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Tropical fruits for the home greenhouse. January 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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This year, our friend Ben was finally able to give Silence Dogood the Christmas present of her dreams. As faithful readers know, we love all the plants in our home greenhouse: the orchids, the cacti and succulents, the amaryllis, the tender ferns, the begonias, the works. But most of all, we love the plants that provide either fruit or flavoring: the lemon grass, the figs, the ‘Violetta’ purple artichokes, the cardamom, the pink lemon, the Key lime, the coffee “tree,” the tricolored pepper plants.

Silence and our friend Ben are huge fans of the Logee’s catalogue, which specializes in begonias and other houseplants but also carries a vast selection of tropicals for the greenhouse and frost-free landscape. We allow ourselves to be tempted weekly by their e-mails, since they regularly offer online-only sales. But being a lazy bastard, our friend Ben tends to drool rather than buy.

Finally, however, Logee’s made an offer even our friend Ben couldn’t refuse. Silence has wanted an olive tree, dwarf banana, and vanilla orchid (yes, vanilla beans really are produced by orchids) practically forever. And one week, Logee’s offered a sale on what they described as “unusual fruits.”

Scanning the offerings, our friend Ben reluctantly passed up the ‘TR Hovey’ papaya, ‘Ponderosa’ lemon, “tree tomato” (Cyphomandra crassicaulis) and “dragon fruit” (actually an epiphytic cactus, Hylocereus undatus). I was not at all reluctant to pass up the primitive citrus—considered one of the earliest in cultivation—known as “Buddha’s Hand,” since the fruit, which looks like a many-fingered lemon, is inedible. (You can apparently zest or candy the peel, but hey, you can do that with any lemon, and you’ll get juice as well.)

However, I was unable to pass up the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia), black olive (Olea europea ‘Arbequina’), dwarf banana (Musa ‘Dwarf Lady Finger’), passionflower (Passiflora edulis ‘Possum Purple’), and “lemon guava” (Psidium littorale ‘Lemon’). After all, Silence wanted them, right? Uh, well, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled when they arrive, even if she didn’t know she wanted the passionflower and lemon guava.

Vanilla orchids, unlike most orchids, are climbing vines, and need to be provided with a trellis or other structure for climbing. Their blooms are quite delightful, resembling a smaller version of a yellow corsage orchid (Cattleyas and their numerous crosses). To get the pods that bear vanilla beans, you’ll need to hand-pollinate the blooms. And to get vanilla, you’ll need to store the mature pods in a jar of vodka, which makes homemade vanilla extract, or dry the pods and store them in an airtight container in a cool cabinet. No problem! We can’t wait.

‘Dwarf Lady Finger’ banana is described by Logee’s as follows: “One of our best bananas for home gardeners, ‘Dwarf Lady Finger’ only grows 5′ tall and produces bananas at an early age. The 4-5″ fruits are sweet and delicious. This variety is one of the earliest fruiting bananas for container growing.” That works for us!

What about that black olive? Here’s what Logee’s has to say: “‘Arbequina’ is a self-fertile olive from northern Spain that’s used for both its oil and as a table olive. Olives are easy-to-grow, rugged plants that tolerate a wide variation in temperature. ‘Arbequina’ is a great olive for pots since it flowers at an early age and produces an abundance of dark tasty fruit.” Yum! 

Our friend Ben tasted passionfruit for the first time a couple of years ago and was frankly dazzled. Kiwi, go home! Our native passionfruit’s somewhat similar and far better. (It also reminded me of another tropical favorite, starfruit.) So when I saw ‘Possum Purple’, I simply had to get it to add to our greenhouse edibles. (And who could resist that name?) Logee’s has this to say about it: “‘Possum Purple’ is an amazing passionflower that has frilly flowers and delicious, sweet fruit [which are, in fact, purple]. This strong growing vine is a vigorous grower and needs a trellis for support. Grow in full sun.”

Finally, you may be wondering why our friend Ben added a “lemon guava” (in quotes because it tastes guavalike but isn’t actually a guava) to my order when I’ve never even tasted one. But the cluster of fruit in the photo looked so beautiful, and it was coupled with this description: “Known as the ‘lemon guava’, this fantastic tropical plant is well-suited to container growing. The sweet, yellow fruit arrives in abundance from summer through fall.” Sold!

