Psidium cattleianum

cherry guava


Psidium cattleianum

Afzei. ex Sabine 1821

pronounced: SIGH-dee-um kat-lay-ee-AH-num

(Myrtaceae — the gum family)

synonym — Psidium littorale var. longipes

(O.Berg) Fosberg 1941

pronounced: SIGH-dee-um lit-tor-AH-lee variety LON-gih-pez

common name: cherry guava

Trying to establish the derivation of botanical names can sometimes be frustrating. Two botanical dictionaries I have consulted state that Psidium is derived from psidion, a Greek word for ‘pomegranate’. The modern Greek for ‘pomegranate’ is 'ροδι (rhodi), and the ancient Greeks usually used 'ροα (rhoa) for both the pomegranate tree and its fruit. The only other ancient Greek word I have been able to find for ‘pomegranate’ is 'ροισκος (rhoiskos). Psidion (ψιδιον) only occurs a couple of times in ancient Greek writings, and is thought to have been an engraver’s error for ψιλιον (psilion), an armlet or anklet. So I am really none the wiser. Cattleianum is for William Cattley, 19th century Englishman who collected rare plants and was a patron of botany. In the synonym, littorale is from the Latin litoralis, of the sea-shore, and longipes from longus, long, and pes (pedis), a foot – long-stalked. Guava is from the specific guajava of the most common species of the genus, and is derived from the Spanish name for the fruit, guayaba.

Guavas have a sweet, musky flesh very high in vitamin C. This highly perishable fruit has numerous seeds, but these slip down the throat easily. Guavas come in a red-fruited, acidic form, commonly used for juice and jelly, and a sweeter yellow-fruited dessert form, which can be eaten raw, or baked, or made into dried fruit. Psidium guajava is the best known species of the genus, and is often called ‘Poor Man’s Apple’ because of its ability to produce crops on poor soil or with no maintenance. The cherry guava is the most cold-hardy of the guavas, fruiting from Tasmania to the tropics, where it can become invasive. This variety is mostly eaten as a fresh fruit, but is also used as a purée or a tart filling.

This native of Brazil is a small compact tree, or bushy shrub, 3 – 6 m in height, with smooth rounded branches and glossy leathery green leaves, about 5 – 8 cm long. White flowers with fluffy stamens are borne close to the stems in late spring (or, here, after the first good rains of the wet season); sometimes the tree blooms a second time in late autumn. The flowers are followed by heavy crops of round cherry-red or deep wine-red fruit, 2.5 – 4 cm in diameter. The flesh is also a purplish red. They are harvested when fully ripe and slightly soft to the touch.

The plants are also suitable for use as a fruiting hedge, a windbreak, or for poultry forage. Guavas grow true from seed, and fruit about 4 years after planting.

Very few pests and diseases attack guavas, but they are susceptible to fruit-fly. Eating the fruit ‘hard’, as is done in Asia and India, seems to be the only way around this problem.

Caterpillars of the Emperor Gum Moth Opodiphthera eucalypti use this as a feed plant.

As mentioned above, the cherry guava can become invasive, especially when growing in moist tropical areas near rainforest. In such places the tree needs to be covered with netting in the fruiting season, to prevent the birds from spreading the plant into the rain forest.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 20th March 2019