Elsewhere on this site, I explain how to grow your own Palm Tree from an ordinary date stone. Well, there are other exotic plants you can grow from your shopping. Here are a few ideas...
This is my Dragon Fruit today..
I came across the most bizarre looking fruits in my local supermarket some time ago - big, bright red things with all manner of interesting flaps and folds in the skin, like some kind of ornamental Chinese Lantern. They were labelled 'Dragon Fruit'. I had no idea what kind of plant they came from (ah, if only Sainsbury's could be persuaded to list the scientific names!) so I just decided I'd have to grow some seeds and see what they turned into. The inside of the fruit is filled with a white flesh (sadly, pretty tasteless) dotted with thousands of tiny black seeds. It was simple to remove and clean the seeds. Then I just scattered them onto the top of some compost in a small pot, covered them with a half inch layer of vermiculite, kept them well watered and stood them in a sunny window. The sprouts appeared after a few weeks. Now, a couple of months later, they are tiny plants. They were obviously some kind of cactus (this probably explains why the flesh of the fruit is so tasteless - it's mainly water!) - after doing some hunting around on the Internet, I now discover that the Dragon Fruit is actually a climbing cactus! It is an American species which is also called Pitaya and is now a popular fruit plant in Asia - scientific name Hylocereus undatus. Amazing what you can find in a supermarket!
Growing your own pineapple is simple. Find a nice fresh fruit with a good,
green crown. Cut the crown off with about an inch of the pineapple flesh below
it. Pull the flesh away with your fingers to leave a hard core. If there is
any soft flesh left, cut this away so that only the hard core remains at the
base of the green leaves. Leave this on the windowsill to dry overnight. Now
pull away several layers of the smaller bottom leaves. As you do so, you should
see tiny rootlets that were hidden between the leaves. These are the beginnings
of proper roots. Plant the exposed core of the pineapple an inch or two deep
into a pot of well-drained sandy compost. Water moderately. Do not cover (I
know some books tell you to cover a pineapple with a plastic bag. But I've found
this just makes it go mouldy). Put it in a moderately light spot away from direct
sunlight. Water it sparingly for a few weeks. After about 4 to 6 weeks the pineapple
should have started growing proper roots. Pot on as necessary. The pineapple
makes a spectacular houseplant that looks like a big, spiky agave. If you are
really lucky it may even eventually produce fruit (but you'll need to give it
lots of heat for that!)
Note: For more help, see my step by step photo-guide to pineapple growing.
...a small pomegranate bush.
I have to be honest - I'm not that keen on the pomegranate fruit (Punica granatum) . Too pippy. Not very tasty. The seeds are easy to grow though. Just clean off the flesh (the mouth is the perfect tool for the job!) - then sow into a small pot, water, keep warm and there you are. In a few weeks you'll have a little pomegranate plant. The plant is rather more interesting than the fruit, in my opinion. It forms a frost-hardy bush or small tree with glossy green leaves, with hints of red. Eventually has bright red flowers apparently and can produce fruit in hot summers. I've just planted a few of mine outside (spring 2002. I'm hoping they'll produce some fruit in the years ahead!)
Recently I have germinated a Mango seed (big seed!). This turned out to be quite simple. Just peel all the flesh away, soak the seed for a few hours, scrub away at any other bits of fruit flesh, then pop the seed into a pot of compost and keep it warm. A green sprout emerged after a couple of weeks. I don't suppose it will be practical to grow the mango to a full size and pick my own fruit. Still, it will be interested to see if it can be grown into an indoor plant for a few years.
I first ate a paw-paw in West Africa, many years ago. There the fruits are huge and juicy - much bigger than any I have ever seen on sale in the UK- with succulent orange flesh. Absolutely perfect for breakfast with a little fresh lime juice squeezed over the fruit. The paw-paw (Carica papaya) is a moderate-sized tree that grows to a height of around 4 metres (12 feet) or more. In the tropics they grow fast and fruit readily. Unfortunately for those of us living in less favoured climes, they do need lots of heat (22C/72F or above) to thrive. They also benefit from high light intensity and humidity. Generally, you will need several plants in order to produce fruit as male and female are usually distinct. It's easy to grow paw-paws from seed. Just scoop out the plentiful seeds from the centre of a shop-bought fruit, soak them and scrub them between the palms of your hands to remove the sticky covering, then pot them up into pots of well-drained compost and keep them somewhere warm until they sprout. Then give them as much heat, light and humidity as you can! (Note: this is not to be confused with the Native American pawpaw - which is a totally different plant).
One big discovery (for me) a few years ago was that you can grow your own rice! You'll need to use brown rice - i.e. with the husks intact, polished white rice is no good - and I've had great success with red rice from the Camargue. I am told this may even prove to be hardy in the UK. Whoopee! My own paddy fields! Just sow some rice on the surface of a pot of compost. Sprinkle some compost over the top. Water well, put in a warm, sunny window, and they'll sprout in no time. I planted some Camargue rice in my garden pond but it either didn't survive winter or was swamped by the other weeds (e.g. Parrot Feather pond weed which is very vigorous). Oh well, just plant some more each year, I guess....
I've germinated Tamarind seeds (extract these from the dried tamarind blocks available from Asian stores). I am also growing Lychees from the stones of fresh (not tinned!) fruits and Mangosteens.
Remember, you can also grow your own passion flowers using the seeds from supermarket passionfruits. Try ginger using a fresh root - one with some green sprouts showing is best. If you have access to an Asian store, look out for eddoes. These quickly grow into very attractive foliage plants which are moderately cold-hardy so can be tried outside in milder areas.