a nursery and paid $20 each for three pawpaws the size of tooth picks and only one lived because they hadn’t been grown correctly. Then in 2007 we were
driving home from church and I saw a Bigflower Pawpaw blooming on the side of the road. Went home, got my truck, wandered into the woods and found fifty blooming obovata pawpaw. I figured there must be people like me who had looked a long time to find them. So I took it as a sign from God because we found them on the way home from church – and I started a pawpaw nursery.

I have learned a lot about pawpaws as I continue to try and add a new species to my nursery every year. Pawpaws are very hardy plants if they are grown correctly at the start. So I take much care in the way I grow them and the instructions I give out so you can enjoy a great plant and butterflies for a long time.

Asimina incana (the Woolly Pawpaw) fruit

DAVID: I always thought PawPaws were a Northern fruit tree – and even when I lived up there I never had any luck finding them in the wild. If they’re living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?

TERRI: The pawpaw most people have heard of is the Asimina triloba or common pawpaw which is a northern pawpaw. It grows from the Florida line up into Canada. It is a tree that can reach thirty feet or more and is usually found as a understory tree. It has the largest fruit native to North America – but you would be lucky to find one with ripe fruit on it, even if you knew where to look. Pawpaw fruit go from raw to ripe to rotten in about three to five days so the animals usually beat you to
them.
DAVID: That could explain my lack of luck. So… if pawpaws are
living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?

 

TERRI: We have eight species of pawpaws native to Florida. One species is found as an understory tall shrub to small tree in mesic (ed. note: “mesic” means an area of moderate moisture) woodlands, floodplains and coastal dunes. The other seven species range from small shrubs to a small trees and live in flatwoods, scrubs, dunes, pineland and dry woodlands all over the state. They have either white or purple/maroon flowers and all produce an edible fruit.

Asimina parviflora (Smallflower Pawpaw) fruit

DAVID: Pop quiz: what are the native varieties and their

Latin names?
TERRI: Asimina Obovata (Bigflower Pawpaw), Asimina Parviflora
(Smallflower Pawpaw), Asimina Pygmaea  (Dwarf Pawpaw), Asimina Incana (Wooly Pawpaw), Asimina Angustifolia  (Slimleaf Pawpaw),
Asimina Reticulata (Netted Pawpaw), Asimina Tetramera  (Four Petaled Pawpaw), Asimina Triloba (Common Pawpaw).
DAVID: So… if I found a PawPaw growing in the wild, say on a
site that was being cleared, could I transplant it?
a florida native pawpaw with a huge tap root

Terri rescuing native pawpaws.

TERRI: Your chances of transplanting a pawpaw are not very
good. It is probably more work than most people want to do for one plant. They have a very long taproot as seen in the picture of the dwarf pawpaw I dug up (left). It only had a foot of growth above the ground and a six foot taproot. They are not happy when their roots are disturbed.

DAVID: What do the native PawPaws taste like?

TERRI: They are a member of the custard apple family so the inside is soft just like custard. The Florida pawpaws don’t taste as good as the northern triloba because it has been cultivated to taste certain ways. The Florida pawpaws have a tropical taste that isn’t the same as anything I have eaten. I have tasted six of our eight species and liked them all. Like anything else you pick in the wild sometimes you get one that’s not that good but overall I have liked the taste. My grandson eats them as fast as I can get the seeds out!

(Continue to Part 2)

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Loquats

AllenAndLoquatsweb
Loquats – also known as Japanese plums – are one of the easiest fruit trees you can grow, hands down.
growing loquats easy

Don’t mess with loquats or Allen’ll kick yer patootie.

In my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, I rank loquats as “totally stupid easy” to grow.

But let me back up and tell you a story. I took a botanical tour a few weeks ago with my friend Allen.

He’s a wealth of information on everything from Native American culture to welding to beekeeping to “what’s wrong with my car.” Every once in a while we’ll jump in the car and he’ll take me to see bees, friends’ greenhouses, interesting houses he’s discovered or outstanding tree specimens. This trip, we stopped to see an amazing mounded loquat tree, allowed to run all the way to the ground for ease of harvesting. Many times landscapers limb up loquats, training them to lofty (and hard-to-harvest) heights, but in this case, foresight was shown on behalf of its fruiting potential – which is obviously incredible. When we visited, the tree was in full bloom. My guess would be that the yield on this tree could easily reach 150-250 lbs a year, frosts permitting.

Growing loquats is easy – look at all these blooms!

Though it’s not native to Florida, the loquat grows excellently throughout the state, often naturalizing itself in the midst of oak forests and by the roadsides. Allen related that as a kid, he planted half the loquat trees in Ocala, either directly or indirectly.

(FYI: the “spitting pits off a bike” propagation method definitely works well… try it. Come on, do it.)

The fruit is fuzzy, sweet-tart and contains a couple of large smooth pits inside. Because it has a short season and soft fruit, the loquat is almost never seen for sale except in cans at the Oriental market. Which makes sense, because the Orient is the original home of the loquat.

“Loquats and Mountain Bird,” Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)

As for growing these babies, you can find them all over the place. From seed it’ll take a while for you to get a fruiting tree, but many landscape stores sell larger trees at affordable prices. Interestingly, they’re not usually sold as fruit trees. Instead, they’re used primarily as easy-care landscape specimens. Typical American thinking. Unfortunately, this also means that the large-fruited cultivars from Japan and China are almost impossible to find. The tree simply isn’t well-enough known as a fruit tree for the market to support much experimentation. Fear not, however, for even the landscape specimens make an abundance of tasty fruit. The trees are tough, basically disease-free (watch out for fire blight) and tolerate some shade. And apparently, monkeys like them.

“Monkey Holding a Potted Loquat”

One caveat: in the northern half of Florida, the loquat’s propensity to early blooming means you’ll lose some year’s crops to freezes. The tree itself is very cold-hardy, surviving all the way into zone 7… but the blooms are not.

Another note: when you do end up with fruit, check it regularly for ripeness. When they start to get a little soft, harvest like mad. You seriously only get a few days to pick the tree before they start falling, rotting and bruising. My recommendation is to dry and freeze as many as possible (once pitted, of course) or juice and ferment them as fast as you can. Time is of the essence.

Go out and get a few easy-to-grow loquat trees of your own – they’re certainly worth having. If you want a low-care fruit tree, this is it.

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

3 1/2 Spuds

Name: Loquat tree, Japanese plum
Latin Name: Eriobotrya japonica
Type: Tree or large shrub
Size: 10-40′
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Potentially
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, jellied.
Storability: Poor fresh. Preserve by drying, canning, fermenting into wine
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: High

David-the-good-books-revised