SCIENTIFIC NAME: Myrciaria cauliflora
FAMILY: Myrtaceae

In his chapter on Fruits of the Myrtle Family, Popenoe (1) (1920) states that the jaboticaba is one of the best of a number of fruits indigenous to southern Brazil with genuine merit, 'but like many of the others it has until recently received little attention outside its native home.' Some 65 years later, this statement seems just as appropriate. One wonders why; possibly it is just another first-class fruit in an increasingly crowded market that has just not found its niche. Seedling material on suboptimal sites with indifferent horticultural attention can take from six to as much as sixteen years to come into bearing: whatever initial enthusiasm existed at planting time is likely well-dissipated by then, and any commercial aspirations are certainly long gone. Consequently, outside Brazil, where it is just as popular as the grape is in other parts of the world, it has remained a rare fruit, interesting and invariably well-liked by the few people with access to it, but seldom eaten by others and never seen in the market. We think it has commercial promise and will try to make a case for this opinion. Horticultural crops are a risky business however, and we may be wrong; but we can think of no other plant that deserves more consideration as landscape material. Whatever the size of your yard, it can be highly recommended both for its bounty and its beauty.

Menninger (2) ( 1975) quotes Harry Blossfeld, Sao Paulo, Brazil, plantsman, as follows: 'Some 200 miles west of Sao Paulo is a city named Jaboticabal which got its name from the fruit tree. In that city, there are thousands of trees in all back yards and orchards. People stream to the city at harvest time and orchard owners charge an entrance fee for which you can pluck as many fruits as you can eat. Or they charge another fee for each five-gallon can you take out with fruit. Jaboticaba jelly is most popular with us, and any suburban piece of land offered for sale is charged an additional price for each Jaboticaba tree standing on it. Jaboticaba trees are practically the only trees ever transplanted in a big size with root ball; with this one exception, nobody here would care for buying a grown-up tree and pay for its hauling. It takes from 12 to 15 years to get a plant from seed into first fruiting, but by grafting on a more vigorous variety here known as 'Paulista', it is possible to get young trees to bear fruit three years after grafting, or six years after sowing the stock'.

Authorities agree the true jaboticaba is Myrciaria cauliflora, but many of the fruits consumed in Brazil as jaboticaba appear to come from other species, principally M. jaboticaba, M. trunciflora and M. tenella. There are a number of named varieties in Brazil, some of which may well be hybrids between the different Myrciaria species.

M. cauliflora is a handsome evergreen tree reaching 10 to 12 metres under good conditions. The leaves are small, 2 to 6 cm, mostly glabrous, rather pale green in colour with light coppery new growth. Without pruning, the tree branches close to the ground and forms a fairly tight network of primary and secondary branches. The bark is shed in thin layers, leaving a smooth surface that is interrupted during fruiting by small brown buds single or in clusters of two, three or four, that each give rise to small white flowers with four petals and a prominent cluster of stamens, and finally to dark maroon-purple fruit.

The wild plant is limited to southern Brazil from Rio Grande do Sul to Minas Geraes. This area occupies latitudes from about 32 to 16 degrees south, and corresponds to the region from Port Macquarie to Cairns. Clearly the proximity to the sea is of overwhelming importance in both countries. In both countries, the general ocean circulation is from the north to south bringing warm tropical water south. This has the effect of extending the tropical and subtropical climates to more southern latitudes, and moderating the extremes of temperature, particularly at lower elevations adjacent to the coast.

Porto Alegre on the coast in Rio Grande do Sul at about 30 degrees South Latitude has an average temperature of 24.7°C for the warmest month and 13.5°C for the coldest month, with an average rainfall of 127 cm per year. This corresponds to 27.8° and 10.0°C and 178 cm respectively at Byron Bay, about 29 degrees South Latitude. The four southern coastal states of Brazil from south to north are Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana and Sao Paulo. The southern border of Sao Paulo is given as the northern limit of occasional frosts so that about half of the natural range of jaboticaba is a zone of occasional frosts in winter, at least in some areas. Sound familiar? A much more detailed comparison of climates is desired, but this indicates that we are at least reasonably close climatologically. At Miami, Florida, jaboticabas have passed through a freeze of 26 degrees F., while the Southern California climate has proved too cold in all but the most protected spots.

In the Northern Rivers area of NSW, growth slows down in winter, but most bearing trees in the area are continuing to crop this winter (16 July, 1986). Winter fruit develops more slowly and is smaller and less sweet on trees that we have seen. This does not mean that they can be grown anywhere in the area, but it does mean that anywhere that you can grow avocados, they can be considered. In Sao Paulo, Brazil - north of the occasional frost boundary - planters who are willing to irrigate can expect ripe fruit throughout the year. Growers in more tropical locations of Australia may expect a similar result.

There is little information on soil requirements. What comments are available in the literature suggest deep, rich, well-drained soil with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 for best growth.

Ample water at all times is recommended.

The trees have, so far, been remarkably free from pests. We have seen some grub damage to new growth, but never anything to call for spraying. Nearly every fruit tree on our farm has scale problems except the jaboticaba. Birds and possibly fruit bats will likely be a problem once they find out how tasty the fruit is.

At least some varieties are reported to be polyembryonic, so that seedling reproduction can be used with selected material exhibiting this seed characteristic. Indeed, most of the jaboticabas grown in Brazil are reported to be raised from seed. Seed should be sown as nearly fresh from the fruit as possible. Storage at 3 to 10 degrees C. in open containers is successful for periods of 2 to 4 months with reduced germination success. Seedling jaboticabas are generally less than 0.5 metres at three years from germination. This helps to explain why Brazilian nurserymen supply 5- to 6-year-old trees.

