Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Super Hass

If you've learned a bit about growing avocados in Florida, you'll know that the Hass variety that dominates the grocery store bins doesn't work well here. And though we have many excellent varieties adapted to our conditions, there are some diehard Hass lovers. In fact, I am married to one (though we'll see how her tastes evolve if my Jose Antonio and Catalina trees produce). For their exacting palates, there may now be a Florida solution.

At the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota's mini-tree sale last October, I had a chance to ask Fruitscapes owner Steve Cucura about the Super Hass avocado variety that he now has for sale. It originated as a seedling of a Hass avocado tree that belongs to a dooryard grower in Louisiana. Steve and Immokalee wholesaler Billy Hopkins acquired it and have developed it for Florida growers.

The owner was calling it Ooh-La-La, the kind of name that's cute but would wear thin after a while. Steve took to calling it the Super Hass, and I think that will stick.

Steve has found that the tree is vigorous in Florida's humid climate. It certainly looked that way from the 7-gallon specimens he brought to the sale--- grafted last year and already taller than I am. More importantly, it is very productive.

Super Hass fruits in September and October. The only weakness Steve has found is that the fruits sometimes ripen unevenly. He said this seems to diminish as the fruiting season goes on, and gave me a couple of freshly picked fruit to sample. The first was opened when it felt just a bit soft, like a ripe Hass, but turned out to be underripe. The second did ripen unevenly, but the ripe part tasted exactly like a Hass.

Waiting a while longer to open them likely would have produced better ripened fruit. And Noris Ledesma says that fruit trees have to learn how to make good fruit, so maybe the Super Hass trees will outgrow the problem. I expect a prime high-ground planting site to open up next spring when I put some declining citrus trees out of their misery, and I'm intrigued enough to give Super Hass a try.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How Many Trees Are There?

How many trees are there in the world? Scientists are making progress in the effort to answer this question.

An article in the Washington Post highlights a study recently published in Nature. A team of 38 scientists reported their research on not just the number of trees, but the distribution and, most importantly, how this count has been changing in recent years.

The investigation combined satellite observation data with more than 400,000 ground-based observations of tree density. It turns out that nearly half the planet's trees are in tropical regions, with most of the rest about equally divided between temperate zone and boreal (northern) forests. For those who may be wondering, the scientists' definition of “tree” is a woody plant with trunk diameter at chest height of at least 100 cm, or about 4 inches.

The bottom line looks like good news. The study found that there are more than three trillion trees, which works out to 422 trees per person on the planet. This is more than seven times the previous estimate of 400 billion.

How do different nations stack up as far as trees per person? Canada, with its extensive boreal and tundra forests and relatively low population density, has an impressive 8,953 per person, and for similar reasons Russia racks up 4,461. This outdoes Brazil, which with its rapidly disappearing Amazon rain forest is down to 1,494 per person. At 716, the U. S. is comfortably above the world average. China has only 102 per person, and crowded India only 28. My Indian friends would counter that measured by resource consumption, the average American counts as dozens of average Indians. Could be they have a point there.

Three trillion is a lot of trees, but the scientists believe the tree count has fallen 46% since the beginning of human civilization. And the current annual net loss from human activity, wildfires, and pest outbreaks is around 10 billion. A sobering flip side to the increased count is that restoring forests to historic levels would require many more trees than previously thought.

Yet another reason to plant more fruit trees.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Males Not Needed. Females Either.

Until this fall I haven't focused much on my papaya plants. The half dozen I planted in 2013 promptly departed for compost heaven in the standing water of that very wet summer. I tried again and now have a random assortment of them growing, mostly in not enough sunlight. They are making fruit, but are too small to carry it to maturity.

Now I'm working on a major upgrade to my papaya horticulture. Some of the details will appear upcoming posts, but today let's just review one of the oddities of this unusual fruiting plant--- the fact that papayas (basically) have three genders: male, female, and hermaphrodite (or, in Tropical Fruit Forum-ese, hermies).

Males are easily identified by their flowers, which as seen here are on relatively long peduncles (flower stems), as opposed to the other two genders whose short peduncles keep the flowers--- and later the fruit--- close to the main trunk.

Males go directly to the compost heap.

Females are a little trickier to identify. Their flowers have ovaries but not anthers. If you have one producing fruit that you like, it may be worth keeping, but generally speaking the females belong on the compost heap as well.

The keepers are the hermaphroditic plants. The flowers are “perfect”, meaning they have both ovaries and anthers. Hermies are self-pollinating, and can pollinate females as well as other hermies. The fruit of the females tends to be rounder and have a larger seed cavity. Some sources say the hermie's fruit is tastier. Even if not, the assured pollination, smaller fruit cavity and a shape conducive to tighter packing for shipping make hermies the nearly universal choice for commercial growers.

