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Garden Journal

Star fruit can be cultivated indoors for fun

By Paul Barbano | Mar 14, 2012

When a young student showed his dad a nursery school drawing of his classmate Lucy O’Donnell, the kid called the picture "Lucy - in the sky with diamonds." The boy’s dad was so intrigued by the title, he went on to write a song with that name.  This Lennon-McCarthy hit was dogged by the obvious referral to L.S.D. in the song’s title, and the BBC promptly banned "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Nevertheless, in the night sky there really is a Lucy and there really are diamonds.  The aptly named star Lucy is a white dwarf star (officially BPM 37093) with a 10 billion trillion trillion-carat diamond in the core of the star.

Stars here on Earth are even edible.  The star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) produces a perfect five-cornered star when sliced.  Because they do not need to be peeled or seeded before eating, star fruit are great to eat out of hand. The star fruit tree has been cultivated for hundreds of years throughout Southeast Asia.   It is also grown outdoors in the warm climates of California, Florida and Hawaii.  Luckily, it is also a very nice indoor or container plant.

The light green or yellow star fruits grow between four and eight inches. Star fruits grow in clusters of three or four on the branches and trunk of the tree.  The trees bear fruit for up to 40 years.  Star fruit trees can produce several crops each year.

The entire star fruit is edible, even the thin, waxy skin. The skin is high in tannin, which helps regulate the intestines and helps treat diarrhea. The flesh of star fruit is also high in fiber, and fiber is another boost to the digestive system.

Star fruit is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C, which helps your body fight against colds and infections. Vitamin C is also thought to help strengthen the body against cancer and heart disease.  The high potassium in star fruit can help prevent muscle cramps and improve blood circulation. Star fruit is also high in vitamin A, which has been shown to boost the immune system.  Vitamin A also helps prevent heart disease.

Star fruit contains a neurotoxin that healthy kidneys filter out.  The National Kidney Foundation, however, cautions anyone on dialysis or with kidney disease to avoid all star fruit (carambola).
This is an easy-to-grow indoor fruiting tree that flowers and produces fruit when it is just 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.  It often blooms and fruits within a year of purchase. The star fruit blooms intermittently year-round with small clusters of lilac-colored flowers. Keep your star fruit plants out of drafts.

Ask your local nursery or florist to order one for you or buy from mail-order nurseries such as Top Tropicals or Logees.

After three to four months, the fruit ripens to golden yellow. Slice the fruit crosswise to reveal a beautiful five-pointed star. Your indoor fruit will be just as sweet as fruit grown outdoors on larger trees.

Grow star fruit trees in full sun in any good, well-drained potting soil. They do best with an indoor temperature above 55 degrees. Feed occasionally with an indoor organic fertilizer while the plant is actively growing. There are several commercial organic fertilizers for indoor plants.  Carefully follow the instructions on the package and remember it is best to underfertilize rather than overfertilize.

You can also use a homemade compost tea to water your star fruits and other indoor plants. Just fill a bucket about one-third full with finished compost and add enough water to fill the bucket.  Let this “tea” sit for several hours or overnight. Strain the tea and water your star fruit plants.  Only fertilize when plants are actively growing in spring and summer.

If your house lacks enough light, supplement with grow lights, especially during the darker winter months.

Your star fruit tree can become the star of your indoor plant collection. As for Lucy, her fame only grows.  In 1974, a 3.2 million-year-old, fossil skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis was named "Lucy" because the Beatles' song was being played loudly and repeatedly in the camp.

Whether you have stars in your eyes or diamonds in the skies, your star fruit can give you real stars to eat.  Even Julian Lennon would be amused.

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