Trees, Tropical Fruit

Jackfruit Tree: Biggest Fruit In The World


Jackfruit tree

Do you enjoy growing tropical plants? Maybe you’ve never grown tropicals but you’d like to try. The jackfruit tree could be your first foray. This fruit tree from Southeast Asia is widely cultivated for its plentiful fruits and sturdy wood. With the right conditions, you can grow jackfruit too!

The jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It’s also a state fruit in several countries in tropical Asia. There, mature trees grow up to 66 feet tall. The ripe fruits (and sometimes unripe jackfruit) are huge and the biggest jackfruit to date was almost 100 lbs!

While the average fruit is about 33 lbs, each tree grows about 200 fruits per year. That’s a lot of food to go around. People grow jackfruit trees for this very reason. The delicious fruit has an edible pulp that can be eaten raw, processed, or cooked into dishes. Because it’s such a prolific tree, it’s no wonder using jackfruit as a meat substitute has taken off in North America. 

Let’s discuss the history of these fruit trees, and how you can grow them in your garden.

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Quick Care Guide

Jackfruit tree
The jackfruit tree produces immense tropical fruit. Source: UweBKK
Common Name(s)Jackfruit, jack tree, gold nugget, black gold
Scientific NameArtocarpus heterophyllus
Days to Harvest150 to 180 days
LightFull sunlight
Water1 inch per week
SoilLoamy, well-draining
FertilizerSlow-release, granular 2 times per year
PestsShoot and fruit borer, trunk borer, fruit flies
DiseasesLeaf spot, gummosis

All About The Jackfruit Tree

Closeup of jackfruit rind
A closeup view of the spiky jackfruit rind. Source: Rob Albright

The jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) – also known as black gold, and gold nugget – is a member of the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family. It’s believed the tree was first cultivated in Java in the Malay peninsula. As Spanish colonization took place in the 1500s, the fruits of the jack tree became more popular among Filipino settlers in Guam. The name “jackfruit” was coined by Portuguese physician, Garcia de Orta. The root word, “jack” comes from the Malaysian word chakka, which roughly translates to fruit. 

Jackfruit trees are tropical evergreens that have a dense canopy and a short tree trunk roughly 12 to 31 inches in diameter. The jackfruit tree grows 33 to 66 feet tall and has red bark. The tree roots are shallow and buttressed. The dark green jackfruit leaves are thick, glossy, and 6 to 8 inches long. Male flowers and female flowers grow on the same tree. They are light green, with fleshy petals, and emerge directly from the branches. They self-pollinate December through March. Within 5 to 6 months of successful pollination, large green, bumpy jackfruits develop in the rainy season. Jackfruit trees live to be 100 years old. 

The unripe fruit is white, has a stringy texture, and neutral taste. Ripe fruit looks the same but has a delicious sweet taste that is described as a cross between a banana, mango, and pineapple. Unripe fruits are most commonly used as a pulled pork substitute due to their texture. Ripe fruit is most commonly used in fruit salads, or it’s eaten as a sweet tropical snack. The wood of the tree is useful in manufacturing doors and window frames. 

When cut open, fresh jackfruit has a sticky latex-based sap that is very difficult to wash off even with soap and hot water. People who handle cut jackfruit use solvents to remove the sap, and most people who handle the fruits use gloves because the sheer size and bumpiness make them cumbersome. Because jackfruit can get very heavy as they mature, cultivators remove all but one immature fruit from each of the jackfruit trees’ branches to prevent snapping.  

Planting

In hot climates – like Southern Florida, for instance – the planting of jackfruit trees can happen all year round. Otherwise, plant your young trees in late spring through early summer. If you live in a cooler climate, do not plant this tree outdoors. Jackfruit trees are native to Asian countries where tropical weather is consistent year-round.