There are rules for the proportions of genders to be expected in seeds from the various pollination combinations of male-female, hermie-female, and hermie-hermie, but they won't be on the exam. More important for the home grower is being aware of various phenomena involving papaya gender and fruiting. Males can produce small, useless fruit. Females sometimes produce fruit without pollination--- I've had one, which had no seeds and was bland-tasting. Some papayas have both male and female flowers. Some hermies produce some male flowers. Sometimes--- especially after a traumatic event--- papaya plants will change genders.

In short, thin out the male and female plants, and be prepared for surprises.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Killed It

I killed a tree today, a fruit tree. Most of us have killed some--- there was the one that I watered too much, and the one I didn't water enough, and the one that I never figured out which. Ha, ha.

But this was a real killing. A healthy tree that I've eaten plenty of fruit from, that did what it was supposed to do. An act considered, fully evaluated, planned, and efficiently carried out.

There's only so much space, and so much sunlight, and I need that prime irrigated spot for something I really, really want to grow there. In this situation, I often transplant the current resident to another location, and generally that's worked out well. But for various reasons it wasn't worth it this time.

People run the gamut when it comes to killing plants. I've heard of some who have difficulty just thinning vegetable starts, and certainly there are plenty who simply don't see plants as an emotional matter--- if there's a better alternative, it's simple logic to take it.

As a vegetarian, I'm occasionally asked whether I think plants can feel pain. I am certain they do not. Animals, being mobile, need pain to make good decisions of where to go--- it tells you which things are harmful, so you can choose to avoid them. Plants, though exquisitely reactive to their environments, make no such decisions. Since the structure needed to experience suffering requires an investment of matter and energy, a pain-feeling plant will be outcompeted by one that puts those resources to better use. Whether you subscribe to Darwin's concepts or not, you know that useless structure is not to be found.

So pain's not an issue. Every day I rip out unwanted plants and recycle their nutrients as compost, never giving the matter a second thought. But a fruit tree that I put there myself, and has done what I asked from it, that feels different. We are connected.

The time has arrived. Loppers, saw, pry bar and trenching shovel in the wheelbarrow. I meditate briefly to Ma'am Gaia, accepting responsibility for my original bad decision to plant the tree, and vowing to learn from it. Lop off the branches, chop off some feeder roots, now work on the trunk and main roots. Main roots left in the ground will compost eventually, yet for some reason I don't like to just saw them all off. After extracting dozens of saw palmettos, I'm good with a pry bar, and I use it to work out some of the main roots along with the root ball.

It's done. Twenty minutes of work have erased three years of growth. As I wheel the pieces away to leave them for tomorrow's brush pickup, I marvel at how little they weigh, for something that could capture that much sunlight and turn it into that much fruit. I think back to when I planted it three years ago, and how much has happened since then, and wonder what the next three years might bring.

Every end is a beginning, and the sword must balance the scepter. I'll pull out another tree tomorrow, if the need arises. But I hope it doesn't.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


My latest addition is a Bosworth 3 lychee or, for the insiders at Tropical Fruit Forum or just someone typing on one of those teeny-tiny keypads, a B-3. It's also known as Kwai Mai Pink for its pink-colored fruit.

It's a somewhat uncommon variety, achieving only a single, one-page thread at Tropical Fruit Forum. The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's website describes it as a small tree that is a consistent producer of small but delicious pink fruit. Pine Island Nursery's cultivar viewer describes the fruit as good to excellent, and the tree as a regular producer. The coloration and small fruit size diminish its commercial potential, but it's rated an excellent choice for the home grower.

I did a bit of Ecosia-ing (regular readers--- both of you--- will recall my preference for the tree-planting search engine Ecosia) and found some curious tidbits. A vendor in the Canary Islands reports that the Bosworth 3 is more cold-hardy than other varieties. An Australian poster on Tropical Fruit Forum says its doesn't require as much cold as other varieties do to fruit successfully. Seemingly contradictory, but not actually logically inconsistent.

Then there is the Australian nursery that describes the Kwai Mai Pink tree as medium to large, with fruit that is red when ripe. I'm thinking someone musta' sold them a bill of goods, but maybe they are not so far off. It turns out there is a Kwai Mai Red cultivar. The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia list both the Kwai Mai Pink and the Kwai Mai Red, the latter also called the Bosworth 10.

Finally, on eBay you can buy a “Live Kwai Mai Pink Lychee Seedling”. Perhaps not the best place to buy a fruit tree. Though if one is going to buy a seedling, it's good to get a live one.