Darryl McCullough, a University of Oklahoma mathematics instructor, thought he might start a vegetable garden after retiring to the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
Then he made an unexpected discovery.
"This is one of the best places in the world to grow fruit," he said as he showed a visitor around his two-acre property that is now home to 160 fruit trees.
The McCullough homestead is a lot like the Manatee Rare Fruit Council annual tree sale, which is set for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.
The sale, now in its 30th year, features everything from the exotic and seemingly unpronounceable wax jambu and grumichama, to the ever-popular mango, lychee, banana, avocado and more, as well as an assortment of aromatic herbs.
"Everyone comes to Florida with the idea of planting an orange tree — after all, it's on the license plate," said McCullough, treasurer of the Rare Fruit Council.
But the reality soon sets in that diseases such as greening and canker present a challenge to the traditional backyard orange tree.
Fortunately, there are other options, and many can be found at the annual rare fruit tree sale, which attracts thousands of enthusiasts who arrive early and queue up around the convention center.
Bradenton area weather and sandy soil are ideal for fruit trees that are well known in parts of Asia and Latin America, but until recent decades were rarely found in Florida.
Some of the resources include classes at local fruit tree clubs and experts at the county extension service.
Even so, there are plenty of resources available to learn how to nurture a rare fruit tree.
"Once I started talking to people and learning, I found that it's not super hard," McCullough said.
McCullough suggests, however, that anyone growing a tropical fruit tree keep it pruned so that it doesn't get too tall to make harvesting the fruit difficult or become a threat to blow over in a storm.
Betty Kearns, who is a life member of the Rare Fruit Council, agrees.
She will be shopping for an avocado tree to replace a large one blown over by Hurricane Irma last September.
"It was loaded with fruit and we didn't want to prune it. Irma knocked it flat," Kearns said.
In addition, raising fruit trees can be a stress killer.
"It's relaxing and meditative to go out with your trees. It helps to connect with nature and know where your fruit comes from," McCullough said.
A good starting point to start growing trees is Sunday's sale.
"It's like going to 20 nurseries without having to travel all over Southwest Florida," McCullough said.
This year's sale will feature 5,000 plants and 22 vendors. Admission and parking are free. Only cash and checks are accepted.
A portion of the proceeds benefit Palma Sola Botanical Park, 9800 17th Ave. NW., which includes a tropical fruit portion.
"We have partnered with them for a long time," said park administrative manager Mary Ina Baden of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council. "They have fruits from around the world."
For more information about the rare fruit tree sale, visit http://www.mrfc.org/.
For more information about Palma Sola Botanical Park, visit http://www.palmasolabp.org/.