By Joshua Bowditch
The climate of South Florida is uniquely subtropical, such that tropical fruits can be grown in the coastal areas. Tropical fruits provide dietary variety, they are nutritious, usually significant sources of vitamins, and contain important minerals and natural carbohydrates1. Furthermore, locally-grown crops are fresher and of better quality2. Sustainability objectives for agriculture in southern Florida are minimizing agrochemical inputs, reducing the extent of runoff in the rainy season, and reducing water usage for irrigation in the dry season3. Sustainability aspects can be capitalized on by growing certain crops suitable to specific locations.
In Florida, avocado is grown extensively in the Homestead area of south Dade County, because the land is an elevated coastal ridge underlain with oolitic limestone which is highly porous, providing excellent drainage as required4. There is distinction between the conventional avocado grown in California, which is smaller in size and turn almost black as they ripen, and the varieties grown in Florida, which are larger in size and remain green-skinned through ripening. California-grown avocado are suitable for dry climates, while Florida-grown avocado are better suited to humid climates. Florida avocado are high in dietary fiber (5.3 g / 100 g)5, and very high in potassium (488 mg / 100 g)5. It is also noteworthy that Florida-grown avocado are a good source of folate5, which is important for metabolism and is a factor preventative of heart problems6. Investigation of Florida avocado fruit indicates very small amounts of sugars7. “It is interesting to note that the sugar content of the Florida avocados is low as compared to those grown in drier climates, a fact which is of much interest to the medical profession in that the avocado, with such low sugar content and, at the same time, high food value is an ideal food for diabetics7.”
Mango is commercially grown in south Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, and Lee County (800, 300, and 200 estimated acres, respectively). Mango trees are considered moderately tolerant of waterlogged soil and also highly tolerant of drought8. A sustainable feature of mango trees is that the taproot, if unconstrained, can grow very deep into the ground9 and thereby take up moisture and nutrients from deep soil layers. Mango is a good source of Beta-carotene6, which converts to Vitamin A. There are numerous varieties with a wide range of fruit qualities such as flavor, texture, and sweetness.
In Florida, coconuts are grown on a limited scale for the coconut water10. The coconuts may contain meat depending on development when harvested10. Coconut water is low in sugar (3.7 g per 100 g), a good source of potassium (250 mg per 100 g), and contains some naturally occurring sodium (105 mg per 100 g)10. Compared to conventional sports drinks, coconut water is superior. Coconut palms are relatively versatile in their tolerance to a wide range of soil conditions8, 10.
These are only three of the better-known tropical fruits that can be grown in coastal south Florida; there are many other kinds. It is important to mention that tropical fruits should be eaten in moderation, especially considering there can be abundant crops in due seasons. Tropical fruits are pertinent to sustainability regarding people’s health, economic potential, and land stewardship.
1Ploetz, R.C. Tropical Fruit Crops and the Diseases that Affect Their Production. Page 71-106. In: Tropical Biology and Conservation Management, Volume 3. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS).
2Steele, D. and J.H. Crane. 2006. The State of Florida Tropical Fruit Industry and the Challenges Growers Face. Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 119:7-8.
3Schaffer, B. 1998. Flooding Responses and Water-Use Efficiency of Subtropical and Tropical Fruit Trees in an Environmentally-Sensitive Wetland. Annals of Botany 81:475-481.
4Burns, R.M., and others. 1965 Avocado Soil and Root Rot Survey of Dade County, Florida.
5Crane, J.H., C.F. Balerdi, and C.W. Campbell. 2001. The Avocado. Circular 1034. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
6Percival, S.S. and B. Findley. 2007. What’s in Your Tropical Fruit? Document FSHN 07-08. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
7Stahl, A.L. 1933. Avocado Maturity Studies. Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 46: 123-133.
8Balerdi, C.F., J.H. Crane, and B. Schaffer. 2013. Managing Your Tropical Fruit Grove Under Changing Water Table Levels. EDIS Publication HS957.
9Morton, J. 1987. Mango. Page 221-239. In: Fruits of Warm Climates.
10Broschat, T.K. and J.H. Crane. 2017. The Coconut Palm in Florida. Document HS40. University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.