Advertisement
  1. Arts & Entertainment

Diggin' Florida Dirt: Florida Loquat Festival celebrates a fruit tree worthy of worship

This loquat is of the Champagne variety. Loquats, which have no relation to kumquats, are in the Rosaceae family with roses, apples and pears. Grown as a shrub or tree, it’s described as both an edible and an ornamental.
Published Mar. 3, 2017

Do you know loquat? I'll bet you do — even if you don't.

Know it but don't appreciate it? Let's pause a moment to adore this little fruit.

. . . Small oblong sun, cousin to the peach

Your history reaches far to the East . . .

Wendy Buffington, New Port Richey

O, loquat pie

Your sweetness makes me smile

Friends! Come eat your fill.

Carmella Guiol, Tampa

Revered in these excerpts from Vol. 1, Leaves of Loquat, the hardy Asian native gets its due April 8 at the fourth annual Florida Loquat Festival in New Port Richey. You'll find workshops, plenty of trees and homemade jellies and jams for sale, and "O! Loquat!," the literary festival that bequeaths Leaves of Loquat.

Think you don't know the loquat tree? It likely grows on every other street you pass en route to the grocery store, and maybe even in your own yard. You may — like my mom and sister — say, "Nope, I don't have a loquat. That's a Japanese plum tree that my (dad/aunt/neighbor/friend) gave me years ago."

If you've got Japanese plum, you've got loquat. And you've been blessed. So says an authority on such matters, the chair of the Religious Studies department at the University of South Florida.

"Loquats are a living expression of the concept of grace given to us by a generous universe," says Dell DeChant, who's been teaching religion at USF for 30 years. "Loquat trees will out-produce any fruit tree I know. They're easy to care for and the beauty of loquats is the fruit doesn't become ripe all at once. It comes in over a period of months, so at any time, you have flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit."

A few years ago, Dell realized that his academic focus — religion in contemporary cultures and how we sacralize the world — dovetails with his passion for gardening. The literature of all the mainstream religions includes exhortations to protect and nurture nature, he says, and he sees more and more people finding their cathedrals in gardens, experiencing the sacred by touching nature.

So he helped found a nonprofit, Ecology Florida, which has spawned two robust community gardens and the Loquat Festival, a one-day event that's grown from 200 visitors in its first year to 1,000 last year, by organizers' count. Loquats get big love, Dell says, because they thrive in cities and suburbs, need no fertilizer or pesticides, tolerate heat and cold, and get by on rainwater. In short, anyone can grow a loquat tree and produce food that feeds body and soul.

But you don't need to wait till April to get your loquat on! Peak fruiting starts now and the Loquat Fest folks welcome all harvest help and trees to glean. If you want to help harvest or volunteer your trees, call Sylvia Spencer at (407) 488-5018 or email gardenmaiden13@gmail.com.

Got loquat trees or want to grow them? Some tips:

Spots are good: "Perfect" looking yellow fruit will be tart. Loquats taste sweetest when they've developed an orange hue and dark spots. "Like bananas," Dell says.

Eat 'em quick: Don't refrigerate your fresh-harvested loquats; eat or preserve them within 48 hours.

Choose your variety: There are at least 13 loquat varieties, about four of which are widely available locally. It you want to plant a tree, sample the flavors at the Loquat Fest. Big Gem and Christmas produce the plumpest fruits.

Even when they're not fruiting, loquat trees enhance the landscape with shiny, green leaves. They can grow to about 35 feet tall, but most top out at half that, making them a good choice for smaller spaces.

"They ask nothing of us, and give us so much," Dell says. "Loquats are a gift from Mother Nature to the people of Florida."

Contact Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan49@gmail.com; visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt; and follow @DigginPenny.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Emilia Clarke, left, and Kit Harington in a scene from HBO blockbuster "Game of Thrones." AP
    The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience and the Who come to town, plus a ‘Greatest Showman’ sing-along at Tampa Theatre.
  2. In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 photo, Esme Goldman, 13, streams an episode of the '90s sitcom "Friends" via Netflix in her bedroom at her home, in Pasadena, Calif. “Friends” marks its 25th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 22 and the quintessential 1990s sitcom has attracted a new slew of viewers who are barely half that age. Tween and teen girls in particular have embraced the show with huge enthusiasm, taking a show that belonged to Generation X and making it their own.  (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) CHRIS PIZZELLO  |  Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
    “It is old but you can’t tell that much when you’re watching,” said 15-year-old Sammy Joyce.
  3. "House Hunters," shot at a home in the Bayshore Beautiful area.  (Times | 2007) Tampa Tribune
    Whang, 57, was also a comedian and actress.
  4. On Saturday, Disturbed will perform at Amalie Arena in Tampa. TRAVIS SHINN  |  Warner Records
    The Bucs Beach Bash goes down in St. Pete Beach, Disturbed plays Amalie Arena and the Dance Hall Festival continues at the Studio@620.
  5. Visitor Sara Crigger of Nashville views the Dali masterwork painting "The Hallucinogenic Toreador" (1969-1970) this month with the aid of the Dali app on her smartphone. "Using this is like holding an art history class in your hand," Crigger said. The "Visual Magic: Masterworks in Augmented Reality" exhibit runs through Nov. 3 at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    With augmented reality, 19th century prints, bronzes and food photography, a well-rounded experience awaits.
  6. Salman Rushdie is the author of "Quichotte." Rachel Eliza Griffiths
    The acclaimed author will talk about the book at Tampa Theatre on Sept. 25. | Review
  7. Aaron Shulman is the author of "The Age of Disenchantments." Ecco Books
    The author is reading ‘City of Quartz,’ a history of Los Angeles.
  8. A man takes a picture of a sign at the Little A'Le'Inn during an event inspired by the "Storm Area 51" internet hoax, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Rachel, Nev. Hundreds have arrived in the desert after a Facebook post inviting people to "see them aliens" got widespread attention and gave rise to festivals this week. JOHN LOCHER  |  AP
    The Air Force has issued stern warnings for people not to try to enter the Nevada Test and Training Range, where Area 51 is located.
  9. A scene from a balcony cabin on a 2017 Alaskan cruise. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Tampa Bay Times
    You can have the trip of a lifetime without paying for it for the rest of your life.
  10. Evander Preston inside his gallery Evander Preston Contemporary Jewelry Design in Pass-a-Grille. The portrait of Preston (left, top) was done by Adam Turkel. The carved wooden sculpture of a white dinner jacket to Preston's right was done by Tampa artist Fraser Smith. Preston died on Sept. 14. Times (2007)
    His gallery and his eccentric presence have been a constant in the St. Pete Beach area for decades.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement