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Can you name this week's mystery plant?

Answer: “Red mamay," Pouteria sapota

Can you name this week's mystery plant? (Answer: “Red mamay," Pouteria sapota)

One of these summers I am going to take a proper vacation. This pandemic has upset so many aspects of our lives, and I am really looking forward to more “normalization” … which ought to come with ramped-up vaccinations. I hope you’ve had yours.

Anyway, they say Americans don’t take enough vacations, and this was even before the pandemic. When it all works out, we would like to get away for a week or so. I’ve never been to the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica: what about Cuba … wouldn’t it be fun to go to Havana? Maybe one of these days. Oh well, if you can’t design a trip to a warm place full of tropical vegetation and beautiful scenery, maybe you can get a taste of the Caribbean at your local grocery store.

That's right, folks. Modern well-stocked grocery stores — as well as your local mercado — are getting to be truly amazing places, and though a mask is a good idea, you won’t be taking your shoes off in a long line. When you think about it, the diversity of food items in a big grocery store is much greater now than it used to be. And with fruits and vegetables, it's just about gotten to the point that there are no "seasons" anymore. Some grocery stores are worth a trip, just for their entertainment value. (That's the reason I am rarely allowed to go to my local supermarket. I always take too long browsing, looking at all the beautiful food and reading all the labels.) For a botanist, a trip to the produce section of a large supermarket actually has considerable educational value. The fruits and vegetables on display are frequently a perfect complement to the classroom lecture. In addition, many supermarkets now carry extensive food products from Latin America, often including many items not usually seen traditionally on American dinner tables.

Here's an absolutely wonderful beverage you might try. It's delicious when really cold, and it has a sort of complicated strawberry-pumpkin taste. Of course, the odd fruit pictured on the label is the source of this nectar.

This is a decidedly tropical species, native to much of Mexico and the Caribbean, and is grown now widely even as far north as Florida. (Although it is tropical, this species is a fairly close cousin of our own “Bully trees” of the genus Sideroxylon, which are native to various places here in the southeastern USA.) This tropical mystery tree is now grown widely in cultivation in just about all the warm tropics. The trees produce handsome green leaves and small yellowish flowers in crowded clusters. The pointed fruits start out pale green, and the flesh within is bright red. There is a single, elongated pit. The ripe fruits can weigh up to five pounds or so. The juicy interior the fruit contains is luscious and smooth. It's full of vitamins and other good things, and is a wonderful source of frozen desserts and "pulp" shakes., or juiced and made into the refreshing nectar. ¡Que lo aproveche!