Where to forage on the UF campus

Crisis: you open your fridge and there is not a piece of produce to be found. Sure, you could go to the grocery store and buy some fruit. Or, you could make your way to campus and pick it yourself.

Nole Lake, the superintendent of the University of Florida’s grounds back in the ‘50s, brought the first edible plants to campus. More recently, Marty Werts, the superintendent until last year, planted 50 citrus trees and many avocados.

Thanks to the Hawthorn Group clay formation, which runs under the campus, tropical plants flourish around the university. Clay holds more water than sand, creating a warmer environment for heat-loving plants.

UF’s campus is, on average, 10 degrees warmer than other parts of Alachua County, said Jason Smith, an associate professor of forest pathology at the university.

“It’s incredible how much can grow here that can’t grow west of [Interstate] 75,” he said.

The jelly palm, for example, is native to South America, but can be found around campus. The fruit is a yellow-orange color. It’s sweet and tart at the same time. Unless you’re dedicated enough to bring a ladder to the North Lawn, the best way to harvest these cherry-sized fruits is to wait for them to drop from the trees and hope you get there before the insects do.

Just about any plant on campus is free for the picking. Exceptions include all research gardens, student plots across from Fifield Hall and the student agriculture garden by the bat houses.

However, behind the rented student agriculture plots lies the ethnoecology garden, home to tropical species such as bananas, kiwis and papayas, among other native fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Ethan Kelly, president of the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Club, organizes the maintenance of the garden. This summer, that meant whacking away at overgrown plants with a machete; now, the club is busy putting peppers and other fall crops in the ground.

Although the plots are open, freeloading is not encouraged. Anyone harvesting frequently should spend some time helping in the garden.

“I love it out here,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of like a secret garden on campus.”