This seasonís fruit: cherries for Christmas - and beyond
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By Jean-Jacques Segalen (jjacques) February 8, 2013
Yes, we did enjoy delicious juicy sweet cherries for Christmas and although we are now into the new year, we still indulge daily in those great fruits.
Colorful young growth
You may be startled at reading this, even outraged and at least suspicious. Well you should not be; these cherries were not grown 10,000 miles away, did not have to be chartered by plane all the way to my table and they do not result in increasing general pollution and dramatic global warming...just the opposite, I just had to walk a few meters, stretch my legs and arms and start picking. Of course, those are not ‘Bing' or ‘Sweetheart' cherries which you would find in your local store but what is referred to as Brazilian cherries, Eugenia brasiliensis (an accepted synonym is Myrtus domebyi) which belong to the large Myrtaceae botanical family (large enough to host plants going from Eucalyptus to clove, four spices to guava).
This super family is divided into about 140 genera numbering some 2000 species, the genera Eugenia itself has no less than 500 species from Tropical America plus 100 from Asia and Africa making it the most widespread genera within the family. You will not be surprised to learn that the species we are studying here originates from Brazil...(states of Parana and Santa Catarina)
Besides the obvious ‘Brazilian cherry' name it is also known as ‘grumichama' (‘grumixama' in Portuguese), ‘cerise du Brésil' or ‘pruneau' in French, sometimes ‘Spanish cherry'.
The Brazilian cherry tree can reach 15m (45 feet) high in its home country but usually only grows to a few meters. It has glossy green leaves which are darker on the upper-side whilst they are an amazing shade of bright pink at juvenile stage, and a rather ornamental dark bark, peeling even on yourn stems.
Ripe cherries ready for you!
The flowers are typical of the Myrtaceae hence with numerous protruding stamens and four discreet white petals as well as four white sepals. Since bees and other insects will happily stroll by and act as effective pollinators, the flowers bloom on terminal leaves axils. The fruits develop surprisingly fast, and it's a rapid time between flowering and harvesting. The fruit itself, our irresistible Christmas cherry, is a shiny black spherical shape and quite similar to a 'real' cherry. The flesh is soft, juicy and sweet with a very light after-taste of tinge acridity, yellow to orange in color and containing from one to five seeds. Note that you can get the same fruits but with yellow skin. Just like for those of Prunus avium (the ‘real' cherry), the fruits are fragile and great care must be taken when harvesting and transporting them, as they would be very easily bruised and squashed.
Most of the time they are enjoyed out of hand, preferably right underneath the tree itself so you can go on and on, picking and eating greedily!! If you manage to save some for the kitchen, they can be processed in various ways; either soaked in rum where they will make a unique punch or they can be cooked and made into jams, jellies, tarts or any sweet recipe which pleases you.
An heavily loaded tree
The growing of this tropical cherry is easily accomplished from seeds (but those do not keep long, sow them fresh and you will get 100% sprouting). The plant will grow rather slowly and four to five years will be needed before it starts bearing its first fruits. Cuttings and grafting are also commonly used and will hasten production as well as providing the only way to propagate the best cultivars. Air-layering is rarely used but should allow one to get mature trees even faster, I will give this technique a try and let you know. Although it thrives in warm and humid weather it can satisfactorily be grown on Reunion up to 700m (2100 feet in elevation). It is not a fussy tree and will grow in a large array of soils provided they are well drained; it will do best in sandy slightly acid soils. Pruning will be performed after harvest in order to limit development, it takes it all right and thus is adapted to even small gardens of container growing. On Reunion Island it has been recorded since year 1856 and is a rather common sight in Creole gardens and has naturalized in parts of the island, although popular amongst people, there are no orchards, mostly because of the fragility of the fruits. Flowering occur (here!) in December, our rain season, and is triggered by heavy rains and then bees are attracted by them.
Black and gold varieties (courtesy of Montoso Gardens)
Well, I hope you are now salivating and ready to start growing this nice plant. It is a highly decorative tree bearing delicious fruits...what else would you ask for?
About Jean-Jacques Segalen
I am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) since 20 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon
Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it at http://www.barbadine.com/pages/livrejjGB.html