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Fruit tree sale attracts ardent buyers

MANATEE — There always seems to be a stampede.

When the Manatee County Rare Fruit Tree Council holds its annual tree sale, lovers of rare and exotic fruit trees queue up early outside the Manatee Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. The line reaches around the building and into the parking lot.

When the doors open at 10 a.m. Sunday, organizers of the sale know there will be a rush of buyers, hoping to get the best citrus, mango, avocado tree, or maybe something even more exotic.

In all, there are expected to be more than 3,000 plants for sale, including those valued for their herbs and spices.

Pete Ray, 78, of Parrish has headed up the sale for the past decade, but says that this is his swan song.

Among the plants that Ray plans to bring to sale are lychee trees and ginger plants.

He believes that vendors will have plenty of demand for their products, given the severe winter the area experienced.

Looking around Ray’s property, most of the mango trees still carry freeze burn damage.

“This was the worst winter I’ve seen here in a long time,” Ray said, predicting many residents will be looking to replace trees they lost in the freezes.

Shoppers also come looking for advice, for a certain tree for a specific location, or for something new that catches their eye.

“I expect the crowd will be at least as large as last year, but we never get a meaningful count,” Ray said, referring to the human wave that always seems to charge into the Con- vention Center. Doors are expected to stay open until 4 p.m. Admission is free.

“It’s safe to say there were thousands,” he said.

Ray Jones of Palmetto Point also plans to bring plants to the sale, including avocados, mangos, noni, and sapadillas,

“As usual, everybody is looking for something unusual,” Jones said.

The council uses proceeds from the sale to support its fruit tree exhibit project at Palma Sola Park.

“We are planting fruit trees there and maintaining them in perpetuity. Because of the warm location they came out looking pretty good,” Ray said.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.