Choose a site in your garden that is in full sun with loamy, well-draining soil, ideally at least 30 feet from other trees. Make sure it’s out of high winds. In windier places, stakes may be useful. Dig a hole 2 feet wide and deep and place the root system of the young trees within. Mound the soil surface up at the tree trunk around newly planted trees. Then, water them in and mulch the ground around the tree leaving an inch or two between the mulch and the trunk. 

Dwarf jackfruit cultivars can be grown in containers, but full-size trees will have a harder time due to the size of their roots. Young jackfruit trees of dwarf varieties should be planted in glazed pots that are at least 2 feet deep and a minimum of 20 inches wide. Provide well-draining, loamy soil in your container and include amendments that assist in soil moisture retention. Place your seedling in the container, and add soil, mounding at the base of the tree. Mulch at the base.

Care

Heavily loaded jackfruit tree
Jackfruit trees can become overloaded with fruit quickly. Source: Subash BGK

As your tree establishes itself after planting, you’ll have new growth and multiple flowers. Let’s talk about how to care for your tree and reap the benefits of delicious fruits. 

Sun and Temperature

Jackfruit trees need at least 6 hours of full sunlight to thrive. They do best in USDA zones 10 through 12 and are suited to warm tropical and subtropical climates. Therefore, heat (up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit) is not a problem for jackfruit. Established trees of some jackfruit varieties withstand brief freezing temperatures at 32 degrees. Most don’t do well in cold and will stop flowering, fruiting, and even die in prolonged freezes. If you live in a cooler climate, keep your trees in a warm place, like a greenhouse or grow tent. 

Water and Humidity

Jackfruit trees need a lot of water, especially during fruit production. Water your trees daily, ensuring the top 2 to 3 inches of soil are consistently moist. Jackfruit is especially sensitive to drought, so if you live somewhere with dry periods, water twice per day, in the morning and evening. Do this during fruit production as well. Do not overwater the tree, as the roots don’t enjoy being waterlogged. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation provide ideal flows. In heavy rainy seasons, only water if the top few inches of soil dries out. 

Soil

Jackfruit trees prefer well-draining soil that is rich, and loamy. The loam could be sandy or rocky, as long as it’s well-draining. The optimal pH for jackfruit is 6.0 to 7.5. If you live on the banks of a lake or river, even better. Planting jackfruit trees near water will assist with the humidity that the trees love so much. Soil that is on the siltier or sandier side will need additions of well-rotted compost or manure. 

Fertilizing

Apply slow-release granular fertilizers twice per year, in June-July and September-October. Use fertilizers that have an 8:4:2:1 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. Spread the fertilizer around the base of the tree, 20 inches from the trunk. Then water it in. 

Pruning

Most growers prune jackfruit to keep large branches from growing too tall. They remove vertical leaders in the warmest and wettest times of the year. Some growers also remove lateral branches to promote proper growth. The most important part of pruning is to not cut the branch collars of the large branches as this will damage the tree. Remove any dead wood that presents itself through the season.

Remove all but one of the jackfruits per branch. Too many jackfruits on one branch will cause snapping and damage to the tree. Manually remove all the fruits before they drop from the tree, as they’ll be overripe and a hazard at that point. Remove large jackfruits as soon as possible. Since this tropical tree is not deciduous, the leaves will not fall off in cooler seasons. Use smaller fruits in smoothies or as a meat substitute. 

Propagation

The best way to propagate jackfruit is by planting seeds. Remove the flesh of ripe jackfruit, and extract the seed. Soak the extracted seeds overnight in water. Plant each in a small pot in a mixture of soil that includes drainage elements, like agricultural sand, and rich compost. Keep the soil in the starter pots moist and you’ll have sprouts within a month or two. Place the pots in full sun to help seeds germinate. The seeds prefer light for germination.   

Harvesting and Storing

Cluster of jackfruit
Fruit develop in tight clusters, and can become heavy very quickly. Source: functoruser

We’ve discussed planting jackfruit plants in the garden, and we’ve discussed care for them. Now let’s talk about harvesting that delicious yellowish-brown fruit. 

