Differences Between Tropical & Temperate Fruits

Differences Between Tropical & Temperate Fruits. (Image: AnnaPustynnikova/iStock/GettyImages)

A stroll down the produce aisle gives a glimpse of the wide variety of fruits available from around the world. Thanks to modern importing and logistics methods that keep fruit at its peak freshness en route to your market, you no longer have to vacation in an area to sample its fruit.

In one aisle, you'll see at least a half-dozen varieties of apples, while in another, tropical curiosities you can barely pronounce — many unheard of until recently — are nestled right next to the pineapples and coconuts you've come to expect. Understanding the difference between tropical and subtropical fruits, along with temperate fruits, will help you find new kinds of fruit to enjoy — along with your old favorites — all year-round.

Identifying Each Region

The location of each region, along with its defining characteristics, such as climate, rainfall and humidity, heavily influence the types of fruit grown in the area. The boundaries are somewhat fluid, however, with areas that overlap, and a type of fruit may have characteristics that "belong" to the area adjacent to it.

Tropical zone. This is the area surrounding the equator, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn (hence the name "tropics"), the region that's 23.5 degrees latitude north and 23.5 degrees latitude south of the equator. Humidity is highest most of the year closest to the equator, becomes semi-humid a bit farther from the equator, and changes to semi-arid and arid near 23.5 degree latitude regions. The only seasons are the wet season, and, in some areas, the dry season. Average temperatures range from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the U.S., only southern Florida is within the tropical zone. The zone also includes southern Central America, the Caribbean islands, the northern half of South America and the large central area of Africa. The southern half of Europe is in the tropical zone, along with the Mediterranean islands and the northern third of Australia.

*Subtropical zone. *The region from the tropics to the temperate zone is known at the subtropics, from 23.5 to 40 degrees latitude north and south of the tropics. Characteristics are similar to tropical in regions closer to the tropics and nearly temperate when nearest the temperate zone. Average temperatures range from 68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures can be hotter here than in the tropics because the subtropics have fewer clouds to block the sun's rays.

Countries in the subtropics include the southern half of South America except for its tip; Northern Africa and its southern tip; southern Europe, including Italy and most of Spain; Mexico and the southern half of the United States, from one coast to the other. Therefore, some states, such as California, for example, are roughly split between tropical and subtropical zones.

Temperate zone. This zone ranges from the subtropical zone to the cold zone, from 40 to 60 degrees latitude north and south. Average temperatures range from 32 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature differences result in four seasons: summer, fall, winter and spring. All except late fall and winter have growing seasons, with different fruits thriving in each.

Regions within the temperate zone include the northern half of the U.S. from coast to coast, southern and western Canada, northern Europe and the northern half of Asia, including most of Japan.

Understanding Tropical Fruits Definition

Today, faster and more reliable shipping methods are bringing other, previously unknown tropical fruits to local markets. What is the definition of a tropical fruit? Tropical fruits are those that are:

  • Native to the tropics
  • Grown commercially in the tropics
  • Not tolerant of frost (temperatures cannot dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Thrive in humid conditions
  • Typically are perennials (do not have to be replanted every year because the plants are not killed by cold conditions)

A List of Tropical Fruits

When you think of "tropical fruits," mangoes, papayas and guava may come to mind, but there are hundreds more. Some of the best-known and the most unusual tropical fruits are:

  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Guava
  • Star fruit (surprisingly juicy, they add "star quality" to any fruit plate or salad)
  • Acai (an anti-aging fruit that's good in smoothies and shakes)
  • Avocado (trendy, but still tasty)
  • Banana (so common that we forget they're tropical)
  • Berries: black mulberry, juniper berry
  • Golden apple (oblong and fibrous like mango; not the same as golden delicious apples)
  • Honeydew and musk melons (did you know these were tropical?)
  • Watermelon (wait ‒ don't these grow "up North, too"?)
  • Jackfruit (when shredded, it mimics the texture of pulled chicken or pork)
  • Citrus: lemons, limes, oranges
  • Mangosteen
  • Nectarine
  • Peach
  • Pineapple
  • Prickly pear (doesn't its name make you want to try it?)
  • Rambutan
  • Sweet pepper
  • Tamarind
  • Durian
  • Vanilla (the vanilla bean is actually a fruit)
  • Deadman's fingers (come on; you know you want to try these)

Some of the most interesting tropical fruits include:

Golden apple. Although this fruit looks like the golden delicious apples that grow in the temperate zone, the tropical golden apple is elongated like a mango and tastes like a pineapple. The skin is very shiny, while the flesh is fibrous like a mango. Golden apple trees can grow as tall as 75 feet high, but they can also be grown indoors as a container plant.

*Acerola. *Hailing from the West Indies, acerola grows on a shrub that is typically 8‒18 feet tall. They are low in calories but high in magnesium, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Acerola are also called "Barbados" or "West Indian cherries." They are known to prevent cancer, depression and heart disease. They tend to grow in pairs or trios and have a slightly acidic taste.

