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Pass the jackfruit

 

Illustration of the size of a jackfruit compared to a human hand

Jackfruit are big fruit! Photos by Paul Schumaker

The first jackfruit I ever saw and tasted was in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies. The attractive tree was evergreen and maybe thirty feet tall. The fruit was most amazing – a giant monstrous greenish-yellow asymmetrical blob covered with rough, rubbery skin easily weighing thirty pounds. The jackfruit was cut open and inside this beast of a fruit was an edible, truly exotic tasting, sweet yellowish pulp surrounding numerous large seeds. It was delicious in both texture and flavor! Can this exotic behemoth of a fruit be grown in Charlotte County? 

Originally from India and now grown all over tropical portions of the world,  jackfruit is a favorite in many cultures. With fruit weighing up to sixty pounds, and trees over thirty feet tall, jackfruit is a conversation starter to say the least! But, can it be grown in Charlotte?  It can and is presently being grown here on a small scale and in warmer protected areas.  However, jackfruit is very sensitive to cold. Technically, leaf damage occurs at thirty-two degrees F, and branches can be damaged at thirty-degrees F. Jackfruit trees are reportedly killed at twenty-eight degrees F.  As such, you need a historically warm landscape or a warmer microclimate to dependably grow jackfruit. I know for a fact that they are growing in both Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, but there is a fine line between cool winters and an actual freeze or “test” winter when we could have well-below-normal temperatures. I started a jackfruit from seed and it grew for about two years to about nine-feet tall. A cold snap the third year ended my experiment! However, I am trying again.  

Easily started from fresh seed, jackfruit are fast-growing and can actually start to set fruit in as early as four years. In addition, there are named cultivars selected for superior production and flavor and/or improvements like nematode and pest resistance. Varieties such as ‘Black Gold’,  ‘Golden Nugget’ and ‘Lemon Gold’ may be available from local or regional specialty nurseries. I have seen jackfruit trees for sale on rare occasions at local box store garden centers.   

A jackfruit tree

A full-sized jackfruit tree grows upwards to forty feet tall

Plant jackfruit in full sun in a well-drained site that will accommodate the mature size of the tree.  Jackfruit will not take flooding and can die in as little as three days in standing water. While this tree – when left to its own accord – can get large, judicious selective pruning can be used to keep them under fourteen-feet tall making harvests much more manageable.   

Even if you never grow a jackfruit, see if you can find some fresh product to try. Specialty markets often have jackfruit for sale; it is also available canned and dried. Young fruit are even eaten like a vegetable. Areas south of us including Pine Island may also have jackfruit in greater availability in season. Be careful as jackfruit does exude a great deal of latex sap which can stain clothing.  Besides the edible sweet flesh, there is also a good deal of inedible tissue. However, the seeds are edible and can be boiled or roasted and used like chestnuts. This tropical treat is delicious, so put it on your bucket list! For more information on all types of tropical and subtropical fruits that might be grown in our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/ . Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov. 

Resources: 
Crane, J. H. , Balerdi, C. F. & Maguire, I. ( 2019) Jackfruit Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.  
Morton, J. (1987) Jackfruit. P. 58 -64. In: Fruits of warm climates. Miami, Fl.  
Love, K. & Paull, R. E. (2011) Jackfruit.  The University of Hawaii at Manoa. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. 

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