Tropical Fruit Information
++ Indicates that this is a variety or a species that is found in our arboretum, but not often stocked in our nursery. Inquire about availability. If we do not have it in stock, we can put you on our "waitlist" and call you when we have it available.
Also known as West Indian Arrowroot, the tubers can be eaten raw, roasted, or grated into meal. The highly digestible starch is used in pastries and to thicken gravies, soups and sauces without adding a mealy taste. The roots should be dug before the plant dies back in the fall. The growing tips of the roots are tender, but with age the root becomes very fibrous. The fibrous root can be sliced into thin pieces to make the fibers short and easy to eat. It is related to the canna plant and grows about 2-3 ft. tall.
Trichostigma octandrumBasket vine grows as a large, perennial, sprawling vine-like bush. It is called a vine because of the pliable stems that are used in making baskets. The young leaves, eaten after cooking, are an outstanding green vegetable. They are reported to be extremely nutritious. Discard the cooking water. Some users boil the leaves a second time in fresh water to remove any traces of bitterness. It has been killed to the ground in a freeze at ECHO.
Belembe is one of our favorite leafy vegetables. Dr. Franklin Martin refers to it as the "Queen of Spinach." It looks similar to a small elephant ear plant, but produces only a small corm from which it is propagated. The leaves and stems are eaten. The leaves can be boiled or added to soups; the stems are cut into about half-inch long pieces, then boiled. You can serve them separately on the same plate as two different vegetables. A little vinegar added after cooking improves the flavor. It is important to thoroughly cook the stems of this plant since they contain calcium oxalate crystals, which sting the mouth and throat. (The reason we cut larger stems to only ½ inch lengths is to help boiling water dissolve the crystals. Younger stems can be cut into longer pieces). However, if overcooked, they resemble a tasteless rhubarb sauce. The cooking water should be drained. The texture of the stems is a little like tender asparagus and the flavor of the leaves and stems is very mild. The older leaves and stems are nearly as good as young ones. Belembe must be planted in a rich, damp, organic soil to grow well. It does well in flooded or poorly drained areas where other crops cannot grow. It can reach four feet under the best conditions and at ECHO is around 1-2 ft. tall.
Also known as 'Yuca' and 'Manioc', this important root crop is grown as a staple food in many parts of the world. ECHO sells both a good production variety and a variegated, ornamental variety (which can be used like regular cassava). Cassava is tolerant of drought and poor soil, but needs good drainage. It is a perennial shrub that can be harvested for its roots after about 8 months to one year. Our cultivated varieties grow to about 8 ft. and tend to sprawl. The ornamental variety grows to about 6 ft. and is more compact. The young, fully expanded leaves can be eaten cooked and contain 11-39% protein on a dry weight basis. Both the leaves and roots contain cyanide so the leaves should be cooked fifteen minutes and the water drained. This reduces cyanide to a very low level. The roots should also be thoroughly cooked and eaten in moderation. The cultivated variety ECHO sells has red petioles and is said to be high-yielding. This cultivar is reported to be of high quality with large, sweet, tender roots that can be peeled and frozen for long-term storage. Cassava is frost sensitive but can resprout from the underground part of the stem if a freeze kills it to the ground.
Fact sheet available. Chaya is sometimes called the "Spinach Tree". Its large leaves are boiled and eaten, especially in Mexico. It is also used to wrap tamales. The plant becomes a shrub about the height of a person and is quite attractive. Occasional pruning will make a more compact, bushy plant. THE LEAVES MUST BE COOKED FIVE MINUTES IN BOILING WATER because they contain a small amount of cyanide. Do not use raw. Most varieties of chaya have small stinging hairs that are harmless after cooking, but the variety ECHO sells is free of these hairs. A USDA study in Puerto Rico reported that one can get higher yields of greens with chaya than any other vegetable they have studied. It is unique in that it is exceptionally resistant to the hot humid weather of a Florida summer and to extreme dry weather. Insects have not bothered chaya at ECHO. It sometimes blows over in a storm when planted in Florida sand. This often makes for a prettier plant, as the main stem sends up additional stems and a more bushy plant results. A freeze produces the same results and frost kills the leaves.
