From Neglected crops: 1492 from a different perspective
from the FAO Corporate Document Repository
Tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea)
Botanical name: Cyphomandra betacea Cav.) Send., C. crasifolia (Ortepa) Kuntze, Solanum crassifolium Ortega, S. betacea Cav.
English: tree tomato, tamarillo; Spanish: tomate de árbor,
berenjena, sachatomate, yuncatomate (Peru), limatomate, tomate de
monte, tomate de La Paz (Bolivia, Argentina)
This is a native
species of the Andes whose domestication and cultivation took place
before the discovery of America. In spite of its age, no names are
known in native languages.
Uses and nutritional value
betacea is cultivated for its fruit which is a food resource and a
potential raw material for the preserves industry. The peasants
attribute to the fruit medicinal properties for alleviating respiratory
diseases and combating anaemia. The tree tomato contains adequate
levels of vitamins A, B6, C and E and iron.
The fruit is eaten
raw or cooked. In all cases, the skin is removed as it has a bitter
flavour. When ripe, the fruit is eaten raw as a fruit. More frequently
it is eaten as a dessert of fruit in syrup. The whole pedunculated
fruit is cooked for a short time in water so that the skin can be
removed. Honey is then prepared with cinnamon and cloves, the peeled
fruit is added and it is left to boil until it reaches a suitable
consistency. ln the pre-ripe state, when the fruit takes on an orange
colour, it is used in Peru to prepare a sauce together with Capsicum,
pubescens R. & P., a variety of large green pepper. To prepare
this, the fruit is lightly grilled, which facilitates removal of the
skin (epicarp). It is then ground with a large green pepper and salt.
This spicy sauce is eaten as an appetizer. In those areas of the sierra
where tomato (Lycopersicon sp..) is not grown, tree tomato is used to
prepare stews, thus replacing tomatoes.
betacea is a small tree, growing 2 to 3 m in height, with a single
trunk that is monopodial and branched at a height of 1 to 1.5 m into
two or three branches. The same pattern of ramification is repeated on
the branches. The leaves are cordiform, 17 to 30 cm long, 12 to 19 cm
wide, subcarnose and lightly pubescent on the underside. There is a
caulinar inflorescence opposite the leaf. The flowers are 1.4 cm long,
the calyx persists on the fruit, the corolla is pinkish white and
rotate-campanulate with reflexed apices, connivent stamens that are
shorter than the corolla, yellow anthers and is dehiscent through two
apical pores. The style emerges between the anthers. The fruit is 5 to
7 cm long, ovoid, glabrous, greenish yellow to orange in colur, with
longitudinal markings, and the mesocarp is orange.
Apparently no research has been done on the growth phases of this
plant. Consequently, the following phenological description is an
approximation and the result of field observations and information
provided by peasants.
Propagation is most frequently by seed but can also be based on cuttings.
plant's life is approximately three to four years and flowering begins
eight to ten months after sowing in the permanent location. The
flowering period begins at the same time as branching of the main stem.
The first inflorescence is produced around the point of branching of
the main stem and the following ones at the end of the branches, around
their respective branching. Flowering is continuous and the number of
inflorescences is directly proportionate to the plant's branching.
plant is evergreen and constantly puts out leaves. However, the lower
leaves later fall, leaving the main stem and lower part of the branches
Ecology and phytogeography
betacea grows best in regions with temperatures between 18 and 22°C
and annual precipitations of 600 to 800 mm. These climatic
characteristics occur in the Andes at average altitudes (1 800 to 2 800
m). Observations in family gardens show that the plants grow better in
association with trees (e.g. Erythrina edulis, Juglans neotropica where
a more humid microclimate has formed, with less soil dehydration and
where the light is diffused. Tree tomato plants do not tolerate low
temperatures (frost). High temperatures also affect flowering and
fruiting, as do prolonged droughts.
