Florida star fruit, or carambola, is in season now. When sliced, the fruit forms a perfect star. This subtropical fruit is produced commercially in South Florida, and grown as a backyard fruit in Central Florida. You may find star fruit in groceries, farmers’ markets, or ask around your neighborhood! This delicious fruit is a good source of antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C.
Selecting and eating star fruit
Carambola should be picked when fruit turns yellow, with only the tips of the ridges remaining green. Sweetness doesn’t increase after harvest, so eat soon after buying or picking. Flavor is best when eaten fresh, and fruits can be eaten whole, including the skin and seeds. Star fruit can be eaten fresh in smoothies, salads, or tacos, or sliced in beverages. They can also be dehydrated, pickled, preserved, frozen with sugar, or used in jelly and wine. Fruit may be stored in plastic bags about two weeks in the refrigerator, but the soft fruits don’t hold up to rough handling. Be aware that star fruit contains oxalates and caramboxin which can be harmful to people with kidney disease.
Growing star fruit
Why go searching for star fruit when you could be picking them from your own yard? The trees are beautiful, fast-growing, and look great in home landscapes.
Star fruit varieties are either sweet or tart. Try varieties like Fwang Tung or Kary, which are sweet and flavorful and are also self-pollinating (do not require other trees to produce fruit). Buy grafted trees from a registered plant nursery.
Select a space large enough for your tree, which may grow to 20ft. x 20ft., but can be pruned yearly to keep it smaller. Carambola trees will do best in a sunny, well-drained location with some wind protection. Test your soil (pH should be 4.5-6.5) and locate your tree source now. Plant your tree in March, and you could have fruit by next winter.
All fruit trees need regular water, by irrigation or rain. Apply a complete fruit tree fertilizer with micronutrients every other month. Specific pruning practices can promote fruiting at certain times. Keep lawn equipment away from trees trunks. Star fruit trees are technically evergreen, but may lose their leaves in the winter here. Young trees will need to be protected if temperatures are under 32°F, but mature trees will survive temperatures as low as 25°F.
Contact your County’s UF IFAS Extension for information on plant sources, edible landscaping, and fruit tree care.