A rainbow of luscious fruit grows in the tropic regions of the world. While flavors vary along with color and growing habits, most tropical fruits have a custard-like texture and a sweet, aromatic flavor. Dwarf tropical fruit varieties extend this growing range by allowing them to be planted in sheltered areas or in containers that can be moved indoors in winter.
The mango (Mangifera indica) originated in southern Asia but is now grown commercially in many warm, dry regions of the world, including California. Mango fruit grows 2 to 9 inches in length, and is a pale green or yellow with touches of red when ripe. The fruit has a peachlike texture and a sweet, tangy, pleasantly spicy flavor. It is eaten fresh, diced into salsas and sauces, or blended into beverages with other tropical fruits and yogurt. Mango is also used in savory Asian curries. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, dwarf mango cultivars can be grown in containers or in large greenhouses. These include: Brooks, which bears very large fruit on a medium-sized tree; Julie, a slow-growing variety suitable for containers that bears a small but sweet and juicy fruit; and the T1, which grows well indoors or out.
The familiar banana (Musa spp.) is an easy-to-grow plant that is as attractive for its exotic looking broad, ever-green leaves as it is for the elongated yellow fruit which has become a lunchbox staple world-wide. Dwarf varieties--Cavendish, Jamaican Red Dwarf, Super Dwarf--grow about 6 feet high, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and Southern Group of State Foresters, are ideal for growing in planters around the pool or clustered to create the feeling of a tropical grove. Dwarf bananas require good drainage and prefers full sun, but can tolerate slightly shady conditions. Regular fertilization and pruning out suckers will ensure ongoing fruit production.
The papaya (Carica papaya) originated in the American tropics, where it is indigenous to southern Mexico. Papaya fruit shapes vary but resemble acorn or delicata squash. They have light golden rinds when ripe, and deep coral-orange flesh of a custard-like texture used for fresh eating, mixing in salsa and cooking sauces, or pureed into beverages. For home growing outdoors in the southernmost United States or in containers elsewhere, the Tainung Dwarf Papaya produces a very high yield of sweet, firm fruit, according to the Texas A&M Extension, which offers the variety at its annual Master Gardener plant sale and seminar. The California Rare Fruit Growers advise that the Hawaiian strains of papaya rarely exceed 8 feet tall, and recommend the dwarf high-yielding Kamiya, the Sunrise Solo that grows to only about 3 feet tall, and the dwarf Sunset Solo, which is slightly larger than its Sunrise cousin but very sweet and prolific.