Fruitful Trees

Unique Fruits And Foods That Trees Provide

Most of us are familiar with the fact that common fruits like apples, pears, and peaches, can be grown on trees in your own backyard. But, there’s a number of unique fruits and foods that we aren’t so familiar with.

Different Types Of Unique Fruits From Trees

From the exotic flavors of the paw paw to the surprising brew of the Kentucky coffeetree, we’ll share a few of the ‘lesser known’ plants with some pretty unique fruits, although some are definitely tastier than others!

Paw Paw Tree

The first one on our list is one that most people have heard of due to the classic nursery rhyme, but many have no idea what a paw paw tree looks like. It is an understory tree that tends to grow in clusters and has long ovate leaves that smell faintly like a bell pepper. The fruit is about the size and shape of a mango and will typically fall to the ground when ripe. 

Paw paw enthusiasts know to shake the tree and ripe fruit will fall to the ground to be collected (like in the nursery rhyme). Sometimes described as “Ohio’s tropical fruit,” Paw paws have a smooth, buttery, avocado-like flesh with seeds about the size of a large lima bean.

The flavor is often described as somewhere between a banana and a mango. Paw paws are delicious when ripe, but do not transport well, which has limited their emergence into the commercial market. 

Kentucky Coffee Tree

The Kentucky coffee tree is a large, native shade tree that produces large pods. The name “coffee tree” comes from the fact that early European settlers of the Ohio valley (what is now Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania and Tennessee) found themselves lacking a proper supply of real coffee. Getting desperate for a replacement, one of the things they tried was roasting, grinding, and brewing the seeds from the Kentucky coffee tree.

While the seeds do look somewhat like coffee beans once removed from the pod (which also has a white fleshy pulp inside), and the resulting brew has a similar color to coffee, that is where the similarities end. The seeds contain no caffeine, and the brew reportedly tastes nothing like coffee. 

Yaupon Holly

While yaupon holly does not grow well here in central Ohio (our winters are just slightly too cold), it is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine. Early colonists learned from native Americans that the plant produces a pleasant tea-like brew. The availability, flavor, and lower cost proved widely popular in the colonies and later in Europe.

By the late 1700’s, the beverage became so popular in Europe that the British East India Company considered it a threat to their control of the worldwide tea market. After an aggressive smear campaign, yaupon tea’s popularity diminished. Modern initiatives to promote local and natural food choices have led to a slowly increasing resurgence of yaupon tea. 

Redbud Tree

The popularity of the redbud tree is well established, and for good reason. As a low-maintenance, native ornamental tree with bright color and lots of unique cultivars, it isn’t a surprise why it is so popular. What most people don’t know is that the small, showy flowers that are so visible in early spring are edible—and quite tasty!

They have a flavor described as a slightly sweeter version of broccoli, and a light, delicate texture. They do not cook well, but after a quick wash are delicious raw as part of a vegetable tray or as a colorful addition to a spring salad. 


This relative of the sassafras (the tree originally used to produce root beer), spicebush is well-known in the foraging community, as every part of the plant is edible. Spicebush is a native shrub that grows well in a variety of conditions, is the host plant of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, and has beautiful yellow fall color. 

While nursery supply of it is sporadic, it is an extremely common understory plant across the native woods of Ohio. The leaves and twigs can be used to make a pleasant, mild tea, but the big treat is the berries. The berries ripen in mid-fall to a bright red, but often do not last long before being eaten by birds.

When dried down and ground into a powder, the berries produce an excellent seasoning colloquially known as “Appalachian allspice.”  Its spicy-sweet flavor (described as a mix of allspice, black pepper, and cinnamon with a fruity spin) can be used to liven up vegetables and add depth to savory dishes. It also works well in sweet or fruity recipes that traditionally use mulling spices like cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg.

Just A Small Taste Of Nature’s Unique Fruits

In our exploration of unique fruits and foods from trees, we’ve found a world of remarkable flavors. Each of these plants have their own special story and delicious flavor to discover. These special plants show us how amazing nature is. They invite us to enjoy their unique flavors and appreciate the variety in the foods we can enjoy.

Learn about more unique trees you can plant here!