Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Whenever I have occasion to recommend mango varieties, Pickering is on the list. Perhaps the closest to a true dwarf mango tree, it bears consideration by anyone for whom space is a concern. That is, pretty much every dooryard grower.

Pickering is among the many mango varieties to emerge from the Zill enterprise in Boynton Beach. According to Walter Zill, a chance seedling caught his eye in 1980--- at four feet of height and only an inch of trunk diameter, it already carried a half dozen small fruit. They ripened to yellow, with flavor somewhat like a Carrie, or Carrie's parent Julie. A mature Carrie a few feet from the seedling was most likely the parent.

The seedling took some freeze damage in 1983, but recovered and was successfully transplanted. With its ultra-compact growth habit and reliable production of fine-tasting fruit, and a name provided by Zill's friend Dr. Wayne Pickering, a new variety was born.

There has been discussion on the Tropical Fruit Forum about whether the flavor of Pickering mangos has elements of coconut. Some folks report it, other not. Possibilities are varying flavors of fruit depending on soil and other growing conditions, two different kinds of tasters (as with broccoli), or two different versions of Pickering trees in distribution. It remains a mystery.

My young Pickering, shown at the left, was planted last December and has grown well, despite a minor assault by climbing raccoons. I'm really looking forward to its fruit in a couple of years.

(For the curious, the small shrub to the left of the tree is a Turnera ulmifolia (Yellow Alder, Jamaican Buttercup), and the colorful one to the right is Celosia argentea (Quailgrass). Both are attractive, insect-friendly easy growers. The ground cover to the left is Glandularia tapensis  (Tampa verbena), a lovely and endangered Florida native wildflower.)

A master fruitier once told me that if he had it to do over, he would have used only Pickerings for the mangos on his city lot. The growth habit is so compact that the tree can easily be maintained at six to eight feet, like the beautiful specimen in the MRFC collection at Palma Sola Botanical Park, shown to the right.

All things considered, Pickering is probably the top choice when space is severely limited.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Citrus

Citrus is about the last kind of fruit tree I would recommend in this era of greening and a host of other citrus challenges. But if I did, it would be one of my favorite uncommon fruit trees: the limequat.

As the name suggests, the limequat is a hybrid of (key) lime and kumquat. It's a very small tree, said to grow up to 12 feet but easily maintained smaller. Nearly everbearing, its fruit can replace lemon or lime in most any recipe. Thanks to its kumquat parent, it's more cold-tolerant than lime, and has edible peel. It's a fast and prolific bearer, so one can hope for quite a bit of production before the grim citrus reaper comes calling. My own limequat, pictured here, is in a fair amount of shade and not irrigated, but it is reasonably healthy and productive.

Limequats were developed in 1909 by Dr. Walter T. Swingle, and there are three cultivars: Eustis, Lakeland, and Tavares. The first two were different seeds from the same parent, with Lakeland producing slightly larger fruit. Tavares is distinguished by its pink blossoms. Also, Lakeland is nearly thornless.

Here in mid-summer, my lemon and lime trees are months from fruiting. But a few days ago I collected twenty limequat fruit, which produced a half cup of limequat juice. Adding a cup of water, an ounce and a half of dates, three ounces of raw, unsalted pistachio meats, a heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a clove of garlic, and a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard, my high-horsepower blender produced a batch of my favorite salad dressing. It's not to everyone's taste, to be sure, but in my book it more than justifies the minimal effort of caring for my limequat tree.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


A couple of months before Pete Ray's passing, he asked me to take the remaining plants from his propagation shed. He was pleased that I had taken over the blog, early in 2014, and he wanted me to have them. He knew I would care about them and try to see that they went to appropriate uses.

There weren't very many to salvage, since Pete hadn't been able to do much during the previous year (and did we ever notice it at last May's club booth). I share Pete's love of ornamentals, and the two hibiscus in the collection now adorn the west side of my shed. I managed to find a spot for the 3-foot ponytail palm. I had always been intrigued by the Pagoda Flowers that bloomed so well in the shady areas of his grounds, and with his permission I dug one up, which now keeps my wax jambu from getting lonely.

