One of the delights of living in South Florida is the abundance of unusual tropical fruit, often considered a delicacy in other areas of the country. One fruit that I might never have tried prior to moving to Florida is the carambola, or starfruit . Of course, having sampled it and enjoyed it, I was instantly motivated to do my research and determine if having a starfruit tree was for me. And I’m happy to report that I now have a thriving, well-producing little carambola tree in my backyard.
Carambola, or starfruit , is the fruit of Averrhoa carambola, a species of tree native to the Philippines and Southeast Asia. It is a rather small tree, and grows slowly. Starfruit trees will grow to height of 20 to 30 feet over a considerable number of years. It does not require pruning, except to top off occasionally to keep fruit picking within reach.
The starfruit enjoys warm, moist weather, although its roots can be susceptible to root rot. It can also be severely thwarted by drought conditions, so moderation is the key for this tree. Starfruit does not do well in frost. It is usually grown in climate zones 10a and warmer. Since we live in zone 9b, our challenge this winter will be protecting the carambola from prolonged cold snaps.
I’m certain our little starfuit tree is grafted. Grafted fruit trees are trees that have been propagated from the mature branches of fruit-bearing trees that are attached to an ample rootstock and will produce quickly, in comparison to trees that have been grown from seed, and may take 10 or more years to bear fruit. However, I have never experienced any fruit tree that has produced as quickly and abundantly as this carambola.
Our starfruit tree appears to be ever-blooming. As the blooms fade, tiny nubs appear. Within weeks we have an abundant crop of starfruit. It almost seems as if the plentiful fruit production is impossible based on the size of our skinny little tree.
You can pick starfruit when it is green, and wait for it to ripen, leaving it in open air on the kitchen counter for a few days, and turning it regularly until the skin turns yellow and the spines get a light brown color. However, the best tasting starfruit is picked ripe off the tree.
Starfruit is naturally firm and waxy, and can be eaten fresh like an apple or pear – biting through skin and into the fruit. Most people prefer to slice the carambola, like an orange or kiwi. The result is a dish of star-shaped slices that make a perfect finger food because it holds its shape when cut.
The flavor of the carambola is light and fruity. For me, it is a combination of an orange and a pear, more citrusy than sweet. There are sometimes seeds in the center, very similar to miniature orange or lemon seeds. They can be easily swallowed, removed, or spat out, based on your personal preference.
Starfruit can be juiced, made into jams or jellies, or added to fruit salads. It can also be used in variety of entrees, and complements chicken and fish recipes . There is also evidence that Starfruit has been used for medicinal purposes. Its uses are abundant.
If you are searching for the perfect ornamental tree for your South Florida landscape, you won’t go wrong with a starfruit. It will provide green foliage, pretty blossoms, and reward you with a crop of tasty fruit. Personally, I love edible landscaping, and I’m sure you will too.