2 October 2021

Jabuticaba – The Tree that Fruits on its Trunk

No, this is not a belated April Fool’s prank. They look as if they may have been pinned there by an over enthusiastic gardener to impress the neighbors but the fruit of the Jabuticaba really does grow off the trunk of the tree.

Otherwise known as the Brazilian Grape Tree (Plinia cauliflora), this plant is native to South America, notably Paraguay, Argentina and (obviously from its name) mostly from Brazil.  The fruit, a succulent looking purple color can be plucked and eaten straight from the tree.

It is also a popular ingredient in jellies and is also juiced to make a refreshing summer drink.  What is more it can be fermented and made in to wine and strong liquor.  After three days off the tree the fermentation will begin so, sometimes, there is no choice but to create a beverage with a certain alcoholic kick to it. 

Image Credit Flickr User Mariciani
Image Credit Flickr User Adriano Suzuki
If you want one of these in your garden then you have to be patient.  The tree takes an age to grow, but once it reaches maturity it is worth it.  However, it has proven to be very adaptable and although it prefers moist and slightly acid soils it will even grow well in an alkaline type soil.

Image Credit Flickr User Pedro Bezerra
Image Credit Flickr User Denise Garrido
Even so a plant grafted from a parent tree will take five years to fruit.  If you grow a jabuticaba from seed then your children may enjoy the fruits of your labor as it can take up to twenty years to produce anything edible. However, as they grow so slowly they are popular as a bonsai plant in places with more moderate weather.

Image Credit Flickr User Dnz Aqmi
Image Credit Flickr User Mariana Soares
Image Credit Flickr User Mariana Soares
The flowers themselves appear on the tree at most twice a year – naturally.  They look like some strange alien frost has deposited itself on the trunk and branches. The habit of flowers doing this makes them cauliflorous.   Instead of growing new shoots these plants flower direct from the woody trunk or stem.

Image Credit Flickr User Sonia RO
Image Credit Flickr User Pedro Bezerra
Image Credit Flickr User Pedro Bezerra
The fruit is a bright green color as it grows.  It will only turn its final, lovely purple hue once the fruit are ripe.  From the tiniest of beginnings they eventually grow to just over an inch in diameter.

Image Credit Flickr User olivechris
Image Credit Flickr User Renatoav
You might ask why it is this way.  The simple answer is that it has evolved in this manner so that animals that cannot climb very high can reach it, eat it and then expel the seeds away from the parent tree to further propagate the species. You can see how the fallen fruit might produce something of a feeding frenzy.

The animals that it attracts are not known for their tree climbing endeavors.  The name Jabuticaba comes partly from the now extinct Tupi language.  When Europeans first arrived in what is now Brazil Tupi was used almost as a lingua franca and survives, despite its later systematic suppression, in many documents from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

jabuticaba 4
Jabuti is the Tupi word for tortoise, with caba meaning place.  So, where you find this tree is also where you will find tortoises gathered for an easy and tasty meal once the fruit has fallen to the ground. Another of the Tupi languages, Guarani, calls the fruit yvapuru, where yva is fruit and puru an onomatopoeic word for the crunchy sound the fruit makes when one bites in to it.

Festival da Jabuticaba de Juscimeira
Festival da Jabuticaba de Juscimeira
If the tree is well irrigated then it will flower and fruit all the year round – another reason why it might be popular with animals whose physiology may not make them the most nimble of foragers.  The fruit itself is about four centimeters in diameter and has up to four large seeds.  As well as being used as food the skins can be dried out and used to treat asthma and diarrhea. If your tonsils are swollen you can also use it to try and alleviate the inflammation.  It is also hoped that the tree will be useful in the fight against cancer as several anti-cancer compounds have been found in the fruit.

Altogether the Jabuticaba is a very useful tree to tortoises and humans alike, if a bizarre looking one.

First Image Credit Flickr User robertohoffman