BY LIZA STROUT - Gasparilla Island has a bounty of fruits that can be collected simply by stepping into the great outdoors. From guavas and mangos, carissas and sea plums (which are two different species), to Key limes and avocados, a walk through Boca Grande in the summer will show you exactly how productive even a barrier island surrounded by salt water can be.
For many years, the plague of iguanas stripped many of these fruits from the plant before people could collect them, but that has changed.
Late summer is the time of year that Kris Boyden, manager of the Lilly Pulitzer signature store Palm on Park, would usually be collecting and freezing sea grapes –– both on the island and on the mainland –– in preparation for the famous jelly that she sells as a fundraiser for Relay for Life.
Only there is a problem this year. Rather than the large, ripe grapes that she is used to seeing in the late summer, all of the sea grapes, on the island and mainland, are small, green and unripe.
"They just aren't turning," she said. "I don't know what's going on."
It was a sentiment echoed by the Charlotte County Extension Agency Horticulturalist Ralph Mitchell.
"All I can really do is compare it to some of the other fruiting plants in the state," Mitchell said. "We had a few cold snaps this winter, but for the most part it was warmer. I know that peaches had a double bloom, and the fruit is getting ripe a lot later than farmers expected."
Ed Flowers, the forestry resource administrator for the Myakka District, said that the same issue had been seen in a few other plants.
"I know that there have been issues with blueberries in the state," said Flowers. "They bloomed, then there was a cold snap. It was enough to kill the blooms, and they had to start over. So they are ripening late."
Even floridaplants.com mentions that in some years the fruit of the sea grape "may mature in late fall because of late bloom."
So, for those who are waiting to collect the bounty of the sea grape, the consensus seems to be that you just need to give it a little more time.
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