Averrhoa is a small genus of tropical trees native to Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Two species are widely commercially cultivated for their fruit and are also grown in some tropical and subtropical gardens. Like other tropical trees, Averrhoa species are very sensitive to frost and can only be grown safely in a limited range, unless people have greenhouse space to accommodate them. Nurseries sometimes carry seedlings and can order them by request. In addition, it is possible to grow Averrhoa species from seed by starting seeds in a greenhouse or a warm spot in the house.
Trees in this genus can reach a height of 30 feet (nine meters) when mature. They are very slow growing and produce simple opposite leaves, with many species folding their leaves at night because the trees are sensitive to cool temperatures. In the case of the starfruit, A. carambola, the tree produces distinctive yellowish to orange fruits that appear star-shaped in cross section. A. bilimbi, another species grown for its fruit, develops fruits that look astoundingly similar to pickles, explaining the common name of “pickle tree.”
The fruits can be used in a wide variety of dishes in addition to being eaten out of hand. Both fruits are useful for relishes, salsas, and other fruit dressings, as well as jams and jellies. They also can be cooked into stir fries and other dishes in their native Asia, and they can make colorful and flavorful additions to fruit salad. The distinctive shape of starfruit makes it a visually intriguing fruit garnish.
People interested in growing Averrhoa species will need to live in tropical or subtropical climates with high humidity. The trees need very rich, well-drained soil and a sunny spot in the garden. Seedlings should be regularly watered and fertilized to promote healthy growth, and they may need to be staked for support initially, in addition to being pruned to shape their growth. Because Averrhoa trees grow slowly, they do very well in containers. In intermediate climates where people have greenhouse space available in the winter, they can try growing a tree outdoors in the warm months and indoors during the cooler seasons.
Gardeners outside the zones where these plants thrive may be able to access the fruits through a greengrocer. Tropical fruits are very popular in many regions and the development of rapid air transit has made previously exotic fruits much more readily available. Some companies will even deliver fruit directly to the doors of customers.