Friday, August 19, 2011

Surinam Cherry

I found this very interesting plant called the Surinam cherry at our local nursery the other day. It turns out that it's actually quite rare and each fruit contains more vitamin c than a single orange. Certainly something to have on our farm. Surprisingly it was only five dollars, not bad considering how nutritious the fruit is. If anything it may as well just be a bargain.

The plant is native from Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana to southern Brazil  and to northern, eastern and central Uruguay. It grows wild in thickets on the banks of the Pilcomayo River in Paraguay. It was first described botanically from a plant growing in a garden at Pisa, Italy, which is believed to have been introduced from Goa, India. Portuguese voyagers are said to have carried the seed from Brazil to India, as they did the cashew. It is cultivated and naturalized in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, also along the Atlantic coast of Central America; and in some islands of the West Indies, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and in the Bahamas and Bermuda. In 1918, Britton wrote, in the "Flora of Bermuda", that, as it harbors the fruit fly, the tree has been largely cut out in recent years." It is frequently grown in Hawaii, Samoa, India and Ceylon as an ornamental plant and occasionally in tropical Africa, southern China and in the Philippines where it first cultivated in 1911. It was long ago planted on the Mediterranean coast of Africa and the European Riviera. The first Surinam cherry was introduced into coastal Israel in 1922 and aroused considerable interest because it produced fruit in May when other fruits are scarce, and it requires so little care, but over 10 years of observation, the yields recorded were disappointingly small.

The Surinam cherry is adapted to tropical and subtropical regions.Young plants are damaged by temperatures below 28º F, but well-established plants have suffered only superficial injury at 22º F. The plant revels in full sun. It requires only moderate rainfall and, being deep-rooted, can stand a long dry season. It can grow in typically any type of sandy soild, which is a plus for those of us living in Florida.
Surinam cherry seedlings grow slowly; some begin to fruit when 2 years old; some may delay fruiting for 5 or 6 years, or even 10 if in unfavorable situations. They are most productive if unpruned, but still produce a great many fruits when close-clipped in hedges. Quarterly feeding with a complete fertilizer formula promotes fruiting. The plant responds quickly to irrigation, the fruit rapidly becoming larger and sweeter in flavor after a good watering.

The fruits develop and ripen quickly, only three weeks after the flowers open. In Brazil, the plants bloom in September and fruits ripen in October; they bloom again in December and January. In Florida and the Bahamas, there is a spring crop, March or April through May or June; and a second crop, September through November, coinciding with the spring and fall rains.

There is a warning though with these tropical cherries, the seeds are extremely resinous and should not be eaten. Diarrhea has occurred in dogs that have been fed the whole fruits by children. The strong, spicy emanation from bushes being pruned irritates the respiratory passages of sensitive persons.

The leaves have been spread over the floors of Brazilian homes. When walked upon, they release their pungent oil which repels flies. The barkcontains 20 to 28.5% tannin and can be used for treating leather. The flowers are a rich source of pollen for honeybees but yield little or no nectar.

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