Carambola: A Star(Fruit) on the Wall



As published in the Miami Herald

If you have a modest yard with little space, but want fruit trees, the solution could be as elegant and simple as a star fruit espalier. What is an espalier you may ask? Well, simply think about a grape vineyard and you are home. This system will provide a novel use of this dooryard plant and serves as an effective design component in your yard. It can even cover up some unsightly or undesirable section of your home garden. 

The star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) is an attractive alternative for planting in your own back yard. It is definitely one of the most versatile tropical fruit. The star fruit or carambola is a beautiful tree, with a most curious fruit. Slices cut in cross-section have the form of a star, which of course lends the name to the fruit.  It was introduced into Florida over 100 years ago from Southeast Asia and as fall nears, its trees hang heavy with golden fruit. The fruit naturally fall to the ground when fully ripe but should be picked from the tree as they turn yellow to avoid bruising. Ripe star fruit are eaten out-of-hand, sliced and served in salads, or used as garnish on avocado or seafood.  They are also served cooked in tarts and curries. A relish is made of chopped unripe fruits combined with celery, vinegar and spices and a refreshing juice is served on sultry South Florida evenings. In Hawaii, the juice of sour varieties is mixed with gelatin, sugar and boiling water to make sherbet. 

What to grow: In Florida, star fruit can be found through much of the year, but the main crop matures from late summer to winter depending of the cultivar. We recommend the cultivar ‘B10' which is a small tree with sweet and resilient fruit. The production is excellent and the fruit store well, with a deep orange skin color. There are several other varieties available in local nurseries, including ‘Arkin’, ‘Golden Star’ and ‘Fwang Tung’. All will serve well as an espalier. 

Building the support: There are a variety of easy ways to create an espalier frame. You can work with an existing trellis, though building one specifically for the plant ensures that it can provide adequate support for branches loaded with fruit. If you plan on placing your frame near a wall, at least three feet should be allowed to allow for painting or making repairs without disturbing the plants. 

You can create a basic espalier using wood, iron or most any type post placed at ten foot intervals.  The design can be straight or in an arc and should be from 5 to 7 feet tall. Preferable there should be three wires spaced equally apart up the height of the post. The wires should be tight and of sufficient thickness to withstand years of exposure to the elements. Loop the ends so you don't scratch yourself or ruin your shirt every time you walk by. A support wire on the end posts may also be advantageous to further secure the structure. 

Planting: Plant the star fruit trees every four feet. Keep in mind that for the optimal fruiting the star fruit will need full sun. Partial shade will reduce fruiting, but improve the overall color and appearance of the plants. Fertilization is best done in three applications per year (Mar-June-Aug) with an 8-3-9 or other fruit tree formulation. Star fruit trees can tolerate freezing temperatures for short periods, and benefit from the use of mulches and regular irrigation. 

Training the espalier: Allow the newly planted tree to develop a central leader that grows up to the top wire. The leader should be tipped at this point and lateral branches allowed to develop from this central axis along the horizontal wires. This shape of a central leader and lateral branches should be maintained throughout the life of the espalier. Severe pruning should be done after harvest of the crops, which are concentrated in the fall and winter. This pruning will remove the small shoots and branches, leaving only the major limbs that are trained along the horizontal wires. Blooming will occur on the short shoots of the regrowth. A light summer pruning may also be needed to maintain control and appearance of the espalier. 

This recipe can be served as a compliment to your Thanksgiving feast. 


·         2 start fruit (sliced)

·         Torn lettuce leaves

·         2 tomatoes (sliced)

·         ½ onions (chopped)

·         1 avocado (sliced) 

Arrange a bed of lettuce on each salad plate. Layer the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Repeat until all ingredients have been used. Add the dressing of your choice. 

Carambola-Cranberry Sauce  (makes about 5 cups) 

4 ripe carambolas

2 1/3 cups orange juice

2 cups sugar

1 12-ounce bag cranberries (fresh or frozen)

2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated

2 allspice leaves (or several allspice seeds in a cheesecloth bag)

1 small cinnamon stick

Agar or Arrowroot to thicken 

Trim ends of carambola. Set one aside. Slice the remaining three carambolas into ½ inch crosswise slices, remove seeds and dice. Combine orange juice, agar agar and sugar in a heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add carambolas, cranberries, allspice, cinnamon stick and ginger and cook until berries begin to pop, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool, pour into serving dish. Peel away any brownish skin from the remaining carambola and slice into ¼ inch crosswise slices. Arrange in a decorative pattern on top of sauce. Refrigerate. Serve either cold or at room temperature. Remove some of the liquid off the top if necessary. It is also delicious added to seltzer water as a spritzer or to white Cabernet sauvignon wine as an easy tropical sangria. It can also be served over pound cake.

Noris Ledesma is curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.