Our friend Ben urges you to check out Logee’s at www.logees.com. And if you simply can’t resist, you too can sign up for their weekly e-mail temptations, I mean, sales. And should you happen to be in a philanthropic mood and wish to contribute a ‘Ponderosa’ lemon or ‘TR Hovey’ papaya or “tree tomato” or “dragon fruit” cactus to our friend Ben’s—I mean, Silence’s—stash, we will hang a plaque in the greenhouse commemorating your generous contribution. Hey, we might even invite you over to enjoy the fruits with us!



1. mr_subjunctive - January 3, 2010

Philanthropy? I don’t need no stinking philanthropy: the odds are pretty good that there’s a dragon fruit cactus within driving distance of you right now. Those horrible grafted cactus things with the lurid pink/red/yellow tops are usually on a Hylocereus base; to get a Hylocereus plant, just knock the mutant Gymnocalycium off. (See PATSP for photos.) You should be warned, though, that I consider my Hylocereus the ugliest plant I grow, and so far, age is only making it uglier.

Eeeewww, Mr. S.! I don’t want to encourage the producers of lurid grafted cacti by buying one, even to get the Hylocereus underneath. Has yours actually fruited? I was so tempted to just dismiss the whole concept, but then I thought of tunas, the prized fruit of opuntias, and had to wonder if there might be something to it…

2. mr_subjunctive - January 3, 2010

It hasn’t fruited, no. Nor do I necessarily expect it to anytime soon, though I expect that if I planted it outside for a couple summers in a row, the possibility would be there: they are supposed to be rather fast-growing.

Hmmmm. Well, if you try it, let us know how it goes! I wonder how you’re supposed to prepare the fruits…

3. mr_subjunctive - January 3, 2010

Oh, and — I can appreciate not wanting to encourage the grafters, but considering Logee’s prices (yes, I went and checked them out), I think there may be some graft involved either way. (Not that I should talk, considering that I’ve bought from Asiatica before, but still.) The place where I used to work was outrageously expensive, but even they are cheaper than Logee’s, and that’s before adding anything for shipping.

Ha!!! Graft, indeed! (And alas, I too have bought from Asiatica, and even been there.) Those prices are the reason we typically just drool instead of buying, but this was for Christmas, and they were, quote, on sale, so we decided to go for it. Gulp…

4. Barbee' - January 3, 2010

I hope they ALL do well, making this a Christmas to remember, and remember, as you gather the fruits of your generous nature.

Thank you, Barbee’!!! Let’s hope Silence waters them, ’cause if they’re dependent on me, God help the poor things! It’s amazing to me that anything lives, much less blooms and thrives, in the poor greenhouse. When I win the lottery I’m going to have a wind-powered well dug out there so the greenhouse finally has a water source. ‘Til then, it’s hauling milk jugs across an acre and back. Anyway, this certainly will be a Christmas to remember! I hope yours was delightful and your new year is filled with all good things!

5. Daphne - January 3, 2010

I’m a big fan of passionfruit too. Sadly it doesn’t agree with me so I can’t eat it anymore. My dream is for a Meyer Lemon if I ever get a greenhouse.

Here’s hoping your greenhouse comes to, ahem, fruition, Daphne!!!

6. Dave@TheHomeGarden - January 4, 2010

Sounds like some good acquisitions! If I had known you wanted passion fruit I could have collected a few seeds from our yard. It’s all over one area of our garden. One of the state flowers in in TN! Sadly I’ve never tried it…the rabbits got the fruit first.

It’s good, Dave! This year, you’ll have to see if you can’t beat the rabbits to it! To think, I grew up in TN and never even saw or heard of passionflowers! Sigh…

7. Becca - January 4, 2010

Ack! That sounds like an awesome sale! Still going on??

My sis bought me a vanilla orchid one year but, sadly, it was in decline already by the time I received it for Christmas and I was unable to save it. I was struck by how much like vanilla beans the pods looked as they dried. I am going to peruse this logees place of which you speak!

Er, I think that particular sale was only going on through Dec. 30, but they’ve had a number of tropical fruit sales throughout the fall, so I’d definitely check it out, Becca! I hope you get another vanilla orchid and this one flourishes! Logee’s ships in styrofoam with hot packs to protect their plants during the winter, so I think (hope!) the plant would arrive in good shape.

8. Victoria - January 5, 2010

How exciting! I love Logee’s and have to avoid their catalog in order to avoid getting more indoor plants. I have a jasmine I bought from them; still waiting for it to bloom although it is huge now.

Yes, the plants are due to arrive today, Victoria. We can’t wait!!!

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