In the industry, they’re known as exotic fruits or specialty produce, and some people might think of these fruits and vegetables as unusual, uncommon, or simply strange.
Although exotic fruits and vegetables still represent a small percentage of all produce sales, some things once introduced as specialty items are now mainstream and not considered exotic anymore. In fact, most exotic fruits can be grown right here in the USA.
This article is inspired by the plants growing on my dad’s farm in southern California. His farm produces avocados, dragon fruit, and finger limes for sale to large chains like Whole Foods.
It’s an amazing place, and I love being there. All of these photos (except the passion flower and fruit) were taken at his farm!
7 exotic fruits you can grow in the United States
Here is a list of exotic fruits you can grow in your backyard. Most of these exotic fruits won’t tolerate cold weather or frost, but some of them can still be grown in containers.
Although it might not seem like it would show up on a list of exotic fruits, avocados were, once upon a time, new to the average American consumer. But these days most everyone enjoys freshly made guacamole dip, and avocados are now commonplace in grocery stores.
If you’ve never tried avocados, don’t be alarmed by their bright green colored flesh!
These fruits have a smooth and delicious texture and flavor that makes them great on sandwiches and in salads, blended into sauces and dressings, and can even be used as an alternative to butter and oil to add healthy fat and flavor to things like pudding and cake.
Avocados grow on big trees in US hardiness zones 8-11. Some varieties of avocado are more tolerant of cold weather than others.
While you can grow an avocado tree from the pit (seed) inside the fruit, you should know that it will be about 5 years before you get any fruit off of it.
If you want to grow your own avocados, you’re better off buying a 2 or 3 year old avocado tree from a nursery. Plant your avocado tree in full sun, at least 6 hours per day, and give it plenty of space!
Avocado trees can grow to 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide! These trees don’t tolerate drought very well, so make sure to give it frequent deep watering.
Pineapples are another exotic fruit that we’re all pretty familiar with, but you might not realize that you could grow a pineapple in your own yard!
Like many exotic fruits, pineapples prefer a tropical climate and will happily grow outdoors in zones 11-12. You might think that pineapples grow on trees, but they are actually a fairly small plant that grows well in containers.
That’s really good news because growing pineapple as a houseplant is possible for most people. You can choose to purchase a pineapple plant, start your plant from seed, or grow a pineapple from the leafy portion on the top of the fruit.
A pineapple plant will only make one fruit at a time, and, however it is started, it will be at least 2 years before and between harvesting your fruits.
Pineapples like conditions similar to cacti, so plant it in acidic soil in full sun, allow the soil to dry between waterings and don’t over water.
Here is a good article about getting a pineapple plant started from a store bought pineapple.
If you are an avid watcher of the wildly popular Food Network channel, then chances are you have seen the strange looking Dragon Fruit.
Watching TV cooking shows helps introduce exotic fruits to us in useful ways like how to use them in our daily meals.
For example, the dragon fruit is always delicious, but it is especially good when chilled in the refrigerator first.
Cut it in half, and eat the magenta colored flesh using only a spoon. YUM!!
Dragon fruit is also used in smoothies, salad dressing, homemade wines, and as an additive in sauces.
Depending on the variety of dragon fruit, the flesh may also be white. Both have a mild but satisfying sweetness and a smooth texture accented by a slight crunch from the tiny black seeds within it.
Curious about what a dragon fruit plant looks like when it is still on the plant?
It looks like a cactus doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is! The dragon fruit plant is a very cool vining cactus. They are often trained into cactus trees, will grow straight up a wall, and I’ve even seen them grown in hanging baskets.
The harvest season for dragon fruit begins in July and continues through November. The next time you’re in the supermarket, check the produce section for this delicious fruit.
Dragon fruit has a mild, sweet taste, but I will say that the supermarket varieties are not nearly as tasty as the dragon fruit grown at home.
Also referred to as the caviar of limes, these finger-shaped limes have a green oily skin that’s very fragrant. Previously only grown in Australia, this exotic fruit has only recently been grown in the United States.
Snap the finger lime in half and squeeze out the caviar-like, bright green, yellow, or pink citrus pearls that literally ooze from the fruit into the palm of your hand.
The finger lime is great with sushi and looks amazing on the plate. It’s unique appearance and flavor makes finger limes one of the most interesting fruits I’ve ever seen!
Did I mention it is absolutely delicious? The finger lime has a very tart lime flavor, but it’s the little beads of juice that burst in your mouth that makes these fruit amazing!
In this country, finger limes are currently only grown in California and in southern Florida. It can be hard to grow from seed, so purchasing grafted plants is the best way to grow these cool plants at home.
They live in full to part sun in zones 10-11 and are grown in a manner similar to other citrus plants. And, like other citrus plants, the finger lime has sharp thorns, so be careful of those!
The image below is a finger lime tree taken at my father’s farm. Look closely and you can see that the tree is loaded with dozens of finger limes.
You might not consider it an exotic fruit since everyone is familiar with the banana, but as an exotic fruit tree, the banana comes in many varieties. And did you know that they can be grown in mainland USA?
The bananas in the above image may look like plantains but they are genuine bananas, sweet and delicious.
Below is a picture of what they look like on the banana tree.
The plant is about twenty-five feet tall. It’s very wide and the leaves are broad.
The sweet banana that is sold in grocery stores is of the Cavendish group of bananas and only grows in tropical zones from cloned plants. However, there are many varieties of banana plants and plantains that can be grown up to zone 4 in the US.
The tropical Cavendish banana fruit grows best in very warm temps: about 60-80 degrees F. It loves water, rich soil, and takes up a lot of space. After the tree produces fruit, the mother plant dies and new trees grow up from the base of the parent tree.
Bananas do not grow from seed, but rather from suckers that sprout from the roots, or more accurately the rhizome, underground. To grow your own banana tree, you need to source a sucker from a friend or neighbor with a banana tree or a reputable nursery.
There are many types of banana trees, so make sure that you know what kind you are getting. They are not all as sweet as what is sold in the grocery store.
Find great info on growing bananas in this article.
Most of us are familiar with the stunning passion flower, but did you know that the passion flower grows on a lovely vine and some will produce unique, edible exotic fruit?
In the image above the passion fruit vine is used as a decoration on a chain link fence. What a cool way to beautify a fence!
There are many types of passion fruit ranging in color from purple to yellow. Depending on the variety, it will grow in zones 6-11.
The fruit produces very crunchy seeds within sacs of sweet and tart juice. They are easy to grow, but be careful!
Passion flower vines can easily become intrusive in your garden and will quickly take over! On our farm, wild passion fruit sprouts in early spring and the fruit ripens from August til frost.
They require very little care-we never water or fertilize our plants. In fact, the only maintenance necessary is to pull unwanted sprouts as we do any other weed.
Growing passion fruit from seed can be difficult, so you might want to purchase plants.
Here is a great resource for more information about growing passion fruit.
The darling of chefs, the Meyer lemon is a favorite exotic fruit of the citrus clan. It is sweeter and less tart than a traditional lemon and is therefore favored for use in desserts and drinks like lemonade and cocktails. The rind is also favored for flavoring in cooking.
California produces almost all of the nation’s Meyer lemons, and they’re in season from October through early April.
Check out these 7 tips for growing loads of fruit on your Meyer lemon tree.
Here’s what they look like on the tree:
If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow your own Meyer lemons, then make sure you take advantage of its many uses in the kitchen.
Check out all the recipes from Martha Stewart for making dishes, desserts, drinks, and preserving Meyer lemons.
Which of these exotic fruits have you grown at home?