Whenever I plan my travel, bringing back plants is always my first task on the to-do list. Recently, I made a trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to speak at an environmental art event. . I spend a lot of time reading about the native plants of that island and what could grow well here in Pakistan. After all, how could have I come back from an island that’s literally a garden without their mouthwatering fruit plants?
My list of favorite fruiting trees and vines was ready and I had spent some time practicing their native names in case a nursery manager didn’t understand English. But the problem was that I couldn’t carry plants on the flight. Buying plants and then leaving them at the airport was just not an option.
Visit to the fruit stall at Bentota
On our visit to Bentota, a town about 85 km away from Colombo, a beautifully decorated fruit stall stopped me. I saw all those juicy purple Mangosteens, more than five types of bananas, two types of avocados, super large and sweet mangoes, passion fruits, King coconuts, star fruits, dragon fruits and so many more.
The trick to grow coconuts is to source a fresh coconut and to soak it in water for a couple of days before planting
It was at that moment when it struck me that I could buy fruits and take them back or simply eat them here and save their seeds! This idea was such a fine one for me especially because most of the fruits that I saw there could be planted by seeds very easily.
This tropical fruit has become my favourite! Hidden inside its dark purple shell is a super soft white fruit that is simply divine. It originated in Indonesia and is now widely grown in Southeast Asia, southwest India and in other tropical areas around the globe. The tree can be grown from the seed very easily and needs to be planted under the shade of another tree. My covered terrace seems like a perfect spot for this.
There are one or two seeds in each fruit which look like an almond. These take a couple of weeks or more than a month to sprout and grow into tall tree – one which can reach a height of some 82 feet!. Intercropping with bananas, coconut or other fruiting trees will give it the right shade to survive in summers, even in Karachi. The maximum temperature that it can stand is 40 C. Under the shade, of course, temperatures are lower.
I planted my seeds in a mix of peat moss and compost in pots. The seeds are about to sprout. I know this because I accidentally dug one and saw it ready to burst open!
2. Passion Fruit
Since eating my first passion fruit I have become quite passionate to grow it myself. This beautiful flowering vine has a stunning flower that turns in to a sweet and savoury fruit. The fruit is round or oval and changes colours from yellow to green to purple with yellow specks as it matures. The inside of the shell is packed with juicy seedy fruit. I like the purple variety more than the green one.
Seeds from a ripe fruit sprouted in about 20 days in Karachi, even during a heat wave. These plants will grow fast and turn into a lush green vine that will begin to produce flowers in 18 months or more. Flowers emerge at every node, mostly.
3. Star fruit
The Crambola or star fruit is very easy to grow from seeds. There is usually only one seed in each fruit. Remove and plant it immediately. The plants turn into trees and takes up to five years to begin fruiting. Initially the tree produces some 90 kg of fruits but this multiplies in subsequent years.
The world has recently begun to realise the health benefits of this ‘green’ fruit and that has led many people to turn into gardeners and experiment growing their own avocados.
Avocados are also called ‘alligator pear’ or in Urdu, ‘Magarmach Nashpati’. The fruit contains a single large seed which spouts very easily if kept moist. It takes 20-30 days for the leaves to appear.
Sri Lanka has many varieties of avocados. I got two different types: Reed and Hass. Reed is a big round avocado that weighs more than a pound. Its thick, green skin covers the pale golden flesh. The seed is larger than other varieties.
Hass on the other hand, is egg-shaped and weighs around 300 grams. When ripe the skin turns dark purplish. This one is the most popular variety.
Both of the seeds have sprouted. I just have to wait for another five years to see the first fruit.
5. King Coconut
Sri Lanka is famous for its earthy delicious king coconuts. The trees are growing all over the Island and fruits are sold at every street. This is definitely the sweetest coconut of the world. The ran thambili variety of king coconut is the smallest tree that produces about forty nuts in a bunch. Each fruit is loaded with water.
Its short height is the reason I searched for this variety all over the place. The trick to grow coconuts is to source a fresh coconut and to soak it in water for a couple of days before planting. If you are lucky, you might find one that is already sprouting.
While staying in small hotel for a day, we ordered some pineapple juice, and because there were not many guests there, we requested the person in charge to pack the pineapple crown for us – the very one that he used for our juice. Soon we had a couple of pineapple crowns to carry back home as well.
I know – by now you think I’m a bit crazy with this. Well, they were about to through it away. And I can also use a new type of pineapple in my garden.
Growing pineapples is very easy and I have written about it earlier. Please refer to that piece for a complete guide.
I failed to locate gooseberries anywhere. I had plans to bring back a cutting but it did not work. Luckily, I found gooseberries at a store and brought back a lot of them. I planted the seeds and I’m waiting for them to sprout. It is quite easy to plant these from seeds and the plants turn into bushes quite fast too.
Well these are just a few fruits that I bought back and planted here. There are some others that did not make it and some I had to leave out. Next time when you’re traveling and wondering how to sneak some plants in via your luggage, just buy fruits and use the seeds to start your own plants without breaking any laws.
Also while you bring back these unique plants, do some research about what will be suitable in your environment and not become invasive for the native plants!
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk