Book Review

Árboles frutales exoticos y poco conocidos en Puerto Rico
(exotic and little-known fruit trees in Puerto Rico)

by Juan A. Rivero and Bryan R. Brunner

Published by La Editorial, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Apartado 23322, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3322, 358 pp, 250+ color photos and drawings, ISBN-08477-2346-1, Soft cover
US $28.95, April 2006. Web site: www.laeditorialupr.com
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Reviewed by Noel Ramos (9/2006)

This interesting and informative book is written in Spanish by two well-respected and dedicated botanical researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Juan Rivero and Dr. Bryan Brunner. Both authors reside on the western side of the island. Both have studied and grown tropical fruit trees for many years.

Their work focuses on the cultivation of the rare and exotic fruits not normally found in the average Caribbean home garden or farm. That means you won’t find the typical mangos, papayas, coconuts or citrus fruits in this book, but you will encounter the Kuini (Mangifera odorata), a fragrant mango relative from tropical Asia, the Borojó (Borojoa
patinoi), a citrus relative from western Colombia, the bright orange Cherapu (Garcinia Prainiana) from Malaysia, the Imbu (Spondias tuberosa) from Brazil, and the curiously named Chupa Chupa (Quararibea cordata) from the rainforests of the Amazon basin. In fact, the vast majority of the fruits covered by this book are not native to Puerto
Rico, but all are growing nicely and fruiting in the island’s diverse climates and soils. These fruits are being cultivated by a small group of dedicated growers and hobbyists on private farms and orchards throughout the Puerto Rican countryside and at the island’s botanical gardens and government research stations.

For many years, the mainstays of the island’s agriculture were sugarcane and coffee. But low prices and intense worldwide competition have pushed the sugarcane industry completely off of the island and have left its once prosperous coffee growers in a precarious state. Because of these declines, the island’s agronomists have been
looking for alternative crops that could help reinvigorate the agricultural interest of the island’s remaining farmers.

Research work being done by both private individuals and the government offers hope that some of these new and exciting fruit tree crops could find their way onto the island’s farms, orchards and eco-tourism operations in the near future. This book offers new crop alternatives for Puerto Rican farmers, as well as for innovative farmers in other warm areas, who are looking to diversify their crops but are unfamiliar with some of these new “leading-edge” exotic fruits.

While providing little detail on actual growing techniques, the book does provide basic information on over 200 different fruits from 28 plant families. The introductory header for each fruit provides the scientific and common names in Spanish and English, family and place of origin, followed by a consistent arrangement of information: botanical description, propagation, cultivation/culture, pests and diseases, uses of the fruit, related species, varieties and cultivars, and other pertinent data.

Each section displays at least one color photograph or color drawing of its featured fruit and most include photos of
the tree leaves and flowers to aid species identification. The photography is of very good quality, something that tends to be lacking in many scientific botanical publications. Nothing helps to sell a product like nice photos and this book is packed with them.

Other features of this work include a directory of hobbyists, growers and farmers who grow these rare and unusual fruits. Some phone numbers and e-mails are included. Another alphabetical listing of tree species identifies which ones are cultivated on each grower’s property, a good reference for someone who wants to buy fruit, seeds or an actual tree.

A section called ” Otros Frutales” (other fruits) provides a brief description of 48 other exotic fruits not covered in the main body of the book. The glossary (vocabulario) provides several pages of the definitions of botanical terms used in book. Another one-page section on tree propagation provides brief but useful graphic details on grafting and air layering.

Some suggested improvements for a future edition? Let’s start with an English language version for rare fruit growers in subtropical areas of the U.S. and for the many English language speakers in countries throughout the tropics. This would also entice many more fruit clubs and individual growers in Florida and California to add this valuable book to their own libraries.

I would have liked to have seen the authors provide help to growers in the form of information about the varied Puerto Rican climates, land elevations and soils where these fruits are being successfully grown. I also believe that a brief history of the past and present status of Puerto Rican fruit cultivation, including the types of native fruits utilized by the indigenous Taino people, would be interesting to many, if not most, readers of this fine volume.

Very little has been written about fruit-growing efforts in the Caribbean islands so a work of this type was overdue. I congratulate Dr. Rivero and Dr. Brunner for their work. There is a great deal of useful information packed into this book that will have rare fruit enthusiasts longing to grow some of these unusual exotic fruit. —NR


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