According to the USDA, the overall U.S. citrus production for the fresh market is estimated at 3.45 million tons in 2020-21. Though demand for Florida citrus remains high, Villages-News shares that the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is currently investigating a new plant that is thriving in Florida in test trials. Currently, two research plots of sorrel, native to Africa and relative of okra, cotton, and hibiscus, are being evaluated. Farmers are providing input, and thus far, the news is good.
Not to be confused with the sorrel herb, Sorrel plants are being studied as an ideal crop for farmers to grow, mainly due to the plant’s low maintenance requirements and hardiness. This leafy green plant with red-pink flowers is grown in the Caribbean and is used in food and drinks. It is known by several names, including the Jamaican sorrel, roselle, and the Florida cranberry.
A field day event, which included the input of notable plant experts, recently revealed the plant’s amazing potential as a new Florida crop. Per Thomas Zimmerman, assistant director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of the Virgin Islands, “In the Virgin Islands, we’re lucky if the crop gets to be three to four feet tall.” He added, “When I visited the research sites in Florida in September, the crop was already taller than me.”
This easy-growing plant is resilient and strong, with low pest pressure. Per experts, the main thing to watch for is excessive moisture that may cause some disease issues. However, the plant is generally so hardy that crops can bear multiple harvests from September to the first frost. Not only can the flower calyces be dried and used to produce beverages such as tea, juice, beer, and wine, but the leaves can also be eaten in salads. Drinks made with the flowers are described as refreshingly tart and boast almost as much vitamin C as a lemon. The leaves are often compared with spinach and arugula.
While data analysis is ongoing and more official results are needed to determine how successful the plant will be as a crop, the public will likely be hearing much more about this “miracle plant” in the future. It is hopeful that perhaps one day soon, sorrel crops will become abundant in Florida and that folks will be growing sorrel in their own home gardens and using the plant to make healthful recipes.
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