A trip to so-called third world countries of the tropics can be very enlightening in some unexpected ways. Take the people and their health condition for example. It seems that city people are much like folks living in any big city. The country residents on the other hand are much different. Poverty by our standards may be common, but it is surprising how healthy those who survive childhood diseases seem to be. Lots of physical activity is certainly part of it, but diet is also a key. Besides the everyday menu of starches and very little meat, country folks eat lots of fruit instead of candy, pies and other sweets.
Many of these fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and energy. So instead of popping vitamin pills every day, consider fruit. Those vitamin pills on your shelf, besides being pretty expensive items, are not nearly as palatable and eye-appealing as fresh fruit — especially when it is grown in your own backyard. You can purchase books on fruits of Hawaii from local garden centers and bookstores that give descriptions, nutritive value and uses of most of these fruits. Let’s just look at those introduced from South America.
Take Vitamin A for instance. One papaya is supposed to contain 4,000 IUs (International Units) while 5,000 IUs per day are listed as adequate. Passion fruit and relatives such as banana poka, poha, avocados and surinam cherry are other South American fruits high in Vitamin A.
Some fruits famous for their contribution of Vitamin C are guava, papaya, soursop, poha, cactus fruit and passion fruit.
One of the fruits highest in Vitamin C is the acerola or Barbados cherry. The fruit is not a cherry but a member of the Malpighia family. The family is a fairly familiar ornamental shrub in many gardens and bears the highest known Vitamin C content fruit. As a comparison, oranges average 49 milligrams of vitamin per 100 grams of edible fruit (100 grams is about 3 1/2 ounces), while the Barbados cherry, picked as it is turning green to red, averages over 4,000 units per 100 grams!
Don’t forget the pineapple. Even though we see it commonly in the stores, it is fun to grow your own. The pineapple will produce several crops a year if you have a large number of plants; varieties like Red Spanish, Smooth Cayenne, Queen and Abakka are found in our gardens. When grown in the home garden, it tends to be much sweeter than the commercial fruit found at the supermarket.
The many types of citrus are valuable additions to any garden. These include oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, tangerines, kumquats, calamondins and interspecies hybrids and varieties. Be sure you buy virus-free plants. These are available at most local nurseries.
In addition, there are dozens of lesser known fruits, like the mountain apple relatives, that make outstanding ornamental shrubs and trees as well as fruit producers. The mountain apple is native to India and Malaya, even though we think of it as Hawaiian. Jaboticaba, pitanga and Brazilian plum are also very attractive, with delicious fruits. The common Surinam cherry, also in this family, has fruit that varies from tasty to terrible, depending on seedlings.
Another favorite in its homeland is the sapodilla, chicle or chewing gum tree from Central America. It is an attractive shade tree that grows to about 30 feet. The dark brown fruit is about the size of an orange and tastes like a combination of brown sugar and butter. It will tolerate wet or dry conditions and will grow from sea level to 2,000 feet.
Before you plant, remember, the adaptability of a fruit tree to moisture, temperature and wind conditions will be important factors determining selection. For example, West Indian avocado would have a chance of success in warmer, lower areas, but would be a definite gamble in high, wet inland locations. By the same token, Mexican strains are desirable in the higher, cooler areas. Wherever you grow avocado trees, they must have good drainage. Wet feet will kill the roots and, ultimately, the tree.
In addition to adaptability to temperature conditions, there are other factors to consider in selecting fruit trees.
Fruits for home use should be selected on the basis of eating quality, rather than for their market appearance or shipping endurance. Pollination requirements must not be overlooked in selecting fruits. Solo papaya need no pollinators, but avocado varieties should be chosen with regard to assuring proper pollination.
Pest-resistance as a factor in selecting fruit trees is more important to the homeowner than to the commercial grower, because the commercial grower has equipment for pest control while the homeowner may not. The less pesticides required, the better.
Selection of fruits for the home grounds should assure a long season of available fruit by use of a series of varieties of early, mid-season and late production within the range for the species.
There are hundreds of fruits that can be grown in Hawaiian gardens. If you need help on selecting fruit trees, contact your local nursery or garden store for assistance.
This information is supplied by the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.