Diversify deliciously with Florida’s many fruit trees

David Burd effortlessly -- how does he do that? -- demonstrates how to slice and dice a mango.

Photo by Doug Caldwell/Special to the Daily News

David Burd effortlessly -- how does he do that? -- demonstrates how to slice and dice a mango.

Red sugar apples are a fun desert substitute for Crème brûlée.

Photo by Doug Caldwell/Special to the Daily News

Red sugar apples are a fun desert substitute for Crème brûlée.

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The No. 1 fruit tree people desire when they move to Florida is most likely some kind of citrus. That’s one reason I wanted to live here.

Just imagine going outside in the morning and plucking a few Honey Bells or Ruby Red grapefruit and squeezing a fresh glass of juice for breakfast! Ahhh, yummy!

There are other citrus species to explore as well: from tangelos to lemons, Key limes, rangpur limes, mandarins, calomondins and pummelos and more. But the days of having your own citrus tree are in jeopardy due to the citrus greening disease, AKA, huanglongbing (HLB). This bacterial wilt disease will kill citrus trees seven to eight years after the initial infection.

It is spread by a little sucking insect called a psyllid. HLB is considered to be the most serious disease of citrus trees in the world. HLB was first identified and confirmed in Florida in September 2005. Today, HLB has spread throughout all Florida counties with commercial citrus groves. See: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/PP/PP26300.pdf

However, there is hope for the citrus industry! A strain of citrus saplings that appears to be resistant to both the HLB and canker diseases was planted this spring by Southern Gardens Citrus, one of the largest citrus producers in the state. This strain was produced using biotechnology developed by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Until we see the disease resistance confirmed, you may want to explore some of the many semi-tropical/tropical fruits we can grow in southwest Florida. From Dovyalis abyssinica x hebecarpa (tropical apricot) to Ziziphus (jujube) there are many more than 100 species of fruit to experiment with and see which flavors suit your fancy.

A book (2006 Pineapple Press) by Charles R. Boning, “Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants,” is an excellent text to tease your palate and get your mind going on the many possibilities. I’ll never forget the thrill of the first grumichama (tastes like a Bing cherry) or mouth-watering mangos I tried after moving here from Ohio --- wow. “I never heard of these! What else is there?” I thought.

At the Collier County Extension Service office, over the years, we have maintained a small grove of about 31 various citrus trees. In June 2009 we had to remove 18 of them due to HLB or decline, so we installed alternative fruit trees to diversify and test the potential of these new fruit choices to see what appeals most to the public.

Next Saturday, July 24, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., we will present an opportunity to explore the excitement of these semi-tropical fruit growing possibilities at the extension office. The speakers will be:

■ Prof. Robert Rouse on plums and peaches suitable for south Florida as well as citrus disease updates

■ Local growers and tree experts David and Jenny Burd, mango varieties and culture

■ Jonathan Crane, professor and tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida, on the new avocado and red bay wilt disease and cold tolerant (that seems out of place—“cold tolerant” in south Florida?) selections of various fruit for southwest Florida.

Samples of available fruit will be available, but you may bring a snack if you get really hungry. Come and see: We will have fruit trees available for purchase from Hopkins’ Tropical Fruit Nursery.

You may visit the farm’s website if you have some favorites you’d like them to bring.

Call 353-4244 for class registration. Seating is limited for this hands-on class!!

Find University of Florida fact sheets on many exotic types of fruit here: trec.ifas.ufl.edu/fruitscapes

The new video clips on that website are excellent also.

Do your homework and bring your fruit growing questions to our class.

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Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., is the commercial landscape horticulture extension educator and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. For gardening and plant questions, contact our Master Gardeners at 353-2872 or visit 14700 Immokalee Road 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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