PALMETTO -- The 25th annual Manatee Rare Fruit Council's Rare Fruit Tree Sale was once again a huge hit Sunday with residents and visitors alike.
Hundreds of plant lovers packed the Bradenton Area Convention Center for the one-day show, which featured 25 tree vendors offering avocado, banana, blackberry, figs, grapes, guava, jaboticaba, kumquat, lychee and many more fruit trees and bushes.
In the first hour of the sale, eager shoppers formed a line around the building and bought up 15 percent of the roughly 5,000 trees, said Betty Kearns, tree sale chairwoman.
As the sale wore on, the convention center quickly went from looking like a forest to a gymnasium.
"The sale was outstanding," Kearns said. "The biggest challenge we had was supplying all the shoppers with carts."
To accompany tree vendors, Kearns also brought in Suncoast Beekeepers, What About Us doggie treats, J.K. Flowers, Big Earth Landscaping and the secret hit of the show, Tomboy Tools, which offers pink tools designed for women.
The event is all about buying trees, tasting the fruit and learning about the horticulture underpinning it all, many said.
Bernie and Jean Lepore of Ellenton tried a free sample of jaboticaba, a South American fruit. The Lepores said they liked the sweet, grape-like taste.
Vendor Roberta Harris shared the jaboticaba back story.
"The fruit actually grows on the bark of the tree," Harris said. "They grow along the river banks so flooding is no problem. They like it wet. They can take cold, also."
A $35 jaboticaba tree was available from Bradenton's Diane Wallace Nursery. Dale Wallace said the 3-year-old stripling probably wouldn't begin to produce fruit until it was about 6-years-old.
Harris regaled audience members about a "miracle" fruit.
"It you eat a miracle fruit, for five minutes or so afterward, everything you eat tastes sweet, even a lemon," Harris said.
She said the small round berries from the miracle fruit, which look like elongated cherries, are used by cancer patients to stimulate their taste buds.
Despite such unique offerings, the mango once again reigned supreme, Kearns said.
"Today's hottest sellers were mangoes, mangoes and more mangoes," Kearns said.
She advised a visitor to try a slice of a cut-up mango. The brilliant sweetness lit up her taste buds, she said.
The first person in line, mango lover Anthony Rodrigues of St. Petersburg, arrived at 8:30 a.m. Rodrigues is in the mental health field and he admitted to a mango obsession.
"I love mango trees and have several varieties," he said.
Second and third in line for the show were sisters, Annette Burkholder of West Bradenton and Theresa Crofts of Bradenton. The two veteran "Black Friday" shoppers go out at 8 p.m. every Thanksgiving for early savings and applied their skills to the fruit sale.
The pair learned how to plant trees from their grandfather, Charles Cova, owner of the Bob-O-Link Golf Course in Novi, Mich. They had their eyes set on passion fruit, kumquat and pomegranate.
"Scan and go, that's how we shop," Burkholder said with her game face on.
When the doors opened, the sisters burst through, scanned the floor, and made a beeline to the prettiest trees. There was no stopping them.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, Ext. 6686.