*Dead man's fingers. *Native to China, Nepal, the Himalayas and India, this fruit gets its name from its long, finger-like fruit that tends to wrinkle, resembling a common snap bean but bright blue in color instead of green. Inside is a jelly-like fruit with a slightly sweet taste. Each of its gorgeous flowers produces a cluster of three fingers. Dead man's fingers grow best in hilly areas with loamy soil.

The Differences Between Tropical/Subtropical Fruits

The major difference between tropical and subtropical fruits is the climate in which each thrives. Both zones have hot weather year-round. The tropical zone, however, has nearly constant cloud cover from the heat, causing moisture to evaporate quickly, hanging in the air and forming clouds. The cloud cover keeps the sun's hot rays from penetrating as directly as it does in the subtropical region. Therefore, tropical fruits enjoy less direct sunlight and moister air than subtropical fruits.

Understanding Subtropical Fruits: Definition

The subtropical zone receives less rainfall and has less moisture overall, so the region is very hot and dry. Most of the world's deserts lie within the subtropics, yet a number of fruits grow in the region. Citrus fruits are the most common subtropical fruits, but dates, olives and even avocados grow in the subtropics.

A List of Subtropical Fruits

  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Lemons, limes
  • Cherimoya
  • Guava
  • Pear
  • Finger lime (narrow and oblong, about the size of an adult's finger)
  • Carob (the chocolate substitute)
  • Tamarillo
  • Thimbleberry
  • Pigface (a fruit with such a name simply begs to be discovered!)

Unusual featured fruits of the subtropics include:

Pigface. In spite of its name, pigface produces a beautiful purple flower with a yellow center. The fruit tastes like a salty apple, especially when it's gathered near the ocean. Aborigines loved pigface and ate it as a major part of their diet, squeezing its base to reveal the juice. Pigface is an antidote to scurvy and stomach ailments like diarrhea, and it's beneficial for jellyfish stings and insect stings.

*Lillypilly. *A fruit native to Australia, lillypilly is a pear-shaped, pink or purple berry that grows in clusters that resemble grapes. They thrive in volcanic soil that tends to be sandy. Lillypilly is usually made into jam or syrup, but it can also be used in berry form in vegetable and fruit salads or to accompany various cheeses. High in vitamin C and fiber, lillypilly is prized for its antibacterial properties. When applied topically, lillypilly can increase the firmness of your skin.

*Ugni. *Also called "Chilean guava," ugni grows in Chile and Argentina, although it's sometimes marketed in New Zealand, where it's known as "New Zealand cranberry." It's usually made into jam. Ugni has quite a few health benefits, especially in helping to reduce the risk of cataracts, gastric ulcers, infections, allergies and certain cancers. Although ugni prefers fertile, well-drained soil, it can grow in dry soil, too.

Defining Temperate Fruits

The word "temperate" means moderate, or not as prone to extremes, which simply means that the temperate zone is not as likely to experience weather extremes as do other regions. The temperate zone is located between 40 and 60 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. The sun's rays are not as direct here, so, except for the hottest days of summer, temperatures are much cooler than in the subtropics.

This zone also receives an even amount of rainfall, so it has a long growing season. Crops grown here aren't subjected to the extreme heat and drought of the subtropics or the long rainy seasons of the rainforests.

A List of Temperate Fruits

Many temperate fruits, like apples, grow on large, leafy fruit trees that are typical to the region. Examples of temperate fruits include:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, hawthorne berries, wineberries, gooseberries and huckleberries
  • Apricots
  • Nectarines
  • Tomatoes
  • Lardizabala

Although the temperate zone is hospitable to many familiar fruits, some of the lesser-known featured fruits include:

Lardizabala. Growing wild in central and southern Chile, lardizabala — also called "zabala" — is considered a Chilean delicacy. Its showy flowers are ornamental in the garden, and they can be eaten raw or cooked.

*Greengage. *A type of plum, greengage is native to Europe. Round or oval in shape, greengage is reddish on the outside but green inside and has just one seed. It's particularly interesting because of its combination sweet-and-sour taste. High in vitamins A and C and potassium and phosphorus, greengage is said to increase metabolism. What a pity it isn't marketed worldwide!

Midyim **or midgen berry**. Grown in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, midyim is a sweet fruit with berries that are white but covered in tiny blue and black spots. Curiously, this gives the bushy plant an overall mauve appearance. Midyim are high in fiber and very high in iron. For visitors who aren't enamored of Australia's famous Vegemite, midyim may be a good alternative.

Growing Fruit in Multiple Zones

Peaches, a tropical fruit, thrive in Georgia, a U.S. state that's in the subtropical zone. Lemons can be grown in both tropical and subtropical regions. In fact, in 2107, Spain was the leading exporter of lemons in the world. Both bananas and avocados are grown in the tropics and subtropics. Melons are quite popular to grow in the temperate zone, yet they grow in the subtropical zone, too.

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