Sold in the produce sections of Florida supermarkets, Chayote is a prolific vine producing many firm, light green, pear-shaped fruits. Excellent as a cooked vegetable, or sometimes eaten raw, chayote is a good addition to stir fries and soups. The vine fruits heavily during the fall and winter, but can produce other times of the year. It is frost sensitive and does not tolerate flooding or even a high water table. Chayote requires some type of trellis to support the vigorous vine and weight of the fruit.
Also known as 'False Roselle', this species has striking red leaves similar to a Japanese maple. It can be planted in the spring and kept pruned for an attractive annual shrub and may be grown as a temporary hedge. Cranberry hibiscus is nematode and insect resistant and does well in sandy soil. The young tender red leaves have a tart flavor and are an attractive addition to salads, slaws, or stir fries. In the fall it has pink blossoms. About thirty blossoms can be picked at dusk after they have folded, and blended with lime juice and sugar to make a beautiful and tasty drink. The petals add a bright red color rather than any special flavor.
Xanthosoma spp., X. sagittifolium
Known also as 'Tannier' and 'Yautia', this starchy root crop of the lowland American Tropics looks like what many of us call "elephant ears" and is from the same family. This plant produces a central corm, surrounded by smaller potato sized cormels. These cormels, like potatoes, are high in carbohydrates, contain 2‑3% protein, and moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. These can be served boiled or roasted. Young, unfurled leaves of some varieties are also eaten as boiled vegetables or served in soups and stews. They should be thoroughly cooked. Cocoyam take up to a year or more before yielding a significant crop of cormels. They are often grown in shade, which helps protect them from the cold as the leaves are killed by frost.
This perennial vegetable is native to Tropical Asia. Similar to taro and dasheen, but smaller. The eddo produces an abundance of underground side corms that are boiled or baked.
Edible Hibiscus grows to about six feet tall. Only during January does it produce yellow hibiscus-type flowers. The large, attractive leaves can be used in salads, stir-fries, soups or other dishes. A single leaf can cover a slice of bread in a sandwich and is used like lettuce. The leaves are tender when raw but turn slimy if overcooked. They are highly nutritous. Add compost to the soil before planting to reduce nematode damage. The plant is frost sensitive.
see Cranberry Hibiscues
Alpinia galanga, syns. Languas galanga, Kaempferia galanga
The leaves of this ginger relative have an amazingly pleasant smell. The aroma can be enjoyed simply by pinching off a piece of the leaf. Makes a nice 4-foot-high hedge. We are told it is an ingredient of a soup at the Thai restaurant in Cape Coral, and have also heard it used in rice dishes and to wrap fish. It makes an ornamental hedge, growing about three feet tall producing striking, white flowers, and is currently growing outside ECHO's bookstore. If you learn how to cook with it, let us know! We sometimes have Lesser Galangal (Kaempferia galanga) available.
Garlic Chives make a great grass-like border, thriving through all seasons here in Florida. And they make a great addition to an herb garden. They do best in moist soils and grow well in sun or partial shade. The leaves are used like green onions or chives to add flavor to salads and soups. They also make a delicious herb butter and are popular in Oriental cooking. They should live for years, with clumps growing larger each year. Garlic Chives do not form a bulb and rarely bloom in southwest Florida.
ECHO Fact sheet available. Katuk, a delicious hot weather green vegetable, is one of the staple vegetables in Borneo. It has become one of the favorite salad greens of the staff at ECHO, and is used either cooked or raw for its nutritious leaves and shoots. The unique flavor of these leaves is most similar to peanuts. It grows very well in Florida. Katuk is disease and pest resistant, tolerates most soils, and grows in sun or shade. For the best tender shoots and leaves, grow Katuk in half shade and fertilize frequently. This shrub should be kept pruned at 3 to 6 feet since it tends to grow straight up until it falls over. It grows very slowly during cool weather, and can be killed back by a frost or freeze but grows back from the ground and may re-grow bushier than before.
