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Jack (Jak) Fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)

One of the many trees that were fruiting while we were at the Florida cottage was Jack Fruit, shown in the photo. A neighbor, who was there for her grandchildren’s birthday and lives in Florida, led me around the compound and helped identify many of the plants that had lost their labels. We were both happy to have made a new gardening friend.

Some time later, I saw her walking along the driveway that led to her cottage, opposite ours. Whatever she was carrying was very large, very heavy, and very orange. Within minutes, she re-emerged from the cottage and was headed our way.

The manager had picked a ripe Jack Fruit for her and cut it open, so that we could eat it. It is just as strange on the inside as it looks on the outside. The color is that of a mango, and the flavor is like a combination of mango and banana, although some people describe it as having a pineapple taste.

The interior consists of long, fibrous, edible strings that resemble a wide pasta noodle, such as fettuccine. Buried deep inside these fibers are hard seeds about the size of a hazelnut, which are also edible, roasted or toasted. But the big prize is the flesh that clings to the seeds. The smooth, creamy texture is an intense sensual delight and the best I can say is that they are “indescribably delicious!”

Be prepared, this is not a food to try to eat in a ball gown. Some folks might be put off by the abundant, thick, sticky juice, again similar to mangos, and there is no mannerly way of digging around for, or eating, the flesh around the seeds. Weighing in at anywhere from 10 to 110 pounds and containing as many as100 to 500 seeds, I suggest that you get some friends to help you eat it.

While I have never seen Jack Fruit before, evidently it is quite common in Jamaica and the Caribbean, Brazil, and throughout India and many Asian countries. It may be available dried, canned, or frozen in some Asian food markets.

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Of Fish and Flowers

You never know when or where you’ll run into plant lovers. Later this week, we set off to the Treasure Coast of Florida to visit my Dad, who is celebrating his 80th birthday. While there, we’ll stay at the River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp, a compound of small cottages along the Indian River in Jensen Beach.

While most of the visitors seem to go there for Captain Rufus’ fishing forays, we chose it because Melynda has planted their seven acres with more than 80 varieties of edible plants, fruits, and medicinal herbs, as well as tropical trees and flowers. While visitors are not allowed to pick the fruits, they can make a selection from baskets placed outside the office each morning. There are also fresh eggs when the hens are laying.

The owners have gardening books available for the curious, or garden writers like myself, who never truly feel on vacation unless they can be somewhere where there are interesting gardens to explore. It is also a good lesson to get away from our familiar gardening environments and discover how little we know about plants in other places.

Why Use Native Plants?

Beginning this weekend and continuing through September 16th, the fall plant sale at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve,, in New Hope Pennsylvania, features native wildflowers, vines, ferns, shrubs and trees. The Preserve waives their usual entry fee during the sale, so you’ll have a chance to explore the 134 acres while you’re there.

Although there is some difference of opinion, native plants are basically those that originated in an area prior to the European colonization of the Americas in the 1600s. Confusion arises because many of the plants that now grow wild in our region, such as English daisies and Queen Anne’s lace, were introduced early in the colonial era and have been here for more than 100 years. But these are actually naturalized non-natives.

Native plants, by contrast, evolved over geological time, adapting to soil and climate conditions, as well as to the animals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc. that inhabit the same ecological niche. Because they “grew up” in a specific place, native plants are well-adapted to it, making them much more resistant to disease and the vagaries of the weather. When planted in an appropriate spot, they require minimal maintenance: Less fertilizer, pesticides, and watering than non-native landscape plants. In the Mid-Atlantic region, native plants offer an abundance of color and texture, through their buds blossoms, bark, and berries. Many native plants also attract more wildlife, such as birds and butterflies, than their cultivated counterparts.

One of the most damaging aspects of suburban development is the fragmentation of natural habitats (see my blog on detention basins for just one example). Some species, such as certain types of turtles, require a surprisingly large and diverse roaming area that includes both wetlands and uplands. Habitat fragmentation disrupts natural ecosystems, interferes with the movement of species, and, over time, removes critical habitat from a location.

While it is a poor substitute for preservation, where the damage has already been done, each of us can play a part by including native plants in the garden. This can help create corridors for wildlife to travel back and forth between habitat patches that have become disconnected. Better still would be to spread the word to neighbors, or your homeowners’ association, and mount a co-operative restoration effort.

Detention Basins: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In our area, stormwater sewers that serve housing developments and some businesses empty into the dreaded detention (or retention, or infiltration) basin, a visually hideous engineered method of holding large volumes of water until it can safely disperse to groundwater, natural streams, ponds, etc. (top photo). These are generally grass monocultures or rip rap which, if not properly maintained become weedy, overgrown maintenance nightmares. Suffice it to say that anyone who can get away with not maintaining one will continue to not maintain it. Frequently, the town ends up owning and maintaining such basins, meaning that all the taxpayers pay.

When grass is used as the only groundcover and pesticides and fertilizers are applied, they can contaminate the runoff. Regular mowing of the basins is difficult because of the steep sides and wet floor. This maintenance adds contaminants to the watercourse, as well. Grass basins also attract undesirable wildlife, such as Canada Geese, which prefer this open environment and add excess organic waste to the runoff.

One of my life's missions is to eradicate this type of detention basin first, from my own town, then from the state of New Jersey, and then from the face of the Earth, replacing them instead with stormwater gardens. A stormwater garden is NOT a rain garden. The scale and purpose are vastly different. Rain gardens are more like an alternative to a drywell, or a bog garden that operates on your roof runoff (I have one), but they absolutely are not designed to handle the runoff, for example, from a steeply sloping 5-acre lot, or from ten 2-acre lots.

New Jersey DEP's preferred Best Management Practice for detention/retention/infiltration basins is a vegetated stormwater garden, also called a Marsh Meadow Garden. For anyone close to Morristown, NJ, such a garden serves the vast parking lot of the the Frelinghuysen Arboretum (bottom photo). For those who are not, Chapter 7 of the NJDEP Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual can be downloaded from the NJDEP website:

Since a detention basin is one place where grass is NOT needed and maintenance is difficult, a more varied and suitable combination of plants can be used. Unlike grass, the plants used here do not require constant maintenance, pesticide treatments, or fertilizer applications. Therefore the basin is more energy and cost efficient. The dense plantings act as a buffer and perform the valuable functions of biofiltration and erosion control. Canada Geese are deterred by the thick cover, which attracts a great diversity of other desirable wildlife.

Stormwater gardens that use native plants offer a more attractive, low/no maintenance, and habitat-conserving alternative to the monoculture detention basins that drive out native species of both plants and animals.