In recent years, zone creep has allowed gardeners to experiment with many plants which once could not grow in their local climate. However, even with generally warmer winters, most exotic tropical fruits cannot withstand the moderate winters of USDA hardiness zone 7. True tropicals like mango, papaya and banana can be grown in Florida, but must be brought indoors for the winter in any other zone.
Asian Pear (Pyrus serotina)
This large, apple-like pear species differs from the common teardrop-shaped pear in that it ripens and is ready to eat directly off the tree, where common pears require several weeks off the tree before they are soft enough to eat. Like other members of the pear family, Asian pears are susceptible to fire blight, a bacterial affliction that damages and destroys blossoms and new twigs.
Chinese Quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis)
Similar in appearance but unrelated to the famed quince of antiquity, this fruit tree is native to China and hardy to USDA zone 5. It grows to 20 feet tall, but owing to its multistemmed habit can be cultivated as a large shrub. Shell-pink flowers appear in spring and develop into apple-shaped, yellow fruits. Bark is cinnamon colored and mottled due to an exfoliating habit. Like pears, quinces are also subject to attacks by fire blight.
Fig (Ficus carica)
Several types of figs are hardy to zone 7, including ‘Brown Turkey,’ ‘Green Ischia’ and ‘Chicago Hardy.’ In exceptionally cold winters, above-ground wood may die back to the ground, but hardy varieties will regenerate and generally grow back to their original size. Figs grown for commercial fruit production rely on pollinator wasp species, but many figs sold for home gardens in northern climates are self-fertile. Individual specimens can grow to 15 feet in height or more, and benefit from generous watering during hot summer months.
Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta)
Rather than being borne on a tree or shrub, this smaller version of the familiar fuzzy brown kiwifruit comes from a vine native to China. Plants are individually male and female, and best yields come from planting five female plants per male plant. Soils must be very fertile and moist, and plants perform best when trained to grow up a pergola or other structure. Flowers are white with many central stamens and, in youth, the foliage is frequently bicolor or green and white tinged with pink. Vines can grow to be 30 feet long. This species of kiwifruit can tolerate prolonged periods of sub-freezing temperatures.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
USDA zone 7 defines the very northern growing limits of this Persian native. Despite claims that the tree will grow but fail to bear fruit in northern Virginia, the U.S. Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C., is home to several specimens which successfully flower and bear mature fruit each year. Trees grow to 20 or 30 feet tall, and leaves are evergreen in milder winters. Plants can be damaged with sustained temperatures below 12 degrees F.
Passionfruit (Passiflora incarnata)
This relative of the commercially produced passionfruit is native to the Mid-Atlantic region and is grown primarily for its extremely showy flowers. The green, egg-sized fruits are produced from late June through to the first frost, when plants die back to the ground and enter dormancy. Plants can grow to be 25 feet or longer, and its dense, tropical leaves make an excellent alternative for English ivy. Though quite tart, fruits are edible, and the brittle seeds give the fruit an interesting texture.