Lemongrass makes a fragrant and attractive edible border or specimen plant. The blades, when crushed, or rubbed smell like lemon. The plant grows to about three feet tall and divides from the base of the plant, rapidly forming a large clump. The leaves can be dried or used fresh to make lemon grass tea. Only consume the tea in moderation. Lemongrass will be killed to the ground by a hard freeze, but will probably come back. After a couple of years clumps become less attractive and should be divided and reset.
Moringa oleifera syn. M. pterygosperma
Technical Sheet and Recipes available. Moringa has been one of the most requested seeds in ECHO's seedbank. This is due to its many edible parts and its ability to survive in arid parts of the world. It is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree. The large frilly leaves can be broken off easily at the stem and carried inside. The tiny leaflets can then be quickly pulled off between the fingers. Tender growing tips can be cooked stem and all. At ECHO, leaves are boiled as any green or added to soups or rice. In the southern portions of the United States the tree will probably survive a hard freeze but may be killed to the ground. Even where no freeze damage occurs some people cut it back to about 4 feet each year to force the leaves to be closer to the ground for ease of harvesting. If not forced to branch by pruning, the tree becomes tall, spindly and not very attractive. We do not recommend it as a prominent shade tree
Moringa might have potential as an annual vegetable in the North (trees started in the greenhouse grew to 8 feet in Wisconsin). Aside from eating the leaves, very young pods can be cooked and eaten like asparagus. Pod production is variable and seems to be increased by stress. Some trees bloom at less than a year old and others take longer. Blossoms are edible and taste similar to a radish. When trees are about 3‑4 feet tall they can be pulled out of the ground and the roots grated and used like horseradish. The root bark is toxic and should be peeled off before grating. Only eat the roots in moderation. Crushed raw leaves may irritate the skin and if eaten are purgative. Under good conditions the tree can easily reach 15 feet the first year. The wood is very soft.
This is another species of moringa and is used the same way as the regular moringa. The leaves are larger and easier to prepare for cooking. It seems to be more drought tolerant, but slightly less cold tolerant. It has not yet produced seed at ECHO, and is very rare, with seeds only available from N.E. Africa and Haiti.
Okinawa spinach forms a dense, non-vining, edible ground cover that grows well in full sun or partial shade. Grown commercially in China, the plant is a vigorous, perennial vegetable that is adaptable to a variety of tropical climates and requires little if any additional input. Okinawa spinach has attractive pointed leaves that are green on the top side and purple underneath. Young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked; at ECHO we use them as a colorful and nutritious addition to our salads.
Also called 'Florida Cranberry' and 'Jamaican Sorrel', this drought tolerant woody shrub may grow to 10 ft. high. An attractive annual that produces several hibiscus-type flowers that are pale yellow with a deep wine center. Roselle forms flowers and then seedpods when the days become short, usually during September and October. The edible calyxes, which grow around the seedpod in winter, are used in Jamaica to make a traditional Christmas drink called sorrel. The fleshy red calyx should be picked when about 1" long and can be used in jellies, sauces, and herb teas and punches. Although the leaves and stems are sour, they are high in Vitamin A and may be eaten raw, cooked or dried. Roselle is nematode and frost sensitive (Also see Cranberry Hibiscus).
