A native of tropical America and the Caribbean this fruit-bearing plant is a relative of the West Indian cherry (Malpighia emarginata) but is highly variable in its form and fruit quality. This has led to botanists discussing whether it is a single species or a group of closely related species.
Depending on the type and growing conditions, it develops into a shrub 3 to 5 m (10 to 16 ft) tall or a small tree up to 16 m (52 ft) with a short trunk supporting a wide-spreading or narrow crown. It is also variable in its adaptation, with some types adapted to dry savanna climates while others grow naturally in wet, humid areas. The following description is limited to types adapted to moderately humid tropical environments, such as found along the Pacific coast of central Mexico.
The leaves are oval, up to 17 cm (6 in) long, rounded or pointed at the tip, prominently veined, dark glossy green above, pale green or reddish-brown underneath and have a leathery texture. They are evergreen, remaining on the plant throughout the year.
From spring to summer, which is the rainy season in its native range, small yellow flowers bloom in tubular-shaped clusters at the ends of the branches. They change colour as they age, from yellow to orange then red, adding to their ornamental interest.
The flowers are succeeded by small, near round fruit, 1.5 to 2.4 cm (0.6 to 1.0 in) in diameter with thin green skin that turns yellow or pale orange when ripe, mainly in summer to autumn. The pulp is near white, juicy, oily and clings to a large, hard stone that encloses one to three seed. Less common is a purple-skinned, cone-shaped variety reported from Los Medina, in Nayarit, Mexico.
The fruit have an agreeable, sour to bitter-sweet, somewhat astringent taste and are used to flavour beverages, syrups, cordials, popsicles and milk-based desserts, including ice cream and yoghurt. They are also preserved whole in syrup and made into jams and jellies.
When ripe, the fruit fall to the ground, where they are collected, avoiding any over-ripe or fermenting fruit, which are usually left for pigs or other livestock to forage on. Yearly fruit yields in commercial orchards range from 3,000 to 5,000 kilograms per hectare, the equivalent of 2,700 to 4,500 pounds per acre.
The flowers are rich in nectar and are a useful bee forage in the spring and summer months. It is reported as a bee forage plant in more than one country and as a major honey plant in Venezuela but there doesn't appear to be much information on the honey itself.
The wood is heavy, averaging about 700 kilograms per cubic meter (44 lbs per cubic ft), but is generally only available in small diameter roundwood suitable mostly for use as firewood or for making charcoal.
Grows naturally in moderately humid subtropical and tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 17 to 25 °C, annual highs of 26 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 1000 to 1800 mm and a dry season of 4 to 7 months.
New plants are usually started from seed, which remain viable for months under cool, dry storage conditions. It performs well on free-draining loam, sand and stony or limestone soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 8.5, and on sites with full to partial sun exposure. It has poor tolerance to slow-draining or permanently wet soils.
There are no known problem features associated with growing this plant. An initial assessment of its weed risk for Hawaii was inconclusive, with further screening and assessment to follow.
Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston
Barwick, M., et al. 2004, Tropical & subtropical trees : a worldwide encyclopaedic guide, Thames and Hudson, London
C.A.B. International 2013, The CABI encyclopedia of forest trees, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Cassidy, F. G. & Le Page, R. B. 1980, Dictionary of Jamaican English, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridgeshire
Crane, E., Walker, P. & Day, R. 1984, Directory of important world honey sources, International Bee Research Association, London
Croat, T. B. 1978, Flora of Barro Colorado Island, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 1986, Food and Fruit-bearing Forest Species, 3 : Examples from Latin America, FAO Forestry Paper no 44/3, Rome
Gargiullo, M. B & Magnuson, B. L. & Kimball, Larry D. 2008, A field guide to plants of Costa Rica, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Janick, J., & Paull, R. E. 2008, The encyclopedia of fruit & nuts, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Kennard, W. C. & Winters, H. F. 1960, Some fruits and nuts for the tropics, Miscellaneous Publication No. 801, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Federal Experimental Station, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Little, E. L. et al. 1964 and 1974, Common trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (2 volumes), Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.
Little, E.L. Jr. 1983, Common fuelwood crops: a handbook for their identification, McClain Printing Company, Parsons, West Virginia
Martin, F. M., et al. 1987, Perennial edible fruits of the tropics : an inventory, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, D.C.
Morton, J. F. & Dowling, C. F. 1987, Fruits of warm climates, Creative Resources Systems, Winterville, North Carolina
Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne
Randall, R. P. 2007, The introduced flora of Australia and its weed status, Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Glen Osmond, South Australia
Scheffer, T. C & Morrell, J. J. 1998, Natural durability of wood : a worldwide checklist of species, Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
Sterling, D. 2014, Yucatán : recipes from a culinary expedition, First edition, Austin, TX University of Texas Press
Vázquez, Y. C. 1999, Potentially valuable Mexican trees for ecological restoration and reforestation, Institute of Ecology, Database SNIB-REMIB-CONABIO, Project J084, Mexico
Vozzo, J. A 2002, Tropical tree seed manual, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, Washington D.C.
This website is provided for general information only. Iplantz makes no statements, representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this website and does not accept any liability to you or any other person for the information which is provided or referred to on this website.
In particular, Iplantz does not represent or warrant that any dataset or the data it contains is accurate, authentic or complete, or suitable for your needs. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of datasets and their contents.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Iplantz accepts no liability whatsoever to any person arising from or connected with the use of or reliance on any information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference, including any dataset or data it contains. No responsibility is taken for any information or services that may appear on any linked websites.