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6 Different Types of Carambola

Carambola is also known as star fruit. There are varieties of carambola but in this article, we will discuss types of carambola that grow in Florida suitable for consumption.

A fresh slices of starfruit in a woven basket.

Also known as star fruit, Carambola has two main types. One is sweet, and the other is tart. The sweet variety is suitable for eating fresh, and you can use both types in recipes at home. Varieties such as the ‘Golden Star’ are tart unless allowed to ripen to a golden hue on the tree.

There are 25 varieties of Carambola, 14 of which will grow in the tropical climate of Florida. Unfortunately, however, only six are good enough fruit to bother growing. And even though they are all Carambola, their flavors range from poor quality and taste to tart, while other cultivars are of very good and good quality.

Origins of the Carambola

A fresh slice of starfruit in a wooden board.

Believed to have originated in Ceylon and the Moluccas, Carambola has been cultivated in Asia and Malaysia for centuries. The sweet, juicy, and unusual-shaped fruit adds flavor and visual appeal to recipes and is deliciously eaten alone.

Early travelers that came upon this fruit in Asia called it Chinese, Coromandel gooseberry, or the cucumber tree. In Guyana, they are called ‘five fingers.’ In the French Antilles, the Carambola is called ‘cornichon.’

Varieties of Carambola That Grow in Florida

3 fresh varieties of Carambola.

While there are over 25 varieties of Carambola, only 14 are grown in Florida. Furthermore, only six are suitable for consumption as several are very sour varieties.

  1. Arkin – medium to large in size, yellow, dark yellow, and orange when ripe, sweet, good quality, and flavorful.
  2. Golden Star- medium to large fruit that is tart, yellow, dark yellow, and orange in color, and it is tart unless they are picked when fully ripened.
  3. Lara- the fruit of this Carambola is medium to large in size, sweet, yellow, dark yellow, and orange, and is of good quality and flavor.
  4. Newcomb- is another medium to large-sized fruit that is yellow to dark yellow and has a tart flavor. The Newcomb variety is a suitable variety to plant in Florida.
  5. Star King- Also medium to large, the Star King is tart and yellow to dark yellow when ripe.
  6. Thayer- this variety is tart, yellow to dark yellow, and has poor quality fruit.

Although these are the primary varieties of Carambola grown in Florida, Malaysian varieties with better qualities are also grown there.

The Carambola Tree in Your Landscape

Young carambola fruit in a tree.

A full-grown carambola tree can reach 30 feet and 25 feet in diameter. They are multi-branched evergreens, and if you are fortunate to plant a star fruit tree in your yard, then great! However, take a few precautions before digging a hole.

First, make sure there is enough space around it to grow to its full potential, unimpeded. A mature Carambola can reach 30 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. So, you don’t want any obstructions to its canopy or roots.

A mature carambola tree can produce up to 200 pounds of fruit per year. With this type of production, you will need to make friends with a local chef and bartender because they will buy your extra fruit. In addition, you will have a handsome shade tree gracing your yard.

Culinary uses for Carambola

Carambola fresh fruit Salad.

You can use Carambola in stir-fry recipes, as the Asians do, and it goes well with fish, shrimp, and other seafood. Its tropical flavors can also complement fruit salad and fruity cocktails and can be stewed down like apples and added as a side to your main course.

Star fruit can also be juiced, as you would an orange, blend in a bit of mint and cinnamon, and concoct a refreshing libation. Any recipe that calls for citrus fruit will be better with the addition of star fruit. Its mild sweetness is not overpowering, yet its unique shape and flavor add a visual appeal to your recipes.

A note of caution: Carambola is high in oxalic acid. Those with kidney problems should check with their doctor before consuming starfruit.

Where Will Carambola Grow in the United States?

You can grow Carambola in USDA hardiness zones 10-12, which are the warmest parts of the country, as they like the heat. In addition, you can grow Carambola outside in extreme southern Florida and Hawaii. Star fruit is grown commercially in Broward, Dade, Lee, and Palm Beach counties in Florida.

Noteworthy Qualities of the Carambola

Fresh starfruit and a jam of starfruit.

As a tropical fruit, it is different from all others. The meat of the Carambola is fleshy and firm and, even when ripe, may have a crunch to it. Star fruit is slightly tart, slightly acidic, and somewhat sweet. These qualities make it an excellent flavor to add to tropical cocktails and recipes. Or, you can enjoy this oddly shaped fruit, as you would an apple, all by itself.

For the health-conscious, star fruit is high in anti-oxidants. They also produce vitamin C, vitamin B5, and Folate. So, Carambola is more than an oddly shaped fruit; it is a nutritious addition to your diet. In addition, it has been found that Carambola can aid digestion. It helps regulate your blood pressure and lower cholesterol. So, it is too bad they can only be grown in so few locations.

Is Carambola Hard to Grow?

A tree of carambola with fresh fruits.

Your star fruit tree will need to be planted in full sun and need enough space to grow to its full height of 30. You will also need to ensure no plants within 30 feet of its potential diameter, as a carambola can grow up to 25 feet in diameter.

If you are planting a few together, they will need space between them and any other plants in their proximity. In addition, Carambola trees are not drought resistant. So, if the rain stops, as it often does in southern Florida, your plants will need to be watered to survive.

Carambolas can be started from seed or grafted from other plants. You will want a seedling at least a year old, whether planted in the ground or a container. Unless you live in Florida, only grow your star fruit in the summer, and then you will need to plant it in a container if you want it to survive the winter.

Your seedling needs to be planted in rich, loamy soil with a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5, moderately acidic. This is the case for a plant in the ground or a container. It would be best if you were also sure the ground where your star fruit is planted drains well because, as mentioned, they want water, but they do not want to stand in it.

When you first plant them, water them every two to three days for the first week. However, do not over-water them because they don’t like drought conditions. Also, they don’t want their feet to be too wet. Once established, a bi-annual application of a general fertilizer should help your star fruit tree mature.

You Can Grow Carambola in Containers!

A carambola tree in a pot.

I hinted at this, and the truth is, star fruit trees make excellent potted plants that grow fruit. There are many cultivars of star fruit to plant. However, those that do best in containers are the ‘Maher Dwarf’ and ‘Dwarf Hawaiian’ varieties. If you can locate one of these cultivars, your success at growing a star fruit tree is excellent.

It is not that you cannot grow a regular-sized star fruit in a container in Alaska. Still, you had better have a very big container and greenhouse once it reaches maturity. A common variety will do well in a container for a few years, but after that, you better have space inside, or you can grow it outside.

The star fruit tree is a slow grower, has a short trunk, and is bushy. It is a perfect tree for planting in a container because you can place your tree in a greenhouse or sunroom during the winter months if you live in a cooler climate. Then, once the days warm up, you can roll your starfruit plants outside to enjoy the sun in the summer. 

Type of Soil for Your Star Fruit Plant Container

You need loamy soil that drains well and can mix potting soil, peat moss, vermiculite, or perlite as soil for your star fruit plant. The pH should be between 5.5 and 7.o, which is mildly acidic. The key is using a pot that drains well and being sure not to over or under water your plant.

Type of Container for Your Star Fruit Plant

As with most small plants, a container from one to two gallons in size is suitable for year-old seedlings. If you have nurtured your carambola plant from a seed, you have changed pots for it several times.

However, once your tree has reached several feet in height, it will need a permanent home. A barrel-type container made of wood, plastic, or terra cotta will work well, and if you put it on a rolling dolly, that’s even better. Choose a visually appealing container to enhance the beauty of your star fruit tree.

Can You Grow Carambola Outside Where You Live?

A carambola tree in a pot.

If you live in USDA hardiness zone 10-12 and have a yard large enough to accommodate your carambola tree once grown, you should be able to. You should have no problem as long as you prepare the ground before planting and keep your plants watered while they are getting established.

You will begin to get fresh fruit twice a year in two to three years. For example, the carambola tree blooms and sets fruit twice a year. So you can harvest star fruit in south Florida from April to May and September and October. How sweet!

However, if you live in Wyoming, you will need to plant your tree in a container and keep it in a warm room all winter, or it will surely die. Even the climate of central Florida is too cool for the Carambola tree. And California, as warm as it gets, has not had much luck growing this sweet and sour fruit on a commercial scale. So, maybe you will have better luck with your star fruit plant, whether you grow it inside or out.