Sissoo spinach is another name for this edible, perennial groundcover. This tropical vegetable is vigorous and spreading, but not considered invasive. The leaves are not slimy, and require steaming or boiling when served because of the presence of oxalates. Those that normally cannot stomach green vegetables usually do not mind this mild flavored green. It makes an excellent addition to dishes or can be eaten alone as a green. Samba lettuce thrives in 50% or more shade and benefits from nitrogen. Leaves will yellow in the absence of nitrogen, but will respond within days to a soil amendment.
see Samba Lettuce
We have several varieties. They need very warm growing conditions so should be planted spring and summer and harvested four to five months after planting. Propagation is by cuttings stuck directly in the ground or by small fleshy root pieces. Vine tips are high in protein; they may be cooked and eaten. ECHO sells cuttings when our plants have attained some size each summer, and occasionally potted plants.
'Colorette' is an early, light orange, semi-sweet variety that is high yielding, but not the best quality (may discolor and have a strong flavor).
'Ivoire' is an early, white, non-sweet variety. It can be cooked and used just like a regular potato (regular Irish potatoes do not grow well in the hot climates where sweet potatoes thrive).
'Suabor' is an off-white, sweet and smooth variety, which is early producing and can be harvested at 10-12 weeks.
'Topaz' is an orange, sweet variety released in 1988 from Texas. It has some drought resistance and very compact growth habit.
'Toquecita' is a white variety, which gets its name from its "little touch" of sweetness. This vigorous cultivar consistently out-yields all other varieties at ECHO.
'Viola' has purple skin with white flesh. Viola is mildly sweet with excellent flavor. The compact growth habit allows for easier management.
see Arrowroot or Cassava
This popular ingredient of Chinese cooking can be easily grown in an inexpensive plastic wading pool from K-Mart. The best planting time in south Florida is March through June. Place 4-6 plants on the bottom, stuff pine needles tightly around them and periodically add some fertilizer. Keep flooded with water. When the tops die down in November, you should find dozens of "chestnuts" on the bottom. Corms can be stored in moist mud or refrigerated at 50 to 55º F. They should not be allowed to dry out.
The tropical yam is often confused with sweet potato, which is sometimes called 'yam' in the United States. Those who know the tropical yam, however, will not mistake it with sweet potato. Yam is a tuber crop that is well known throughout the humid tropics: in Tropical America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. The yam is an important carbohydrate food that is relatively easy to grow. Yams have a very specific life cycle. Unlike the sweet potato, which can be planted by vine cuttings almost year-round, the yam is planted once-a-year, when the tuber begins sprouting. At ECHO, this usually begins in February and March. As the tuber breaks dormancy, the energy is transferred from the tuber into stem and leaf growth. This vegetative stage, lasting 6 to 8 months, occurs during the warm and humid summer months. A new root system and tuber develops with most of the tuber development occurring toward the end of the rainy season and into fall. When the vine dies back, the tuber is ready for harvest. At ECHO this usually occurs in late November.
Yams do well in sun or partial shade and prosper with ample rainfall. They require good drainage, and therefore, are often planted on mounds or ridges. They are most commonly staked but can be planted on a trellis or at the base of a sufficiently strong tree. At ECHO it has worked well to stake them with bamboo, not more than 1 inch in diameter as the vines have some difficulty twining up the large bamboo's slick exterior. Growth is lush and very vigorous once the rains begin. Remember the vines die back in the fall. They then get a number of leaf diseases and look sickly; however, this has little affect on the tuber. When harvesting, be careful as the tuber skin is thin and easily damaged. The tubers are often large, several lbs. a piece, but as great as 15 lbs. or more. The yam is used similar to a potato-peeled, then boiled or baked. Peel away any discolored areas. They reportedly make a good French fry and chip. The storage life is short, averaging maybe 2 or 3 months, due to the high moisture content. One recommendation is to harvest them as needed when they are in the dormant stage. If unused, the tuber will begin to sprout in the spring. The yam sprouts first at the top, which is the most desirable planting piece next to a whole 'seed' tuber. Cut off a section about the size of an adult's fist and cure it a few days in the shade before planting. ECHO carries several varieties, available only in the winter months. Yam is a wonderful food and is generally an easy, dependable crop to grow.
see ArrowrootLast Updated ( Wednesday, 01 August 2007 )