Square watermelons, portrait gourds, heart-shaped oranges, and Buddha pears are purposefully distorted fruits that can be a fun way to play with your plants. These distortions are kin to the method of tree training known as pleaching. When it occurs without human intervention, however, fruit distortions warrant a closer look.
Affectionately known as ugly fruit, naturally occurring fruit distortions can be nothing more than cosmetic. Or, they may indicate the presence of pests, disease, nutrient deficiencies, or chemical misuse. It can also be from stress.
Fruit distortions caused by stress
Stressed plants (and people) do not perform as well as they might otherwise. If you were a plant, those stresses might be drought, insect damage, extreme temperatures, herbivore feeding, mechanical injury, excessive salt, insufficient nitrogen, severe weed competition, or water stress.
If you were a stressed-out member of the cabbage family, you might surround yourself with a protective layer of bronzed leaves. Or you might shrink your head in a response called buttoning. Stress-induced distortions also include stunting, misshapen flowers, and reduced leaf size.
Mechanical injury or blockage of cucumbers and other cucurbits can cause crooking. Low temperatures during pollination can cause uneven fruit development in strawberries. But what if it isn’t stress that is causing fruit distortion?
Fruit distortions caused by nutrient deficiency
Plant nutrients are critical to the proper development of fruit. Distorted fruits often occur in boron-deficient soil. Of course, without a soil test from a reputable lab, you won’t know what’s in your soil. Unfortunately, those cute, over-the-counter soil tests are not [yet] accurate enough to be helpful.
Insects that cause fruit distortion
Citrus bud mite feeding can cause some dramatic distortions, especially in citrus. While there isn’t anything you can do to get rid of citrus bud mites, their feeding can create points of entry for other pests and diseases, so you will want to monitor infested trees.
Fungal disease and fruit distortion
Fungal diseases, such as apple scab, can also cause fruit distortion. Unfortunately, in this case, you won’t want to eat the fruit, as it will be mushy and rotten. One easy way to break the fungal disease triangle is to remove fallen leaves under infected trees and toss them in the trash.
Chemicals and distorted fruit
Since many herbicides are plant hormones (auxins) that force plants to grow so fast that they die, chemical misuse or overspray from a neighbor’s yard can cause fruit distortion. In this case, if in doubt, don’t eat it. If the suspected chemical is systemic, you won’t be able to wash it off.
Unless fruit distortions are from chemicals or fungal disease, taste and texture are rarely affected. These fruits are simply funny looking. We can enjoy them for their uniqueness.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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