The Pitanga is a native of Southern Brazil, and produces a cherry-like fruit which is deeply ribbed with 8 longitudinal grooves. The fragrant white 4-petalled flowers are about a centimetre wide and the tree sometimes blooms twice a year in warm climates. It begins to bear in its second to fourth year. The fruit should ripen a few weeks after flowering. They are light green to begin with, then mature from bright cherry red to almost black when ripe. The darker the fruit, the more pronounced the flavour. The fruit is aromatic, but flavour varies greatly and may be acid to excellent.
The plant makes an excellent hedge, the leaves being an attractive copper colour when young. The foliage is said to repel flies, and has a pleasant pungent scent when crushed. They are sometimes scattered on the floors of Brazilian homes as strewing herbs.
Pitanga grows well in subtropical areas and will produce while still only a 1-metre-high shrub, but it will eventually grow into a small tree approximately 3m to 7m high. It can withstand cool conditions without suffering damage but fruit production is limited when grown in cool regions. It will tolerate light frost when mature. Trees grown on alkaline soils tend to be chlorotic. Fruit setting in isolated trees may be poor, suggesting there may be pollen incompatibility problems.
Pitanga can be propagated from seed, which usually results in plants coming true to type. Use seed from ripe fruit. Cuttings can be taken in summer from semi-ripened wood. Plants can be propagated by grafting and budding and can also be grown from suckers. Pitanga are very slow growing and can take about 20 years to reach 3m.
Fruits are eaten fresh or stewed, cooked in tarts or pies or made into jelly. When used in salads, remove the seeds and calyx before slicing. Seeds should also be removed before cooking as they are unpleasantly astringent. The crushed pulp of ripe fruit makes a flavoursome sherbet. It has been a favourite fruit for wine making. The red fruit makes a light red wine while the black fruit loses its colour on fermenting and makes a clear white wine.
Fruits are approximately 1" in diameter and need abundant water to the plant during fruit development. Samples of the juice have shown pH values (acidity ratings) of 2.7 to 3.0. The acidity is great, being exceeded only by tamarind. The carbohydrate content of the fruit is from 3% to 5% being mostly sugars. The fruit is a fair source of calcium, phosphorus and iron, having about the same quality of these minerals as guavas. Analysis of fruit grown in Florida, U.S.A. show the red fruit to have 33.9 - 43.9 mg, and the black fruit from 25.3 mg of ascorbic acid per 100 g of fruit pulp.
The plants develop thick woody stems as they get older. The fruit can become smaller and of poorer quality unless the bushes are kept well-nourished. Pruning is advised on a periodic basis to eliminate the older woody branches to the advantage of the younger and more vigorous fruiting ones. It is therefore better to keep the plant low and spreading rather than prune it to a single stem tree form.
References: Quandong Magazine, Vo1.9, No.1, Western Aust. Nut And Tree Crops Assoc.
Fruit for the Home Garden, by Leslie Johns and Violet Stevenson.
Exotic Tree Fruit for the Aust. Home Garden, by Glen Tankard,
Tropical Tree Fruits for Australia, Qld. D.P.I.,
Fruits for Southern Florida, by David Sturrock.
DATE: March 1997
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