Jackfruit ( Artocarpus heterophyllus) is a tropical tree native to western India that has been cultivated in Florida for more than a century. But now, with superior varieties available and growing techniques updated, it’s time to take advantage of its potential for production.
Jackfruit makes a handsome tree with fruit weighing up to 70 pounds each. This can sound overwhelming — using a 70-pound fruit is a challenge. But some of the new varieties offer a more manageable size of 2 to 15 pounds.
Jackfruit development has been part of Fairchild’s Tropical Fruit Program since 1987. Working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida, we’ve focused our research on the introduction and evaluation of cultivars from tropical Asia and the distribution of superior cultivars for use in tropical America.
As a result, superior cultivars are now available. Modern propagation and growing techniques have been developed.
If you want to grow jackfruit at home, here’s what you need to know.
Because of its outer appearance, jackfruit is called “alligator fruit” in some parts of the world. The fruit grows from the tree trunk itself, and occasionally even from the surface roots of the tree.
What you’re looking for is fruit weighing 2 to 15 pounds, with a uniform shape and smooth skin. The flesh should be firm and crunchy, deep yellow or orange, with a light, non-musky flavor.
When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit has a strong, sweet odor, and its ripe fleshy bulbs smell of sweet pineapple and banana. Inside the leathery exterior are starchy seeds surrounded by a sweet and aromatic flesh, with a distinctive flavor reminiscent of bananas and tutti-frutti..
There are many recipes for jackfruit, or you can simply eat it out of hand, raw.
In India jackfruit is often called “the meat fruit” because of its meaty texture when it is immature. It is common in many regions of India for the main course of a meal to be composed only of jackfruit. The fruit bulbs are used in soups, main dishes, desserts, milk drinks, ice cream and fruit salads. The fresh bulbs are excellent dried or preserved in syrup. After you invite your friends to share your sweet jackfruit, offer a meal of green jackfruit as a contrast to surprise them.
A graft should be used to ensure a healthy and productive tree. Jackfruit trees are best planted when the temperatures are warm. The planted tree should be thoroughly watered to remove air pockets. It won’t need supplemental irrigation after the tree is established. However, for those who tend to overwater, the jackfruit may be your answer, as it can withstand daily drenching with no ill effects.
Soil should be as fertile as possible and will benefit from the addition of mulch to the soil surface. Mulch will improve water-holding capacity, nutrient retention and availability and soil structure. Wind, when associated with low humidity, is detrimental to the health of young jackfruit trees. The tree is not tolerant of salt in the soil, water or air. Fertilization is best done by three applications per year in March, July and September of an 8-3-9 or other fruit tree formulation.
Jackfruit trees will form a stately, dense and rounded canopy with a minimum of input, but horticultural management is necessary to maintain a small, healthy and productive tree. With annual pruning the tree is easily maintained at a height and spread of six to eight feet. Pruning should be done once per year following harvest of the major crop, or towards the end of the growing season.
Here are some jackfruit cultivars we have found suitable to South Florida:
The jackfruit is an excellent tree for a home garden, for both form and function. Whether your garden is large or small, you can grow your own jackfruit. Come to Fairchild’s Jackfruit Festival on Saturday and learn all you need to know to grow your own tree.
Noris Ledesma is curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden