Annual tropical fruits

Annual fruit crops

There are many types of tropical fruits. Some are exotic and not found commonly in temperate regions of the world. Others are well known cultivars such as tomatoes, squash, green peppers and cucumbers. None of these can survive winters such as occur in Illinois. We circumvent this problem by planting them as annual crops.
Most of the other types of tropical crops are perennials that cannot be cultivated in temperate zones of the world.

pp. 82 ff.

pp. 87 ff.
These annual tropical fruit crops mostly belong to two plant families, the Cucurbitaceae and the Solanaceae. Both are represented in both the New and the Old World. Fruits were a major part of the diets of hunter-gatherers.
Many of the remains of these plants are found in both the Old and New World. In the Americas, Lagenaria, Cucurbita, and Sechiumwere especially important, whereas in Asia Cucumisand in Africa Citrulliswere common.
Changes brought about by domestication. In terms of food value, these plants contain sugars, starch (some), vitamins and minerals. They are important for variety in human diets.
The commercial development of these crops has mostly occurred in the U.S. Catsup or ketchup played a major role in the development of the tomato. Freezing, canning, drying etc. were also important. In the U.S., production of these crops is almost entirely mechanized. Their production is tied strongly to the socio-economic situation.

Market with fruits
Green beans

Squashes and their relatives
Members of the squash family, the Cucurbitaceae, have been eaten in both the Old and New World for thousands of years. The seeds, fruit and blossoms of many are eaten. Squashes are native to the Americas and were eaten 5-6 thousand years ago. Melons are mostly native to the Old World. Watermelons are native to Africa. Most members of the family are annuals and are vines.
They are usually grown from seed. The fruits of members of this group are pepos. They are basically inferior fruited berries.
See pp. 83 and 85 for a diagram of the fruits etc.
True squashes (members of the genus Cucurbita) are very difficult taxonomically. Four widely cultivated species are often encountered. They are only known as domesticated species.
Most wild cucurbits are bitter and poisonous. Most squashes and pumpkins are from C. pepo. There are fossils in Mexico from 7500 to 9000 years old. Some other species arose in South America as cultivated plants. Pumpkins eaten as a vegetable in most parts of the world.
Watermelons (Citrullis lanatus) are native to Africa. They were in Europe early and in China by the 11th century. They have lots of water and were often used as a source of water in dry areas. Fermented to make alcoholic drink in Russia (and southeastern U.S.). Rind used to make pickles. Orientals preserve in salt.
Canteloupes and honey dew etc. (Cucumis melo) also native to Africa but were known by the Romans. The wild ancestors of these are unknown. They are closely related to cucumbers (C. sativus).
Cucumbers are native to southern Asia. Cucumbers are mentioned in the Bible; they were given to Egyptian slaves. The bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) was found in both the New and Old World. Has long been cultivated in both. Probably drifted across Atlantic from Africa to S. America. The bottle gourd is not only used as a food plant, but is probably most important as a container plant.
Chayote (Sechium edule) is a one seeded, Mexican squash like plant.
Luffa, momordica are minor cucurbit crops.
Solanaceous annual plants
Most of these native to the New World but some old world species cultivated (such as the eggplant).


This fruit plant is native to Peru or Mexico. Most of the wild relatives of the tomato occur in Peru. The fruit appears to have been domesticated in Mexico. They were considered poisonous by some Europeans and by people in the U.S. until the early 1800's.
Wild tomatoes are outbreeding perennial herbs. Cherry tomatoes more similar to original types. Selection for self pollination. Man has also selected for insect, fungal, and viral resistance. Taste has been sacrificed for durability in commercial tomatoes.


Fruits of the genus Capsicumare also native to the New World. There are about 5 species of cultivated members of this group. Capsicum annuumwas probably domesticated in Mexico. At Tehuacán, pepper seeds that were 8000 years old have been found.
Most were pungent types. Selection for sweet varieties probably occurred later.

Chiles 1
Chiles 2

The eggplant
The only major member of the group from the Old World. Probably native to India. Came to Europe in the 15th century. (Solanum melongena). Name. Selection for large fruited types.

Okra (Abelmoschusor Hibiscus esculentus,Malvaceae) is an important tropical annual fruit plant. The crop arose in Africa and was introduced along with black slaves. The crop appeared early in southwest Asia as well.


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Revised February 2005

© David S. Seigler, Integrative Biology 363, Plants and Their Uses, Department of Plant Biology, 265 Morrill Hall, 505 S. Goodwin Ave., University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA. 217-333-7577.