Gamboge and Banana

Gamboge and Banana

The wonders of nature never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve come to this conclusion often, which tells me that I have chosen the right profession. In preparing for this article I looked over last October’s “What’s in Season?” to gain a little perspective. This time last year, the damage from Hurricane Irma was still very much apparent, and everyone was in full recovery mode.  The ability for nature to heal herself is truly remarkable.  I will expand on how your beautiful botanical garden is coming along in a bit, but first let’s get to the tasty topics.

GambogeA visit to The Fruit & Spice Park this month could get you a taste of Garcina xanthochymus, or Gamboge.  Related to the delicious Mangosteen, the flesh of this gorgeous bright yellow fruit is sometimes lip-puckeringly tart with sweeter arils around the seeds.  It can be eaten fresh out of your hand or as an ingredient in curry dishes, in juices or smoothies.  I am always fascinated by the origins of the names of our trees, and this is no exception.  From the Greek xantho (yellow) and chymus (juice) we get a clue as to the real importance of this specimen to humans.  The dried resin, collected in much the same manner as maple syrup, has been used as a dye and pigment for thousands of years.  From the robes of Buddhist monks to Rembrandt’s portraits, the dye offers a deep, bright, sunny color.  These beautiful trees are tucked away on the far west side of the park, near the Asia greenhouse.

Green Bananas on the stalkContinuing our focus on the color yellow, we come to our second feature of the month: Bananas.  This is one of the sections of the park that has amazed me with its post-Irma recovery.  During the storm, the banana section was flattened by the relentless winds.  The vision of the damage was striking, but we needn’t have worried.  If they could have spoken, they would have said, “Don’t worry, we’ve been through this before, we know just what to do, and we will be back as good as new!” Today, the banana section is finally coming back to full production, and since they all started re-growing at roughly the same time we are expecting a bumper crop.  With exotic names like “Thousand Fingers” and “Praying Hands,” the genus Musa produces one of the most important food crops in the world.  Since humans have been cultivating bananas for up to 10,000 years we are fortunate to have an amazing variety of sizes and shapes.  Our banana collection is located near the main entrance of the park, and is one of the first things you will encounter on the narrated tram tour.

Here at the Fruit & Spice Park it definitely feels like a new season is upon us.  Post-Irma repairs are mostly complete, plant collections and specimens continue their recovery, and we are preparing for our festival and event season.  Our upcoming events include GrowFest!  October 13-14, 2018, and our new Redland Tropical Island Festival November 3-4, 2018.

The fall season is not one normally associated with rebirth, but allow me to try to change your mind.  The days are shorten, the nights are cooler, and for that we are all grateful here in the South Florida sub-tropics.  Our cooler dry season also allows us to grow what we consider to be “winter” vegetables, but that the rest of the world grows in the summer.  Just as importantly, the cool dry season also provides the stimulus for the Mango and Lychee trees to begin flower production—which leads to fruit in the summer.  Luckily for me, the wonders of nature never ceases to amaze.