Want to experience tropical fruits straight off the tree? The number one destination in the continental United States I recommend you visit is the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, Florida. It’s a place like no other.
The park’s 37 acres are planted almost entirely with tropical fruit trees. There are over 150 kinds of mango, 30+ of avocado, 40 types of banana, 20 jackfruit varieties, 25 types of annonas, plus much, much more. The best part is: you can eat the fruits these trees produce!
In order for every visitor to have the opportunity to sample fruits that are in season, the park has three basic rules:
- Don’t pick fruit off the trees.
- Don’t take fruit out of the park.
- Whatever tree-fallen fruits you find, you can gorge yourself on while you’re in the park.
Since most tropical fruits drop off the tree as they reach full ripeness, these rules enable a constantly self-replenishing supply of perfectly tree-ripened fallen fruits. For fruits which don’t drop on their own like lychees, park staff help things along by snipping off the fruits with pole pruners and leaving them on the ground under the trees for visitors to find.
What you as a visitor do is: wander from tropical fruit tree to tropical fruit tree, eating whatever ripe fruits you find that the trees have dropped. It’s such a simple concept, which feels so incredibly right.
Some kinds of trees at the park litter the ground under the tree with dozens or hundreds of ripe treats, while for others it’s like an Easter egg hunt, searching for fallen gems which other visitors have missed. If you know what to look for and are persistent in searching for fallen goodies, most days you can easily find enough fruit to completely fill your belly. I’ve learned to enter the park with an empty stomach – that leaves extra room for eating more tropical fruits.
Late spring to mid summer is mango season, and when I visit that time of year I walk along the double row of mango trees at the back of the property, gorging on exquisitely delicious, gourmet mangoes. I typically get so full I can’t fit another mouthful in me. In autumn it’s be the season of insane abundance of falling avocados, and in winter the canistel trees will be dropping their pumpkin pie/cheesecake flavored treats.
I love how in an era when the prevailing cultural attitude in the US is to actively avoid planting fruit trees (“What if falling fruits stain the driveway? What if free fruit attracts vagrants? What if someone eats a fruit with a worm in it and they get a tummy ache and sue us?”), the Fruit and Spice Park proudly and unapologetically flouts these norms by planting out hundreds and hundreds of tropical fruit trees, and inviting people to come and eat the resulting fruit abundance. Given the uptight attitudes prevalent these days regarding planting out food-producing plants, this feels like a breath of fresh air.
In addition to the fruits you can eat from the grounds, the park has a tasting table at the entrance admissions building, where staff have collected the best fruits currently in season, and they offer plates of sliced bits of these. This is great as a way to get a sample of each kind, and also to find out what’s currently in season. But these are just tiny slices so you can get a taste. If you want to really fill your belly, you need to walk the grounds and hunt down your fruit prey yourself.
Important note: the more familiar you are with tropical fruits, the better your experience is likely to be at FSP. Sometimes first-time visitors walk through and miss most of the good stuff, and leave wondering where’s all the fruit they’d heard about. If you’re not super knowledgeable about tropical fruits, you might try to find an experienced fruit buddy to accompany you on your first trip there. The park also has guided tram tours, which may be helpful if you’re a first-time visitor.
Another important note: if you’re squeamish about eating a fruit that’s touched the ground, or about having to cut a bad spot out so you can enjoy the delicious other half of a fruit, you’ll need to GET OVER IT before you’ll be able to enjoy the fruity riches which the FSP has to offer. 😉
Also: only eat fruits which you’re pretty confident you’ve ID’d correctly. There are some poisonous trees at the park, including ackee, which is a delicious edible at the right stage of maturity, but can be lethally toxic at the wrong stage. Don’t be too worried, the ackee tree has lots of warning signs around it. Just don’t go eating everything you see dropping from a tree if you have no idea what it is. A quick internet search on your phone can be super helpful in IDing mysterious fruits.
The fruit collections at the park are roughly organized by region of origin, so there is a tropical American area, an Asian area, and an African area.
Some tropical fruit trees like breadfruit and cacao are so cold sensitive even South Florida’s mild winters give them problems, so the Park has a couple greenhouses where you can see trees of these extreme tropicals.
There are other plantings besides fruit trees at Fruit & Spice Park. There’s a sizable collection of clumping bamboos, with about 70 varieties represented. And in case you were wondering about the “spice” part of the name, there’s also an herb & spice garden. In that area, be sure to smell the foliage of the allspice, bay rum, and cinnamon trees – these have a incredibly wonderful fragrance.
Other things to do while you’re in Homestead: a good place to buy tropical fruits you can take home with you is the Redland Market Village, open on weekends. I recently wrote a blog post describing the place. I’ve heard that Brothers fruit stand is another place with good local tropical fruit for sale.
If you want to eat more than just fruit, there’s the Mango Cafe, located right at FSP. If you enjoy a hostel experience, one great place I’ve stayed at in the area is Hoosville Hostel, which has both private rooms and dormitory style accommodations are available. They have a wonderful courtyard with sitting areas, a little waterfall you can swim in, and a network of rope ladders and platforms that let you climb high into a giant Ficus tree.
Fruit and Spice Park is open 7 days a week. Greatest fruit abundance might be on weekdays, when there are fewer visitors. Admission is just $10. Bring a pocket knife & water bottle for rinsing fruit juice off your hands.