What's Blooming April 4-10: The Brazilian Tree Grape

Jaboticaba, Brazilian Tree Grape (Myrtle family)
Myrciaria cauliflora (Myrtaceae)
Origin: Brazil

One of the most interesting and delicious of all tropical fruits, and hands-down the handsomest, Jaboticaba was barely known outside of its native range until the early part of the last century.  There are actually many species in the genus, most of which produce different sizes and colors of fruit, but M. cauliflora is most commonly cultivated.  The specific epithet is derived from the habit of cauliflory, which is evident in the picture.  Plants exhibiting this type of flowering bloom and fruit directly on the trunk and older branches of the tree. As with most plants in the Myrtaceae family, Jaboticaba has exfoliating bark, so even when not in bloom or fruit, it is a beautiful tree.

A slow grower, it takes a seedling many years to fruit. A popular Brazilian parable tells of a young man asking an older man why he is planting a Jaboticaba in his garden, since he will surely not live to taste its fruit.  The older man responds that if people were not willing to plant the trees and wait, then no one would know what Jaboticaba tasted like. When they do finally reach maturity, trees produce more and more heavily for twenty-five years, at which point they bloom almost constantly.  Here at Selby Gardens, we have younger trees that seem to give us an annual heavy fruiting (which is going on now) and several additional, lighter flowering and fruiting periods throughout the year.

The berries are ripe when they are shiny and black.  Pop the whole thing in your mouth, break the skin with your teeth, consume the seed(s) and pulp, and spit out the skin (some people like the sour taste of the skin, but heavy consumption should be avoided because of tannin content.) The fruits have poor storage characteristics, which has kept them generally out of our food chain.  They are usually eaten out-of-hand, and sometimes used to make jellies or wine.