Of course there were some fruiting plants. Two macadamias in 3-gallon pots drew a handsome price at the club booth. I had the same plan for the black mulberry, but it made a few fruits in the spring and they were so good that I decided to put it in the ground. A few seedlings went to the club's raffle table for grafting stock. A Hak Ip lychee airlayer made a pathetic effort to leaf out before perishing, and the Big Jim longan never did do anything.

That was about it, except for one mysterious little tree in a small pot. Not a graft, and without an evident seed at the roots. It promptly shed its few leaves. It teetered alarmingly in its pot, and I figured it was going the way of Hak and Jim.

In the spring, though, it seemed stronger and it leafed out with surprising vigor. I couldn't identify it. I made a wild guess that it might be a hog plum, but the leaves didn't match. The new leaves came out red before turning to green, like a lot of avocados, but again no match. I remained mystified. The tree kept growing.

The eureka moment struck when I was tending one of my persimmon trees. Its rootstock had sprouted a few suckers, and bingo, a match. I remembered Pete touting the American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, when I toured his place. He was quite fond of it, and I figure he was the source of the one at Palma Sola. An online search produced a picture of a young American Persimmon that looked like a perfect match for the mystery inheritance.

By summer, it was growing well, and I decided to plant it a little ways into the conservation area to the south of our land. The rules say one shouldn't plant anything there, but it can only help the local ecology to add a few natives. Someday D. virginiana will make good fruit for wildlife--- an alternative to the fruit in my groves--- and seeds for good rootstock if I ever feel an urge to graft persimmons.

And if my ID turns out to be wrong? Well, I wouldn't mind, because I don't believe that Pete put any bad trees in his pots. And whatever it turns out to be, it will be good to look out my window and see something that came from him.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Long-awaited Arrival

This is slightly off-topic, but those who find it irrelevant should consider themselves fortunate.

Many of us are far too familiar with Dioscorea bulbifera, the air potato vine. When I first laid eyes on my 2-acre property a little more than three years ago, the eastern portion was a sea of the relentless creeper, floating on a bed of saw palmetto. A skillful man with a backhoe lifted out most of the palmettos, and I was ready with a few tons of leaves (raked up and bagged by friendly folks all over town, who leave them along the road for me) and wood chips to spread on the newly bare ground.

I ended up with a nicely mulched third of an acre, and after pulling out a few thousand vines as the buried potatoes sprouted, the battle was won. Little ones still pop up here and there, and potatoes appear overnight, perhaps left there by the raccoons as an offering to the slow-footed ape-gods who provide them with so much tasty fruit. But under control.

Not so much in the hopelessly-infested conservation area that borders us to the south. I attacked in the winter by wandering through the woods picking up buckets of potatoes, in the spring by keeping the vines from going up the trees to the full sunlight, and in the late summer by ripping out masses of vines just before they started to fruit (if such a beloved word can be applied to the toxic aerial tubers). Aided by the shade of the oak canopy, and the competition of tough native ferns and sawgrass, these efforts managed to keep the invaders more-or-less at bay, not smothering trees or ruining the vista from our house.

But what I've really been waiting for is Lilioceris cheni, the air potato leaf beetle. This Asian import was released by Florida authorities in 2012 after extensive testing to ensure that it will restrict its diet to its namesake plant. Three weeks ago, pal Kevin reported them at his place just over a mile from me. We captured a dozen, and I released them into the conservation area.

We needn't have bothered, because a week later, a tsunami of the red-orange heroes had arrived, munching their way through the woods. They can fly for short distances, but are generally spotted either eating or making more air potato leaf beetles.