C. betacea is cultivated
sporadically from Mexico and the Antilles to Argentina. No wild
populations are known and its domestication is presumed to be recent.
Cultivation extends to subtropical areas such as New Zealand, where it
is very advanced, southern Europe and tropical areas of other
continents, India and Southeast Asia.
betacea is known only in the cultivated state. Populations display
variability in the pigmentation of the young foliage and in the colour,
shape and thickness of the fruit's mesocarp. Some of them have groups
of silicose cells on the mesocarp, which lowers the quality of the
fruit. According to growers, the yellowish green leaf colour is related
to the production of yellowish fruit and the purple-green foliage with
the production of orangey-red fruit. The shape of the fruit varies from
subspherical to ovoid with a slightly pointed apex. Research on this
aspect is necessary to elucidate the extent of variability and the
phytogenetic relationship with wild species.
There are around 50 species of Cyphomandra which are found from
southern Mexico to Argentina. C. bolivariensis and C. hartwegii are
considered to be species related to the tree tomato. C. hartwegii
produces edible fruit, is grown sporadically and has been used as
grafting stock. Another species with edible fruit, C. cajanumensis or
casana, originating from Ecuador, is cultivated in New Zealand.
cultivation of C. betacea is incipient, in spite of the fact that it is
frequently grown in the gardens of rural and urban houses. In these
gardens, very few plants (two to four) are grown for family consumption
and only occasionally it is sold on local markets.
Cultivation techniques are based on propagation from seed and there are therefore two stages in cultivation:
bed Seeds from ripe fruit are left to dry outside for ten to 15 days
and are then put into a seed bed. They are left there for 30 days to
germinate and reach 15 to 20 cm in height (with three or four leaves),
at which point they are planted out in their final location.
Since the plants are grown in gardens where there is no regular
planting, no information is available on the depth of sowing, the
distance between plants, tillage practices or crop protection.
based on vegetative propagation is very rare. In Colombia, it is
reportedly grown from cuttings which must be 20 to 30 cm in length and
which take root 30 days after planting, at which stage they are thus
suitable for planting out. In Cajamarca in Peru, one case of
propagation from cuttings is known to have been carried out
experimentally by a grower.
Prospects for improvement
of C. betacea shows promise and should be the subject of research and
experimentation in commercial crops which allow relevant technologies
to be developed.
The limitations of C. betacea are determined by the traditional state of cultivation rather than by the plant's characteristics.
The present situation is characterized by:
· a lack of identification of cultivars;
· an absence of commercial cultivation techniques and plant management (plant regeneration and pruning techniques);
· cultivation limited to family gardens;
· the presence of mycotic diseases (Oidium sp.) and insect pests which attack the leaves.
has been found that the species is not very stable in the
characteristics obtained through selection, such as colour, size,
sweetness of the fruit and yields. However, it should be recognized
that those characteristics have been detected in cultivars developed
outside the natural distribution area (New Zealand) where ecological
factors may have had an influence.
The tree tomato's prospects
are determined by the quality and diversity of use of its fruit. The
most important and potentially exploitable is industrial processing of
the fruit for preserves. This agro-industry would promote cultivation
over larger areas and extend the market, while cultivars would be
developed with bigger yields and better-quality fruit.
Lines of research
cultivation of C. betacea for industrial purposes involves carrying out
various research studies aimed at achieving greater production. With
this in mind. the following activities are recommended:
Experimenting with vegetative propagation using hormones which
accelerate rooting and activate buds; the results could bring forward
the flowering period.
· Looking for techniques for pruning
and activating dormant buds. Removal of apical dominance at an early
age causes branching at lower altitude. After their second year, the
plants have many dormant buds on the lower part of the branches and on
the main stem which, when activated, would form new branches and
· Recognizing the genetic variability of
the species within its natural geographical distribution as well as
that of related species in order to select cultivars and try to obtain
· Investigating floral biology and identifying the possible role of pollinating insects.