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in Tucson, Phoenix,
Arizona and California

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California

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Growing Star Cherry / Pitanga-tuba / Pitangola: Eugenia selloi

Botanical Overview

A member of the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae), the Eugenia genus contains over 1000 species worldwide, including several with edible fruit.

Description

Form: Shrub.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: Normally 4-6' high and wide, but can reach 9' high.
Flowers: Four white petals, many long white stamens with yellow tips, fragrant. These flowers do not produce nectar.
Bloom: Spring and summer for six months or more.
Self-fruitful: Sometimes. A second plant is recommended. Fruit set may be low even with hand pollination.
Years before fruiting: 2-3 from seed. Flowers that appear the first year of flowering often do not set fruit.
Fruit: Aromatic, yellow to yellow-orange when ripe, ribbed, oval to round, 2-3" long, with persistent small apical sepals. The flesh is juicy and nutritious. The flavor has been described as sweet, apricot mixed with mango, and hints of sour or bitter, possibly latex. The flavor of the ripe fruit varies between plants. Each fruit contains one oval, light brown seed which separates easily.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3-4 weeks. The fruit may drop off the plant when fully ripe. It can be harvested when partially yellow and will finish ripening indoors.
Storage after harvest: The fruit is very perishable. When ripe, it must be eaten raw, frozen, or cooked immediately.
Leaves: Older leaves are dark green on top, light green underneath, oval with a slight pointed tip, and thick. New leaves are yellow-green.
Stems: No thorns. The outer bark on the trunk is rough and comes off in plates.
Roots: New seedlings develop a strong taproot.
Cultivars of Note:
Varieties growing elongated fruit are said to have less latex in the ripe fruit than those growing round fruit. There are no cultivar names yet.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees. The fruit attracts birds and mammals.
Toxic / Danger: Unripe fruit is mildly poisonous.
Origin: Forest regions of Brazil.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. The leaves turn purple near freezing. Protect from freezing.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: No.
Sun: Full sun to part shade with full afternoon shade over 85°F.
Planting: Locate this plant where it will receive full afternoon shade and part shade the rest of the day when temperatures are over 85°F. It needs neutral to slightly acidic soil. Star Cherry does well in a large container. In the ground, plants can be spaced 2-6' apart. It must be protected from freezing temperatures.
Soil: Well drained, slightly moist, pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral). This plant grows in nutrient-poor soil but thrives in soils with high organic content. It is slightly salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Use an organic fertilizer once or twice a year. Apply plant micronutrients in irrigation water at the same time.
Water after becoming established: Deep water once a week when flowering and fruiting.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch to retain soil moisture and protect roots from temperature extremes.
First Year Care: Avoid full sun. Protect from freezing.
Prune: In winter, trim lightly to shape.
Litter: Flowers, fruit if not harvested.
Propagation: Seed is very slow to germinate. Like other Eugenia species, the seeds may be more likely to germinate when they are planted within 10 days of being removed from the fruit and are not dried. Rooting a woody cutting from a desirable plant, or grafting one to seedling rootstock should be considered.
Uses: Edible fruit eaten raw, cooked for jams and jellies, used to flavor ice cream; ornamental.

Comments

The former scientific name of Star Cherry is Eugenia neonitida. It is related to Cherry of the Rio Grande, Grumichama, and Surinam Cherry.


Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
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Comparison of Eugenia uniflora and Eugenia selloi fruit size
A comparison of Surinam Cherry at left and Star Cherry at right

Eugenia selloi leaves and fruit


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Latest update: April, 2021