MANATEE -- The Palma Sola Botanical Park in northwest Bradenton is best known for hosting yoga and palates classes, fairs, concerts, demonstrations, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and bar mitzvahs.
But few people know that the 10-acre Manatee County-owned tract at 9800 17th Ave. N.W. is also home to the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, the gigantic jackfruit from India.
In fact, the park has between 40 and 50 rare fruit and nut oddities, planted there by members of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council.
Ten years ago, the council was offered nearly an acre of the site to plant rare fruit trees and those trees have now matured, said Nick Baden, a Botanical Park volunteer and board member.
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Although Sunday's annual Spring Garden Party at the park was moved until this fall, the 76-year-old Baden, a lifetime Manatee resident, lawyer and farmer, was at the park Sunday, watering plants with his ever-present straw hat on his head.
"If you are thinking of planting rare fruit trees, you can come out here and see what they look like," Baden
said, turning off his watering hose for a few moments. "You won't find a more premier display of rare fruit and nuts from here to Miami."
The Botanical Park, which has a long-term lease with the county and survives on private donations and grants and no taxpayer money, hosts its human events in its Galleria Building, which seats 80.
But the real fun is outside, among the fruit and nuts, said Michael Jaster, president of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council.
"When jackfruit mature, they are amazingly striking," Jaster said.
The largest jackfruit can be 80 pounds for one piece of fruit, even dwarfing a watermelon.
The examples at the park will probably be around 40 pounds when ripe, Jaster said.
"The stems that hold the fruit get thicker and thicker and are almost 2 inches around when the fruit matures," Jaster said.
Although the jackfruit, sugar apples, mangoes, citrus and macadamia nut trees are there to study and enjoy and not nibble on, Jaster said jackfruit is translucent yellow and tastes like a mixture of apple, pineapple, mango and banana.
"It's kind of like a piece of juicy fruit gum," Jaster said.
Another oddity at the Botanical Park is a the torrid growing cecropia, also known as trumpet-tree, from the West Indies which has grown to 20-feet in just five years, providing shade for a gazebo the 80-members of the Rare Fruit Council purchased erected in the park.
"It's hard to find, but the cecropia does have fruit," Jaster said, hinting at one of the fun games adults and children can play the park, which is, "Find the Fruit."
The Gulfcoast Plumeria Society has also established several groves of rare and spectacular plumeria trees at the Botanical Park and Biden himself recently put in a new hibiscus memorial garden dedicated to Florida horticulturist Dr. Will Waters.
The reason the Botanical Park can be home to so many tropical and subtropical plants is that the park, which was once the official Manatee County government plant nursery, is unusually warm, Jaster said.
"We have the river on the north, Palma Sola Bay on the south and the Intercoastal Waterway on the west," Jaster said. "It's a protected micro-climate. If you go a little east, it becomes colder and many of these trees will not flourish."
The Palma Sola Botanical Park allows pets on a leash and picnics. It's open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset and admission is free, Biden said.
Special events do sometimes require a fee.
Visitors can walk a trail completely around the park and its many ponds and discover the rare fruit and nut trees located in the southeast corner of the park.
The Manatee Rare Fruit Council is looking for new members interested in fruit and nuts. The club meets 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the University of Florida Extension Office, 1303 17th St., Palmetto.
Botanical Park information: 941-761-2866.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.