Uncommon Fruit Trees for Adventurous Gardeners
A Cherry that Isn't Really a Cherry
Cherry of the Rio Grande (Eugenia aggregata or E. cerasiflora) actually belongs to the myrtle family. Its deep red to black fruits appear in spring or early summer, about three to four weeks after its myrtle-like white blooms, and look similar in color to dark sweet cherries.
As illustrated in the thumbnail those fruits sport leafy "hats" and "legs," and the tree's bark is also appealing -- due to the fact that it's always a-peeling! Eugenia aggregata will thrive outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11.
An Apple that Isn't Really an Apple
Although gorgeous when loaded with golden fruit, the Kei apple (Dovyalis caffra) is also loaded with thorns, which could make its "apples" as tricky to pick as the dragon-guarded ones in the Labors of Hercules! But what gardener doesn't like a challenge? Both male and female trees are required for production, though some female trees occasionally produce fruit on their own.
This African native is well adapted to dry climates in USDA zones 9 to 11. The greenish-yellow flowers appear in spring, while the round, apricot-like fruits don't ripen until late summer to early autumn. Those acidic "apples" require added sugar, so are most often used in desserts, jams and jellies.
A Guava that Isn't Really a Guava
The pineapple guava (Feijoa or Acca sellowiana) is worth growing for its blossoms alone. Prominent red stamens show up vividly against white waxy petals tinged with maroon, to form flowers both enchanting and edible. The leaves are also a study in contrasts, being a glossy dark green on top and a fuzzier gray underneath. This little tree blooms in spring or early summer and produces its sweet 'n sour "plums" about six months later.
Oblong in shape and fragrant, with tart green skins and sweet white flesh, feijoas reportedly combine the flavors of pineapple, guava, and mint. They shouldn't be eaten until very ripe for the best flavor. Hardy to USDA zones 8 through 10, the tree flowers best if it gets at least 100 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Mulberry that Isn't Really a Mulberry
Although it's not a real mulberry, the leaves of Chinese mulberry (Cudrania or Maclura tricuspidata) have fed silkworms when the real thing wasn't available. Also known as che and related to the osage orange, the thorny Asian tree produces balls of green flowers in late spring which, in male trees, turn yellow. In the females, those pollinated balls convert into spherical red fruits, up to 2 inches across.
In appearance, they have a peculiar texture that somewhat resembles little red brains, and reportedly taste similar to watermelon when properly ripe. Like mulberries, they must be soft for the best flavor. The Chinese mulberry is hardy from USDA zones 5 to 10 and--due to its late bloom--should be good at evading frost damage.
A feijoa that I started from seed is the only one of these trees I possess at the moment. It has done fairly well in a pot, though it hasn't bloomed yet. If I remember, I'll eject it from the house early in the spring to give it some cold treatment. Eugenias are often recommended for containers too, and the Kei apple--with all those thorns--could make a wicked bonsai subject. So, in 2013, resolve to "branch out" a little from all the common fruits and try a few uncommon ones as well. Even if you end up not liking the produce, you are sure to enjoy the process!
Photos: Thumbnail Rio Grande Cherry photo is by mmmavocado, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons; Feijoa fruit photo by HortResearch, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; and Chinese mulberry photo by Michael Kesl, courtesy of BioLib.cz. Kei apple fruits photo is by palmbob and fejoia blossoms photo by growin, both from Dave's Garden PlantFiles.
Sources:University of Florida: "Selected Eugenia Species"
Growing Tasty Tropical Plants by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. Martin