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Plinia cauliflora (Mart.) Kausel 1956
pronounced: PLIN-ee-uh kawl-iff-FLOOR-uh
synonym: Myrciaria cauliflora (Mart.) O.Berg 1857
pronounced: mer-see-AIR-ree-uh kawl-iff-FLOOR-uh
(Myrtaceae – the gum family)
common names: Jaboticaba, Brazil Grape Tree
The Plinia genus was first named by Linnæus, and I suspect that he named it in honour of Pliny the Elder, but I have not been able to confirm this. In the synonym, the generic comes from the Greek μυρτος (myrtos) the myrtle tree; cauliflora is from the Greek καυλος (kaulos), the stem of a plant, and the Latin floreo, to bloom, flower – the flowers and fruits are borne directly on the trunk and larger limbs. Jaboticaba comes from the Tupi words jabuti (tortoise) and caba (place), the place where you find tortoises.
This small tree (4.5 – 9 m tall) is from southern Brazil, in the hillside regions around Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. It naturally occurs next to stream banks as a second-storey tree beneath the canopy. It has a spread of about 3.5 – 5.5 m, with a dense, rounded crown. It is a slow grower, but long-lived, up to 150 years. The branches start low to the ground and slant outwards. The thin beige to reddish bark flakes off, much like that of the guava. This is a very striking tree.
The young tree photographed is in the garden of exotic fruit trees at Magnetic Island State School. The photograph of the tree in fruit was taken in Brazil, and is shown here temporarily until such time as the local tree fruits.
The tree is evergreen, with small, simple, opposite, lanceolate or elliptic leaves up to about 10 cm long and 2 cm wide, rounded at the base, sharply or bluntly pointed at the apex, and are a glossy dark green with a leathery texture. The tips of emerging foliage often have an attractive pink or reddish tint.
It flowers in profusion, with white, staminous, insignificant flowers, intermittently all through the year. The flowers grow directly on the bark or underbark along the trunk, limbs and branches.
The fruits are grape-like fleshy berries, with thicker skins than grapes, spherical, up to about 2.5 cm in diameter. black when ripe. The fruit skins contain tannins, and should not be consumed in quantity. The gelatinous whitish or rosy pink pulp contains 1 – 4 small seeds, and has a pleasant subacid flavour. A mature tree can produce up to about 45 km of fruit per annum. The fruit should be harvested a few days after maturity. At room temperature, the fruit spoils after a couple of days.
Solitary trees tend to fruit more poorly than those planted in groups, which suggests that cross-pollination is beneficial.
Fresh fruit is delicious, and it can also be made into jellies, jams and wine and liqueurs – fresh fruit may begin to ferment 3 or 4 days after harvesting. The usual way of eating the fruit is to cut it in halves and suck out the flesh. The flesh tends to stick to the seeds, but can usually be separated in the mouth.
A decoction made from sun-dried skins, which is astringent, is used in Brazil as a treatment for asthma. diarrhœa and dysentery, and gargled for chronic inflammation of the tonsils.
Fruit photograph by Bruno Karklis, via Wikipedia Commons. Temporary until the local tree fruits.
Photographed in Nelly Bay 2018
Page last updated 17th May 2018