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Rare Fruit lovers 'chomping' at bit for annual sale

For some it’s an adventure, a step into a rare tropical world of fruit trees with sometimes unrecognizable names.

The Manatee Rare Fruit Council will have a rare fruit and herb sale on Sunday at the Manatee Convention and Civic Center. Admission and parking is free. Doors open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m.

Event coordinators said that almost 20 commercial vendors from around the state typically sell trees such as lychees, nectarines, mangos, avocados, passion fruits, star fruits, bananas and more, as well as various herbs, jams, jellies, and a special fertilizer suited to this area called “Fruitilizer.”

But don’t be surprised if there’s a line wrapped around the building at 10 a.m. Some people are simply fanatical about rare fruits.

“Early in the morning it’s like a mad house,” said Ray Jones, who founded the Manatee Chapter of the Manatee Rare Fruit Council in 1986. “When the door opens at 10 o’clock, after we’re setup inside and let them in, they come storming in and running and running and then in 30-to-45 minutes when they’ve got their baskets full of trees a long line starts forming at the cashier’s desk.”

Jones said there are times when more than $50,000 worth of trees is sold. This year, more than 3,000 trees will be for sale in the Civic Center at One Haben Blvd., Palmetto. “That’s a lot of trees,” he said.

Peter Ray, a co-chairman of the sale, said the majority of the profits will support the Council’s three-quarter-acre Rare Fruit Exhibit that’s developing at Palma Sola Park, where there are about 70 young trees.

“We’re hoping that will be the premier display of fruit trees in southwest Florida,” Ray said.

Simply put, the rare fruit and herb sale will feature trees that people in temperature climates north of Tampa Bay cannot grow.

Jones’ first experience came in 1973 when he was living in Hollywood, Fla. He read in a local newspaper about a huge sale on Miami Beach with rare trees such as elephant apples, lychees, and sugar apples.

“My wife said, ‘Have you ever heard of those,” Jones said. “I said, ‘No.’”

Figuring it would at least be an education for his three boys, Jones loaded up the car and headed to Miami Beach.

“Some of the fruits were just incomparable,” Jones said. “And I’ve been a member ever since.”

There will be an expert’s desk to help customers find their desired tree, as well as workers who will help transport the trees to the customers vehicles. Aside from that, it’s simply an adventure.

“You’re probably doing something you’ve never done before,” Jones said. “But there’s so much to learn, and most of the trees come from a tropical world where people depend on trees for their survival.”

Nick Walter, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 708-7909.