Harvesting

In the growing season, jackfruit mature in a garden within 5 to 6 months from flowering. Ripe jackfruits will be bright yellow-green and will have a sweet, strong aroma. Choose a harvest time shortly before the 5-month mark. Cut into each of the fruits to be harvested a few times to allow the latex to ooze out. In a few days, harvest the jackfruit with a knife. Always wear gloves as the latex also comes from the stems of the jackfruits. Collect them from the earth’s surface, or harvest them from a ladder. Wrap the stem in a paper towel and place it in a shaded area so the latex oozes out there too. Allow the jackfruits to ripen for 3 to 10 days before consuming. 

Storing

Ripe jackfruits can be eaten fresh much like a pineapple. They keep at room temperature for 3 to 6 weeks. Fresh fruit can also be removed from the casing, refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 week, or frozen for 2 months. Whole fruits shouldn’t be kept in the refrigerator or freezer, as this damages fruit tissue. Preserve the fruit, and it will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 months.

Troubleshooting

Damaged fruit
Damaged jackfruit need to be removed from the tree. Source: joxeankoret

Jackfruit does have some associated issues that need dealing with throughout its life. Let’s cover those and discuss mitigating them.

Growing Problems

If you plant jackfruit in a compacted media, you will waterlog roots and prevent proper growth, stressing the tree and putting it in optimal conditions for contracting a disease. Incorporate drainage media at planting, or attempt to amend the soil if compaction occurs.

When you don’t prune all but one of the fruits per branch, the weight could snap branches off the trees, exposing the inner parts of the plant to insects and disease. If snapping occurs, remove the branch just before the branch collar.

If you plant a jack tree in the cold, it won’t produce and could die. Those in cooler regions should always container grow jack trees. 

Pests

Borer moths and their larval caterpillars eat the insides of shoots, trunks, and fruits, leaving bruises in both and destroying flowers as they go. They ruin entire fruits if they are left to consume the tree. Recently, growers in the Philippines have used the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae to control borers with much success. Use sprays of this fungus diluted in water to keep borers away. Remove any damaged fruits as soon as you see them. Do not spray the trees in the flowering phase, as this will burn sensitive petals. If you don’t have access to this fungus (and not many do!), the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (usually sold as BT spray) will also deal with most caterpillar species.

In spring and summer, fruit flies consume the fruits on your trees. They leave small bruises on the fruits’ surface and lay eggs in the flesh if they’re left to their own devices. Use pheromone traps to lure males away from the tree. Then, apply a spinosad spray to eliminate flies on the trunk and lower foliage. Remove any rotting fruits from the ground as soon as possible, as they attract flies. 

Diseases

Alternaria leaf spot is a bacterial disease that causes dark brown to black round lesions on leaf surfaces. As the lesions increase, defoliation of your tree can occur. There’s no way to eliminate the disease, so use preventative measures to ensure it doesn’t take over. Spray neem oil or horticultural oil all over the tree outside the flowering and fruiting phase, in the morning before the sun rises. Bacillus subtilis sprays applied similarly also prevent bacterial leaf spots. Always keep the ground below the tree litter-free as a cultural control. 

Boring insects and improper pruning can cause gummosis in your trees. This disease is evident when gummy sap emits from wounds on the tree. Prune properly and control borers to prevent gummosis. Ensure drainage is adequate for the tree as well. Remove the damaged part of the tree down to a healthy part of the bark, then monitor the condition. Use copper fungicides outside the fruiting phase to prevent gummosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Young jackfruit tree
A young jackfruit tree starts producing within 3-4 years. Source: joegoauk73

Q: How long does it take for jackfruit tree to bear fruit?

A: It can take 3-4 years for your newly-planted tree to begin to flower and produce. Once it does start producing, the fruits develop in roughly 5 to 6 months from fruit set. 

Q: How big does a jackfruit tree get?

A: Up to 66 feet tall. 

Q: Are jackfruit trees hard to grow?

A: If you have the tropical conditions they love, not at all, but in cold climates, they can rapidly become difficult.

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