From the Sub-Tropical Fruit Club of Qld Inc.
by Chris Marshall MD
Eugenias - South American Berries
When we think of berries, we generally think of temperate
zone plants like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and
blackberries. The term berry is defined simply as a fleshy fruit with
one or more seeds. By tradition, the term is applied mostly to small
fruits. Although the Year of the Berry has concluded, I would like to
discuss here a group of Central and South American fruits that could be
considered the South and Central American equivalents of our temperate
zone berries, the genus Eugenia.
belong to the large plant family Myrtaceae or myrtles. The myrtle
family includes many fruiting plants, the best known of which is the
ubiquitous tropical guava, Psidium guajava. Other genera within the Myrtaceae grown for their fruits include Feijoa, Myciaria, Campomanesia, and Syzygium. The genus Eugenia
is exceedingly large. A search of the International Plant Names Index
at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew gives 235 pages of entries at about
20 names per page. Even allowing for duplications and synonymy, there
are more species in this single genus than the entire flora of most
temperate zone regions. Many of these, if not most, bear edible
berries. At one time, the genus name Eugenia was applied to species in both hemispheres but recently, the Old World species have been separated into the genus Syzygium.
will limit myself here to a discussion of eleven New World species
already in cultivation. There are undoubtedly many species not in
cultivation worthy of domestication. I’ll leave that to some
future intrepid plant explorer.
The most common Eugenia found in cultivation is Eugenia uniflora or
Surinam Cherry. Other names for this plant are cereza de cayena and
Pitanga. Surinam cherry, despite its common name, is originally from
Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. In its native
habitat, it is a tree up to 10 metres in height. In those parts of the
United States where it can be grown, it is more commonly seen as a
bush, often used for hedges. It is a subtropical plant and when
established will tolerate down to -5° C. The fruit are small and
prominently ribbed. When ripe, the colour varies from orange-red
to dark red. The darker fruits are said to have better flavour. The
flavour is sweet and somewhat resinous. In Brazil, it is used to
flavour candies, carbonated drinks and frozen desserts. Surinam cherry
is easily grown from seed and plants begin bearing at an early age.
However, many sources suggest that for better fruit, it is preferable
to purchase grafted plants of known quality. It is tolerant of a range
of soil types but performs best in neutral to slightly acid soils with
moderate humidity and watering.
Probably the next most common Eugenia in the U.S. is Eugenia aggregata
or Cherry of the Rio Grande. The name refers to Rio Grande do Sul in
Brazil and this plant, like the one before, is a subtropical. It is a
large shrub to 5 metres and when established, also hardy to -5° C.
Opinions on the quality of the fruit vary but it is a popular fruit in
Brazil for making jelly, jam or juice. The fruit is sweet and dark red
when ripe. This plant prefers slightly acid soils and even moisture,
being easily damaged if allowed to dry out. Plants are said to begin
fruiting at about 5 years of age. It is an attractive plant, whether
fruiting or not.
or grumichama is a tree to 20 metres native to the Atlantic coast of
Brazil. It comes in three varieties according to fruit colour, yellow,
red and dark vermillion. Fruit are sweet and largely consumed fresh,
being produced in great abundance from about 4-5 years of age. Fruit
drop can be a problem. The tree is very ornamental and established
plants will tolerate temperatures down to about -3° C. It has one
of the shortest maturation periods for fruit known, going from flower
to ripe fruit in 30 days.
Eugenia luschnathiana (syn. E. dombeyi)
or Pitomba is also native to Brazil and when fully grown, a tree 8
metres in height. The fruit are somewhat larger than the preceding
three species, orange at maturity and about 2-3.5 cm in diametre. It
may be eaten out of hand but in Brazil, is more often made into
preserves or juices. This plant does not tolerate freezing temperatures
but has the redeeming characteristic of fruiting when still small,
suggesting utility as a container plant in warm temperate climates.
