The Cherry of the Rio Grande

Palm Beach Extension Service, University of Florida
by Gene Joyner

The Cherry of the Rio Grande, Eugenia aggregata, is native to Brazil and grows quite well in south Florida. It is a very beautiful small evergreen tree, 20 - 25 feet in height, with dark green, glossy, waxy leaves. As the tree gets older the bark peels off, resulting in a smooth and very attractive trunk.

In the spring the cherry of the Rio Grande is one of our early flowering tropical fruits and often blossoms in the first part of March. The flowering season extends over several months, and in some years flowers are still being produced in the early part of May. The flowers are white and quite showy. The one inch oblong fruit is a beautiful dark red to purple, and is produced soon after flowering. The fruiting season usually is April through June, and the fruit are highly prized fresh and as jellies, jams or juices. The fruits also freeze quite well, so they can be picked at maturity and frozen for later use. For persons with limited room in the landscape, cherry of the Rio Grande is ideal because it can be grown as a large bush or even as a large container specimen and still produce adequate quantities of fruit.

Cherry of the Rio Grande is usually propagated by seed, although seedlings may take up to 4 to 5 years to begin producing fruit. Although there is a lot of variation with the cherry of the Rio Grande as to the size of the fruit, there is not a lot of variation in quality, at least in my experience. Superior varieties, especially large-fruited forms, can be veneer-grafted onto seedling rootstocks. Considered a slow grower, cherry of the Rio Grande still will grow at the rate of 2 to 3 feet per year and makes a very attractive large shrub or small tree, depending on how it's trained.

Most cherry of the Rio Grande grow on a wide variety of soil types; however, they prefer a slightly acid soil, and on alkaline soils may develop some micronutrient deficiencies.

Most of the time there is little problem in our area from cold, since cherry of the Rio Grande can tolerate temperatures down to 20°F without being killed. It does not like large amounts of salt spray, and if grown right on the ocean may suffer some burned foliage. Trees should be fertilized with a fruit-tree-type fertilizer at least three times a year for good growth and fruiting. During periods of dry weather they will benefit from weekly irrigation. Avoid over-irrigation, since this often will create problems with the root system.

The only major problem associated with cherry of the Rio Grande in Florida is a die-back which can occur any time but often shows up when plants are approaching maturity.. There is no known reason for this die-back at the present; however, usually only smaller branches are affected and these can be pruned out and the plant will continue growing normally. Although suspected to be a disease, applications of fungicide have so far proved ineffective in stopping this die-back. As with most fruits in south Florida, the fruit is attractive to the Caribbean fruit fly and in some years, fruit may be lost. Birds also find the fruit tempting and the upper parts of trees are often picked clean before the fruit is even fully mature.

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Joyner, Gene. "The Cherry of the Rio Grande." Palm Beach Extension Service, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. N.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Published 1 Dec. 2014 LR
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