Eugenia brasiliensis  Lam. 1789

pronounced: yoo-JEE-nee-uh bra-zill-ee-EN-siss

(Myrtaceae – the gum family)

synonym: Eugenia dombeyi  Skeels 1912

pronounced: yoo-JEE-nee-uh DOM-bee-eye

common name:  Grumichama    

Eugenia eugenia brasiliensisgrumichamaeugenia brasiliensis flowersflowerswas named for Prince Eugene of Savoy, the 18th century Austrian general, one of the most prominent military leaders in European history. With the booty obtained from his conquests, he built a number of palaces. Among these was the Lower Belvedere palace in Vienna, completed in 1716; to its gardens, with accompanying zoo, Eugene brought rare plants and exotic animals from all over the world. Brasiliensis is botanical Latin for ‘from Brazil’. In the synonym, dombeyi is for Joseph Dombey (1742–1794), French botanist, who travelled to South America in 1778 to collect such plants as might usefully be grown in France. In 1780 he sent a portion of his collection home, but the vessel containing them was captured by the British, and the specimens sent to the British museum, where they are still retained, notwithstanding the subsequent claims by the French government – shades of the Elgin marbles! I can find no explanation of the common name, but I think it is fairly safe to assume that it is a native name for the plant in Brazil.

eugenia brasiliensis flower detailflower detaileugenia brasiliensis fruitsfruitsThis is native to, and grows wild in, coastal southern Brazil. It is a slender, erect, ornamental tree up to about 10 m high, short-trunked and heavily foliaged with opposite oblong leaves 9–16 cm long and 5–6 cm wide, with a recurved margin. The leaves are glossy, thick and leathery, minutely pitted on both surfaces, and usually persist for 2 years. New shoots are rosy. The flowers, borne singly in the leaf axils, are about 2.5 cm in diameter, have 4 green sepals and 4 white petals, and about 100 white stamens with pale yellow anthers. The long-stalked fruit is oblate, usually about 2 cm wide. It turns from green to bright red, and finally dark purple to nearly black as it ripens, and bears the persistent purple- or red-tinted sepals, a little over 1 cm long, at its apex. The skin is thin, firm, and exudes dark red juice. The red or white pulp (depending on the variety) is juicy, and tastes much like a sweet cherry, except for a touch of aromatic resin. There may be one more-or-less round seed, or 2–3 hemi-spherical ones, which are hard, light tan to greenish grey.

The tree will keep its highly ornamental qualities during drought periods, but the fruit crop quickly deteriorates if adequate water is not available during fruit development. In good conditions, there is a remarkably short period between flowering and fruiting: it commonly fruits within about 30 days of flowering, and the crop ripens quickly over just a few days.

The fruit is tasty, and much enjoyed locally in Brazil. It can be, and is, grown commercially in some parts of the world, but it is tricky to handle for packing and marketing. A good deal of the crop usually goes to make frozen purée. Whole pitted fruits can be used in pies, cakes and fruit salads, and the purée in jams, jellies and sauces. Outside of Brazil the fruit has never really taken off: the sepals are a nuisance, and there is too little flesh in proportion to seed.

Photographed 2009, Picnic Bay

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