Tampa, FL

Hidden History: Guava in Tampa Bay

Modern Globe

Photo byOssama Safi

Ever wonder why the guava is associated with Tampa — yet you rarely see wild guava trees in people’s yards? It has a lot to do with the foundation of Ybor City and eventually Tampa. Let’s learn more about how this fruit has taken over Tampa’s culture.

Gavino Gutierrez and guavas in Tampa Bay

Gavino Gutierrez was a Spanish immigrant to the United States. Based in New York, he was a civil engineer as well as an importer/exporter of goods from Spain, Cuba, and Mexico. Through his many associates, he heard through the grapevine that guava, the subtropical fruit, was actually growing wild in the Tampa Bay area. And by good fortune, his friend, who owned marmalade and guava paste factories in Cuba was looking for a city in the United States to open new factories. So the gentlemen made their way down to Tampa.

However, when they arrived, they found that guava did not in fact grow in abundance in the Tampa Bay area. Guava is cold sensitive and the infrequent freezes of Central Florida proved to be too tough on the fruit. Luckily, Gutierrez had other associates who were looking to open a different type of factory. He convinced one of his acquaintances, Vincente Maritnez-Ybor, that Tampa might be the perfect spot to open a new cigar factor. The rest is history.

In the 1970s, Tampa Tribune journalist Steve Otto wrote a story about the failed guava attempt by Gutierrez. However, he correctly stated that without Gutierrez’s trip to Tampa, Martinez-Ybor might not have discovered it as the perfect spot for building cigar factories. So Otto decided that if New York City is The Big Apple, then Tampa must be The Big Guava.

Guava and cream cheesePhoto byLa Segunda Bakery

Guavas in Tampa Bay culture

Although you can’t grow guavas in abundance in Tampa, that doesn’t stop locals from eating them in abundance. Any Tampa/St. Pete cafe or bakery worth their salt will have a guava pastry at some point or another. Preferably the delicious guava pastelito. Many restaurants now have their own take on how to incorporate guava into food. Like guava pie. Or guava beer. Or guava ice cream.

Tampa also continues to name many popular events after the fruit. There was the Big Guava Music Festival that ended in 2015. And of course, there’s Guavaween. The Halloween-themed party that started in the early 80s, got pretty crazy in the 90s, and by the mid-2010s had been taken over by a party planning company and is now mostly known as a family event.

If you want to plan a new event or start some sort of annual festival, it’s a good idea to throw the word guava somewhere in the name. Tampa natives will immediately become intrigued.

Photo byUlele

Can you actually grow guavas in Tampa?

You can absolutely try growing guava in your backyard! Properly planting a guava tree is one of the most important steps in successfully establishing and growing a strong, productive tree. In general, guava trees should be planted in full sun for best growth and fruit production. Select a part of the landscape away from other trees, buildings and structures, and power lines. Select the warmest area of the landscape that does not flood (or remain wet) after typical summer rainfall events.

Guava trees begin fruit production 3 to 4 years after planting. Careful as some guava species can actually become invasive. Check here for details and more instructions on how to grow guava.

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