Seeds are slow to germinate and appreciate high humidity at
germination. Mature plants will accept lower humidities but fruiting
may be impaired if humidities are too low.
species that follow are not well known outside of their native regions
but are of sufficient quality to be worthy of wider cultivation. Most
are native to Brazil with a couple of exceptions.
is mentioned in Julia Morton’s Fruits of Warm Climates as a
promising fruit. It is native to the Amazonian region of Brazil and
Peru and is highly regarded by local inhabitants. It is cultivated in
Peru to a limited extent with the fruit processed to pulp and exported. There are two subspecies. Eugenia stipitata stipitata is a large tree, abundant in the western Amazon basin, heavily utilized by local residents. Eugenia stipitata
soraria is a large shrub or small tree and is the variety cultivated
for fruit because of its more manageable size. One major reason for the
interest in this plant as a fruit crop is that the fruit are much
larger than most Eugenias.
Fruit on cultivated plants have been known to weigh up to a pound.
Because of its tropical origins, this plant would most likely be
suitable for cultivation only in South Florida or Hawaii.
known in Brazil as uvaia, is from São Paulo and Rio Grande do
Sul. Uvaia is a tree to about 10 metres. As the species name suggests,
the fruit is somewhat pear shaped, turning yellow to orange when ripe.
Fruit are 3-4 cm. in diametre. It is frequently cultivated in Brazil in
home orchards, with the fruit being utilized for sweets.
is known as araça-piranga or goiabão and is another
Brazilian species. It is a tree to 8-14 metres and is found from the
south of Bahia state to Paraná in the south. It is apparently a
slow grower and appreciates humidity. The fruit is yellow when ripe and
sweet but only a thin layer of flesh covers the single large seed.
or cabeludo is a shrub from the Amazonian region. It grows to 2-3
metres in height. The fruit are 3 cm. in diametre and yellow when ripe.
It is utilized by local inhabitants and has seen some cultivation. As
its origins imply, it would need humidity and warmth to prosper, making
it another species best suited for southern Florida and Hawaii.
is another species with edible fruit from Brazil that I have in
cultivation. Beyond this, I have no information on habit, origin or
Three other species I have growing and for which I have little information are Eugenia reinwardtii or Cedar Bay Cherry, Eugenia subterminalis or mulchi and Eugenia victoriana or guayabilla. Eugenia reinwardtii is an exception to the general rule that Eugenias
are western hemisphere plants. This plant is found growing in Australia
and Southeast Asia, often, as the common name implies, near the
seashore. The remaining two species are from Ecuador, a center for
tropical diversity in South America. Both bear edible fruit. My plants
are still seedlings. Eugenia subterminalis seems to be a vigorous plant, tolerating my hot dry conditions with no signs of ill effects. Eugenia victoriana, on the other hand, has been set back by our winter and is struggling with the low humidity here.
are from tropical and subtropical areas. They appreciate warmth,
humidity and even soil moisture, neutral to acid soils are preferable
but they seem to handle some alkalinity here in Tucson. Propagation for
most species is from seeds. Some seeds germinate rapidly but others may
take many months to appear. Seedlings, especially of the tropical
species, are susceptible to thrips at emergence and tip blight from low
humidity. While I found no reference to production of plants from
cuttings, at least one reference felt it likely to be possible.
Grafting of superior clones, at least in the instance of Surinam
Cherry, is successfully employed. I grow my plants in containers
because in the ground here in Tucson they are susceptible to grubs,
Texas root rot and chlorosis. This might not be a problem in other
areas. The above ground parts are not bothered by insects. In humid
climates, they will want full sun but in the desert, they do better
with filtered light. Regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer is also
appreciated. Growth rate is moderate and most species under good
conditions can be expected to begin flowering by 5 years of age.
If your fruit interest is in variety and like me, you cannot grow temperate zone berries due to climate, consider adding Eugenias
to your home orchard. Plants and seeds are available from numerous
sources and they are attractive as well as useful. I would be
interested in hearing from others who have experience growing these
interesting plants. Finally, I would especially like to thank my friend
Luis Bacher in Limeira, São Paulo, Brazil for allowing me to use
his photos and for the seeds he has sent me over the years of these and
many other beautiful plants.
Ref: 1. Fruit of Warm Climates
– Julia Morton. 1987 2. Frutas no Brasil - Silvestre
Silva and Helena Tassara. 19963. Árvores Brasileiras –
Manual de Identificação e Cultivo de Plantas
Arbóreas Nativas do Brasil – Harri Lorenzi. 1992 and
4. All About Citrus & Subtropical Fruits – Ortho Books. 1985
Cherry of the Rio Grande Page
Surinam Cherry Page
Barbados Cherry Page