Grafting and inarching are successful with jaboticabas and are used to propagate varieties with desired characteristics in both tropical America and Florida. Unless some varieties are not reliably polyembryonic, the need for this is not clear unless the reported shorter time to fruiting is the objective.

It is reported that air layering can be used to reproduce jaboticabas, but the small efforts made locally have not yet succeeded. Cuttings can be rooted, but reproducible techniques with good success rates have not yet been reported.

Nearly every description of the jaboticaba mentions the long time to come into production, with figures from 5 to 30 years quoted in the literature. These are realistic numbers for casual efforts at growing jaboticabas, and they are truly discouraging in terms of the economics of producing jaboticabas. The use of vegetatively-propagated material, good cultural techniques the use of very mature nursery stock and cincturing have all been suggested as means to shorten the time to commencement of fruiting. There is limited local evidence that relates to each of these techniques.

It is not clear when the clock starts with seed-grown material, but it seems most reasonable to assure that time to fruiting maturity should be measured from the time the seed is sown. For material of constant genetic composition, any variability in the maturity time is then attributable to cultural conditions. How much of this time is spent in the nursery and how much is spent in the orchard is an important consideration. In general, the slower-growing species can spend longer in the nursery without creating serious problems in their subsequent orchard performance.

In 1978, we sent seed from a tree on a University of Hawaii Department of Tropical Agriculture research farm to Bob Magnus, a local nurseryman. He distributed this material rather widely in the NSW Northern Rivers area. Most of this material that we know of has fruited during the last 8 months, fairly close synchronism in view of the variable treatments that it has received. That is about 8 years from seed, and anywhere from 4.5 to 6 years from planting out. The best result that we know of was on the property of Dan P. Latimer in Dorroughby, who has several trees from this lot that he planted out between April and September, 1981. They commenced fruiting in October and November of 1985, some 4.5 to 5 years after planting. One of three trees planted from this same stock nearly a year earlier in September in 1980 at our property in Whian Whian, is fruiting now, 8 months later.

Our trees are just 3-metres high, while Dan Latimer's are nearer 3.5 metres. The better performance of Latimer's trees is likely due to abundant mulching and dressings with chicken manure. Both of us have been careful to water the trees during dry spells. The two important conclusions are that any problem that may arise from three-year-old nursery stock can be overcome with good care of the trees after planting out, and that such care is important in the tree's performance.

Dan Latimer cinctured limbs on his trees, but it is not clear whether the earlier fruiting of his trees is due to better growing conditions or cincturing or both. Limbs that were not cinctured came into bearing at about the same time. One of our three trees, which are planted within about 2 metres of each other, was cinctured; it is not the one that is fruiting. Fruiting buds are evident on the limbs of the other two at present. Paul Recher has cinctured one limb on a large-leaved variety (see 'Grimal' below) of jaboticaba, and it is now in bud, but not only on the cinctured limb. Our cinctures were about 2mm in width, while those of Latimer and Recher were on the order of a centimetre. The jaboticaba heals very quickly if the meristem tissue is not removed. We removed only the bark and phloem elements and likely this does not provide sufficient interruption. At present, the results indicate a cincturing effect but a careful study of possible cincturing methods and results should be made.

Grafted material does seem to come into production earlier. A grafted tree at the Alstonville Tropical Fruit Research Station fruited this year, 3.5 years after planting out; this is, to our knowledge, the best result in our area. Again, additional study of this matter would be desired.

There are references in the literature that indicate variation in time to fruiting among the species referred to as jaboticaba, and differences among varieties are to be expected.

While there are a number of possibilities for shortening the time to fruiting, the presently achievable 4 to 5 years with well-grown, mature nursery stock seems tolerable. Since a grower can expect two or three crops in Northern NSW and as much as five crops in a tropical location, the production potential does not seem all that poor.

There are probably a number of unrecorded seed importations in Australia. Since the seed is reportedly polyembryonic, it would be useful to try to identify the source of the seed where possible. In addition, there are four named selections or varieties imported as grafted trees that we know of. Paul Recher brought in two of them: 'Whitman' was acquired from Mr. Whitman from Florida and 'FJI' was brought in from Hawaii. The Whitman selection has a reputation for multiple cropping in Florida; this was apparently the basis for the selection. FJI is claimed to routinely produce large, 4-cm fruit. According to Mr. Recher, it bore fruit 4 years after planting out on his Dorroughby property. A full year of fruiting will be required to determine whether there is a significant difference in fruit size for this variety and maybe different species. It has not yet fruited in our area to our knowledge, but Mr. Recher's tree is in bud at present, and Mr. Carle reports that it has fruited in North Queensland. The Younghan selection has a reputation for being a prolific bearer. Paul Recher has also imported seed from a popular Brazilian variety 'Sabara'. This material has not yet fruited. The seed did not produce multiple plants, which casts doubt on its po1yembryonic character; possibly it is apomictic (embryo developed from mother tissue without fertilization). In any case, the material represents valuable genetic material.

Tho jaboticaba is a good fruit that is well-suited to the tropical-subtropical east coast of Australia. It looks like it has reasonable commercial crop potential. Dan Latimer received $6.00 per kg for fruit he marketed in Brisbane last season. It is not the time to put in commercial plantations, but interested growers should be obtaining material for trial on their property.

As an attractive, compact plant that provides a steady supply of tasty family fruit on even the smallest suburban block, it has much to recommend it.

1. Popenoe, Wilson, Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits, a facsimile publication of the 1920 Edition by too Macmillan Company by Hafner Press, 1974 , New York. N.Y.

2. Menninger, Edwin A., Color in the Sky, 1975, Horticultural Books Inc. Stuart, Florida.

Article from EFGA Newsletter August, 1986

DATE: September 1986

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