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Fascinating Fruit

Fruit of Monstera deliciosa looks like a green cob of corn without the shucks and each little seed is tasty treat.

I never meant to grow rare fruit. When I first came to Florida I looked forward to growing well known fruit like citrus and bananas. I really wanted to grow kiwis, but soon found they are very difficult to grow here, though some few people do manage.

That first fall I just happened to read about a sale sponsored by the RFCI (Rare Fruit Council International), went to it alone and spent a fortune. I never meant to join. But months later, when I read the membership folder they had handed out to see again the list of fruits we can grow here, I decided to join after all. That was in 1988. For years I never missed a meeting.

At first it seemed that they were talking a foreign language, but little by little I learned. Every meeting includes a raffle table with plants that members donate. I never play the lottery but always bought those raffle tickets. It was the source of many of the plants in my yard.

It was at the meetings and sales that I learned about pommelos and Poncan and Page oranges. While many of the members are new at the quest, others are extremely learned and willing to share their knowledge. The group now meets the second Sunday of every month at 2 pm at the Garden Center, 2629 Bay Shore Drive, and visitors are always welcome, but call first because sometimes the meetings are replaced by the sales at USF or elsewhere.

Ed Musgrave of Brandon still never misses a meeting and now qualifies as a fruit-growing guru. His list of 120 edible plants still seems largely a foreign language, but he and his family enjoy fruits I still had never heard of until now.

Many of his tall trees are also supports for the Monstera deliciosa vine, also called the Swiss Cheese Plant with its handsome large perforated leaves. It is a fine landscape plant that will take considerable shade. It is frost sensitive, but the shade often saves it from freezing. The flowers look much like a peace lily and cones of seeds like green ears of corn. I've only tasted these once; they were sweet and delicious.

The avocado tree near the front door is hanging with many fruits that will get larger and ripen soon.

He has a Panama or Jamaica cherry that is now a small tree but already bears its half inch berries all year long. In south Florida the tree could grow to 30 feet. It may never get that tall here. It will thrive with little care, though Musgrave gives all his trees plenty of mulch and water and feeds them as needed. Like most fruit, this prefers sun, but his is in some shade and fruiting nicely. This one is usually started from seed, some of which came home in my pocket. RFCI members tend to taste the fruit and save the seed. While the fruit is very small, it can be eaten out of hand and quantities can be shaken from the tree onto sheets.

Musgrave gave me a sample fruit of the Ambarella, also called Otaheitte Apple or June plum. His evergreen tree is still small, very attractive, and fruiting nicely. It could grow to 40 ft but frosts and pruning will probably keep is smaller here. He warned me about the seed which is "sharp as a fish hook". I'm waiting for it to ripen and the skin to turn from green to yellow to orange before I taste.

In the meantime, I am determined to taste the prickly pear cactus. His is a very interesting and non threatening one called Nopal Cactus with few prickles. He has not eaten the leaves but his son cooked some and found them delicious, tasting much like green beans. You'll sometimes see these leaves for sale at produce markets and you could make a start from one of them and cook another.

After an hour and a half, Ed Musgrave had only begun to show me his collection of fruit. All of it is not rare. Wild grapes grapes can also be used for jelly or juice, though they take some time to gather and prepare.

We'll not wait nine years to visit this grower again.