Many semitropical fruits have strange names, shapes and taste different from the typical fruits found in most supermarkets, especially in the northern regions of the United States. Still, these fruits are nutritious, taste good and make interesting additions to the landscape with the extra benefit of bearing fruit. Semitropical climates usually never go below freezing or climb over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and experience an average of eight months of sunshine each year. Gardeners living in these regions have a wealth of choices when it comes to semitropical fruiting plants.
Lychee (Litchi chinensis)
Lychee trees are native to southern areas of China and Asia. Trees are suitable for large areas as they can grow to a mature height of 40 feet. Lychee trees make attractive additions to the landscape with their dark green leaves and round, thick canopy.
Fruits are approximately the size of a strawberry with a sweet flavor and ripen in summer. Lychee fruits are ready to harvest when their leather-like skin turns pinkish-red. Trees usually start fruit production within three to five years. Gardeners should plant lychee trees in an area receiving full sun, drains very well and with some wind protection. Lychee trees are cold tolerant to 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and have moderate watering requirements.
Carambola (Averrhoa carambola)
Carambola, also known as starfruit, is a Southeast Asian native that is growing in popularity within the United States. Trees are medium in size, growing to a mature height of 30 to 35 feet depending on the cultivar. Carambola has a high watering requirement with a cold tolerance of 27 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Gardeners should plant carambola trees in a sunny, well-draining site with wind protection.
Depending on the cultivar, star-shaped, yellow, 2- to 6-inch fruits are harvested July through February. Eat fruits fresh, use them in salads or drinks. The fruit is slightly sweet, crisp and quite juicy. People with kidney disease should check with their doctor before consuming carambola due to its high levels of oxalic acid.
Papaya (Carica papaya)
Papaya is a Mexican and Central and South American native. Papaya plants are semi-herbaceous with upright trunks growing up to 20 feet tall and large fruits produced along the main trunk stem. There are a variety of cultivars all short lived, having a lifespan of approximately one to three years.
Plants produce sweet fruits year-round that usually turn an orange color when ripe. The inside flesh is orange to reddish in color with a center cavity of black seeds that are easily grown. Papaya plants are suitable for containers and prefer growing in full sun and a well-draining site, though they require frequent watering. Plants are cold hardy to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.