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“The jaboticaba comes from Brazil; in South America they call it the black cherry,” says José Gallego, San Diego chapter chair for the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. “They’re expensive because they can take several years to produce fruit. I’ve seen jaboticaba [trees] from $60 to $150. What is interesting about this one is that the fruit doesn’t grow on the branches — it looks like somebody plugged black marbles into the trunk.” The cherrylike fruit is strongest when it is fresh and is often used to make wine and jam.

On Wednesday, April 23, the rare-fruit-growing organization will offer a free class on how to select and plant rare-fruit trees. “We are lucky to be in area 23: La Mesa, San Carlos, Santee, Poway, Chula Vista, and Fallbrook. Basically east of the 805 but not too far to the point where you start getting high altitudes, like in Alpine,” says Gallego.

Under the Sunset Western Climate Zone system, compiled by Sunset magazine, 12 western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) are divided into 24 climate zones based on “heat, humidity, elevation, terrain, latitude, and varying degrees of continental and marine influence.”

On his quarter-acre yard in San Carlos, Gallego has 120 fruit trees, including 17 different kinds of banana trees. The tree he finds most beautiful is his Inga edulis, the ice cream bean tree. “It has the most beautiful colored compound leaves — a big leaf with little leaves on the sides — they’re emerald green,” he says. “It produces a kind of bland fruit, but my daughters just love it. Once you open up [the foot-long pod], you see these ‘cotton balls’ inside, and you eat these cotton balls — when you grab them, they are slippery like a banana. They have a hint of vanilla.”

One common problem with the ice cream bean, Gallego says, is that it grows to be very large. He planted his in 1999, and it is now 25 feet tall with a 2.5–foot diameter trunk. The fast growth is due to the fact that the legumes generate their own nitrogen, which, Gallego explains, contributes to the lushness of the tree’s leaves.

The Inga, as Gallego refers to it, can easily overtake one’s garden if fallen beans are not removed at the end of the summer harvesting season. Many seeds are already sprouting in the pod by the time they hit the ground. “The seeds are so viable that when you open the bean you can see [them] germinating,” says Gallego. “The seed is about an inch long and brown with a slight green tint to it — then you have this white root on the front end. It looks like a roach. It’s very unusual, but the amazing thing is that there’s so much energy in those seeds. They’re ready to be planted.”

Banana trees can be even more of a reproductive nuisance, “because bananas tend to produce a lot of pups, and if you leave one on [the ground] and it gets water and fertilizer and so on, it will start growing.” A “pup” is like a bulb, also known as a rhizome, which, like a potato, sends out shoots that easily take root and continue to grow horizontally underground. “If you leave it, a rhizome can grow quite big,” says Gallego. “I’ve seen roots as far away as 25 feet. Then they start swelling to create more pups and can become a problem. When you learn how to properly make the banana tree to fruit, you only leave three or four pups.”

The star fruit, or carambola, is a native of India and a difficult plant to grow. “Frost may kill it, overwatering may kill it, not having enough of the right nutrients may kill it — but it’s worth it,” says Gallego. “Once you start cutting it sideways it becomes a beautiful yellow-orangey type of fruit, and you can put it on salads or eat it on its own.”

One of Gallego’s favorites is the miracle fruit, which is a small, red berry. Also difficult to grow in this region, due to its tropical origins, the miracle fruit requires a greenhouse and must be watered with distilled water — Gallego had one that died after he gave it tap water. Despite its fragility, Gallego continues to favor this berry for its flavor. “It’s the most amazing fruit I have ever tasted. It tastes just like saccharin, but it also has a flavor anad leaves a sensation on your tongue.”

Gallego explains that once the miracle fruit has coated the tongue, everything that one eats for the next few hours will taste sweet. Water “tastes like someone put in two tablespoons of sugar.” Orange juice is sweet, and the acidity of the citrus is neutralized. “Lemon tastes sweet, and no acidity at all. People start squeezing lemon juice into their mouths until it starts hurting at the bottom of their throat. They say, ‘Oh, but it’s good; it’s the best lemon I ever had,’ and I have to take it away from them.”

— Barbarella

How to Select and Plant Rare Fruit Trees for Your Garden
Wednesday, April 23
6 p.m.
Casa del Prado
1800 El Prado, Room 104
Balboa Park
Cost: Free
Info: 619-697-4417 or www.crfgsandiego.org

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