Starring a Winter Fruit

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Averrhoa carambola 'Thai Knight'.

Carambolas (Averrhoa carambola) are in full of fruit now and the branches of our home trees are bending beneath their weight. Carambolas, or star fruit, come from Southeast Asia where, says tropical fruit expert Jonathan Crane, they have been grown for centuries. The cultivar called ‘Arkin,’ which came from Malaysia, was introduced to South Florida in 1973. I remember interviewing Morris Arkin, who grew the seeds in Coral Gables. Arkin also developed a macadamia nut tree.  A carambola called Golden Star was developed in Homestead in 1965, and Hawaii has developed a number of cultivars as well. The Arkin proved the hardier shipper. ‘Thai Knight’ is a cultivar named for Bob Knight with the USDA Subtropical Research Station in Coral Gables. It is a deeper yellow than the ‘Fwang Tung.’

In our soils, the trees require fertilizer applications every three months as well as the addition of iron and micronutrient sprays to keep the compound leaves green. They like regular irrigation. Carambolas can reach 20 to 30 feet and they have a rounded crown. They produce flowers on the twigs and branches, carrying fruit there as well. Shaking a heavily loaded branch will reduce the weight by simply causing fruit to drop. The fruit is either sweet or tart, and the sweet ‘Fwang Tung’ variety is great for eating fresh. A refreshing drink can be made of carambolas; they can be sliced and used in salads. Schnebly’s Winery in the Redland makes a carambola wine that they say tastes like a Pinot Grigio.

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