Lilioceris doesn't destroy its food source completely, which is as it should be--- most species are smart enough not to wreck the ecologies on which they depend (ahem…). But they do provide a formidable check on the ravaging vine. I hope my new friends survive through the winter to make a quick start when the potatoes sprout next April.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


It was a hit a year ago, so we scheduled it again. The Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota's July meeting was its Second Annual MangoFest, featuring a mango tasting organized in part by your humble blogger.

Eight days before the grand occasion, three fruit tree buddies and I piled into my Civic and headed down to Pine Island to hunt mangos. The main stop was Steve Cucura's Fruitscapes. After a walkaround of the nursery, we converged on the well-stocked fruit stand and picked out 75 pounds of mangos, of a dozen varieties. Steve weighed them and I think he gave us at least an extra five pounds, a baker's dozen for a good customer. He also offered us a friendly price on lychee trees, and pal Kevin and I bought 3-gallon Ohia's to add to our collections. Heading back, we stopped at nearby Painter's to see what was on hand, and picked up six pounds of Coconut Cream mangos. At both places, we loaded up with fruit for ourselves as well. Bursting at the seams with mangos, longans, jakfruit, Ohia lychee trees, and fruit tree fanatics, we made our way home, talking plants all the way.

Now for the anxiety stage--- eight days for the impossible task of getting 85 pounds of mangos perfectly ripe. I had three levels of ripening speed to work with: inside the house, out on the porch, and out on the porch in a paper bag. Last year's five days weren't enough, while this year's eight days were probably one more than needed, and the paper bags never came out. The rock-hard fruits went to the porch and the others stayed inside. As the days passed, the backup refrigerator gradually filled with mangos that felt about ready.

The Julie's never did ripen, but just kept shriveling, so we ended up with twelve varieties for the fest. I turned down generous offers of help preparing the fruit in order to wait until the afternoon before the meeting to open them. Some had ripened unevenly, and it was a three-hour job to generate enough bite-sized cubes for the tasting. About 20 mangos remained, and they went into seven bags for the mango auction.

At the meeting we set up three tables in a line and laid out the dozen tubs, labeled “A” through “L”, along with the toothpicks and discard plates for the sanitary “one toothpick for one bite” tasting method. We provided the sixty or so in attendance with paper, and pens if needed, for taking notes.

We cautioned the participants not to make a hasty judgment of a variety based on just one tasting, since so many factors can affect the quality of a given sample. Many samples are needed, from different trees, at different times of the season and even different seasons. I think there may be a lesson in there about judging people...

The first mango tasted has an advantage, so we formed two lines moving in opposite directions along the tables. That is, some started at the “A” end and others at the “L” end. After everyone had been through, a vote was held for the favorite, and then we revealed the varieties. They were, with the vote totals: Wise (6), Mallika (2), Lancetilla (1), Pickering (6), Nam Doc Mai (6), Dot (7), Valencia Pride (5), Coconut Cream (8), Keitt (2), Carrie (2), Duncan (3), and the winner, mango “L”, was Kent (12). As we announced each variety, some of the knowledgeable club members told a bit about it--- some characteristics of the tree, the fruiting season, and so on.

I wouldn't disagree with the outcome, based on the samples. It's early in the season for Keitt's, and late for Carrie's. Neither of these favorites ripened very well, and I almost didn't take them to the meeting. The Mallika's also weren't up to par. The Kent's were at perfect ripeness and really were delicious, and with the advantage of a pole position it was no contest.

The auction was a lot of fun. Will Wright, Vice Chairman and past Chairman of the Sarasota club (and also an MRFC member), was the auctioneer, and the bidding was spirited. In the end, the auction proceeds almost exactly equaled the cost of the mangos.

Will had also started the meeting with a twenty-minute talk on mango varieties, plus fielding questions about how to grow mangos. Putting it all together, it was a wide-ranging evening that was both informative and entertaining. It's becoming a popular tradition for the Sarasota club, and I'm looking forward to the Third Annual TFSS MangoFest next July.