Fruit for Free
Here in Florida we are lucky to have so many choices available when adding fruit to our landscape. We can go the classic route with all the varieties of citrus. We can go tropical with bananas, mangoes, paw-paws, and papaya. Stone fruits are even an option if we use heat tolerant varieties. All of these are worth incorporating in to your food garden but this article is going to highlight the ones that need absolutely no help from you. Because sometimes you want to weed, prune, feed, and water. And sometimes you just want to walk outside and get food. Here are five fruits that can do that for you:
1. Cactus Fruit
Cactus fruit are rich, deep, and juicy. High in antioxidants, vitamin c, and just plain gorgeous to look at. The fruits themselves are little hard to eat out of hand due to all the seeds, but since the seeds themselves are also edible and full of fats and protein, you can excuse them. The juice is delicious on its own or made into jam. And as a bonus, the cactus pads taste great steamed, stir fried, or grilled. Not a bad deal for a plant you can completely ignore until you need something from it.
Mulberries should be against the law. They give out so much food for free its like stealing. Just plant your mulberry trees and forget them. They will take care of themselves until mulberry season and then completely load themselves with fruit. There will be thousands of large blackberry like fruits on every tree and you can literally pick them by the bucket loads. Go ahead, pick every day. The tree will just load itself up again. Bonus, as the birds and squirrels eat the drops, they deposit mulberry seeds everywhere giving you more free trees you can get fruit from. Granted the harvest window is short, a few weeks at best, but the fruit freezes well and works great in jams, so I’m sure you will work it out.
Maypop, also known as purple passion flower, is a weed that borders on being invasive. It climbs up trees and fences making almost a blanket of greenery. Its trademark flowers are extraordinary, making it useful as an ornamental plant as well, especially for unsightly parts of your yard you’d like to cover over. It produces tons of little yellow fruits full of gelatinous pulp and edible seeds. You can basically just squirt the whole thing in your mouth. In addition to the yummy fruits, almost all parts of the plant have a medicinal use. Super bonus, it attracts and feeds butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. (Fun fact for those of us who live locally: the native Seminole word for this plant is Ocoee)
4. Sherbet Berry
The sherbet berry is a medium sized shrub from India. Super tolerant to bad and sandy soils. Also heat and drought tolerant. They produce a small and tasty fruit very similar to a blueberry. If you have ever tried to grow organic blueberries in Florida, you will soon see why the sherbet berry is the better choice. I actually forgot I planted one, came out a year later, and there it was, covered in fruit. Like boom. I’m sure if I had watered it, fertilized it and pruned it, it probably would have produced more, but the point is I didn’t.
5. Beauty Berry
Last but not least, the lowly beauty berry. The American Beauty Berry is native to much of the southeast and can be found in forests and empty lots almost everywhere. A tropical evergreen, it sometimes blends unnoticed into the brush until it fruits. The dark purple, almost metallic looking berries are unmistakable and almost look as if they should be toxic, but they aren’t. The plant is most prolific during the fall and winter, producing a berry when not much else is. Granted they aren’t the juiciest or the tastiest, but they’re there for you even though you didn’t have to be there for them. Very useful as a “mix-in” with other fruits when making jam, wine, or smoothies. Bonus, the leaves can be used both as a mosquito repellent and for the treatment of mosquito bites. Additional bonus, these fruits are food for migrating birds at a time of year when they really need it. So even if you don’t want some for yourself, plant a few for them.
And that’s it, five completely maintenance free sources of fruit you can add to your landscape today.