History and Cultivation

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Synsepalum dulcificum
FAMILY: Sapotaceae

The Miracle Fruit or Miraculous Berry is a small multi-branched tree with dense foliage indigenous to tropical West Africa, where it can reach a height of 2 to 5 metres. The fruit when ripe is bright red, approx. 2 cm. long, olive shaped and has a relatively large seed surrounded by sweet white pulp which has the ability to affect the sour receptors of the taste buds, causing all sour foods to taste sweet.

For example, sucking the flesh from the berry, then eating a sour lime or lemon becomes a delightfully sweet experience (as many of our customers to the Nursery will testify). The more sour the fruit or food or drink consumed, the sweeter it will taste. This sweetening effect lasts approximately an hour, and the flavour of such fruits as strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, rhubarb etc. is greatly enhanced when their delicate flavours, formerly masked by natural acids, are released.

The berry whilst still commonly eaten (particularly by children) in West Africa, only found its way to the West in 1964, when attempts by multi-national corporations in the U.S.A and Europe commenced to pour millions of dollars into analyzing and then synthesizing the flesh, which would have then been used as a safe sugar substitute. Although the active principles of the sweetening phenomenon were in fact isolated, synthesizing the active ingredient was found not to be possible because of its complex nature. Tests conducted showed no adverse effects on its long-term oral use.

One of the most obvious benefits of the fruit is that it is essentially a non-caloric sweetener and flavour enhancer, and additionally contains 1.90% protein. The fruit is safe to eat in quantity - the flesh off one quarter of a berry carries as much sweetening effect as the flesh of 30 berries or more!! Two of the most obvious users of the fruit would be dieters and diabetics. Foods not normally sour are not sweetened by the Miracle Fruit, so meat, bread and similar foods are not sweetened.

The plant is a native of the tropical jungles of West Africa, a warm humid area almost on the equator, and as such thrives under those conditions. We here at the Nursery have had plants bearing under 2 years when subjected to continuous warmth and humidity with approximately 30% shade. Those growers who wish to achieve optimum results should attempt to simulate equatorial conditions, i.e., the temperature and humidity such as we experience in Cairns during the wet season.

We recommend the shrub be grown as a tub specimen in a warm sheltered spot on your patio or verandah for at least 3 to 4 years, by which time your plant should have reached a height of 1 to 1.5 metres and bearing prolifically. Remember, the plant will require a larger tub each time you re-pot. We recommend the plant not be re-potted until at least 20 cm above the pot.

You can then decide whether you wish to plant the shrub out in your garden (under filtered sunlight) or keep it as a tub specimen. Customers wishing to grow this plant in a cool climate would have to treat it strictly as a hot-house specimen.

The shrub likes an acid soil, and the addition of a quantity of peat moss to your soil is of value. Your Miracle Fruit should ideally be kept moist and fed at least every ten days with an organic fertiliser. Fertilise little and often. (Nitrosol, seaweed or fish emulsion).

Our glass-house grown shrub appears to bear continuously with a short resting period of a month or so. Excess fruit will keep quite satisfactorily in the refrigerator, or may be de-seeded and the pulp deep frozen.

No diseases have been observed. The only pest we have observed is scale which should be treated by some chemical other than white oil, as white oil has been known to cause leaf-drop.

Ian and Dawn Wilson
Avondale Nursery
Cairns, 4870

DATE: January 1982

* * * * * * * * * * * * *