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Mystery Plant 221

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Mystery PlANT 221

I never really too much of a vacation this past summer: work, work, work…that was me. (Americans don’t take enough vacations, they say.) Maybe over the holiday break we will be able to get away for a week or so. I’ve never been to Jamaica or Costa Rica: what about Cuba…wouldn’t it be fun to go to Havana? Maybe soon. Anyway, if you can’t design a trip to a warm place full of tropical vegetation and beautiful scenery, maybe you can get a taste of the Caribbean at your local grocery store.

That's right, folks. Modern well-stocked grocery stores --as well as your local mercado-- are getting to be truly amazing places, and they don't involve taking your shoes off in a long line. When you think about it, the diversity of food items in a big grocery store is much greater now than it used to be. And with fruits and vegetables, it's just about gotten to the point that there are no "seasons" anymore. Some grocery stores are worth a trip, just for their entertainment value. (That's the reason I am rarely allowed to go to my local supermarket. I always take too long browsing, looking at all the beautiful food and reading all the labels.) For a botanist, a trip to the produce section of a large supermarket actually has considerable educational value. The fruits and vegetables on display are frequently a perfect complement to the classroom lecture. In addition, many supermarkets now carry extensive food products from Latin America, often including many items not usually seen traditionally on American dinner tables.

Here's an absolutely wonderful beverage you might try. It's delicious when really cold, and it has a sort of complicated strawberry-banana taste. Of course, the odd fruit pictured on the label is the source of this nectar.

This is a decidedly tropical species, native to much of northern South America and the Caribbean. (Although it is tropical, this species is a fairly close cousin of our own paw-paw, which also has a delicious fruit.) This tropical mystery tree is now grown widely in cultivation in just about all the warm tropics. The trees produce handsome green leaves and small yellowish flowers. The fruits start out dark green, and are abundantly equipped with soft, spine-like outgrowths. As they age, the fruits, which can be quite heavy, become yellow. The juicy interior of the fruit contains a luscious, although somewhat stringy, white pulp, as well as plenty of large seeds. It's full of vitamins and other good things, and is a wonderful source of frozen desserts and "pulp" shakes. The fruits can be eaten as is, but because of their stringiness, are frequently juiced and made into the refreshing nectar. ¡Que lo aproveche!

Answer: “Guanábana," Annona muricata]

John Nelson is the curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia SC 29208. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit or call 803-777-8196, or email


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