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Growing Surinam Cherry: Eugenia uniflora

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A member of the Myrtle family, the Eugenia genus contains over 1000 species worldwide. Eugenia uniflora, Surinam Cherry, is the most adaptable.


Form: A large shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 8-20' high and 6-15' wide.
Flowers: Long-stalked, in clusters of 1-4 flowers in the leaf axils, four white petals, many long, pale-yellow tipped, white stamens, fragrant. Flowers have abundant pollen but little nectar.
Bloom: Spring and fall for two crops. It may flower and fruit all year in tropical climates with sufficient rainfall.
Self-fruitful: Yes.
Years before fruiting: 2-6 years depending on location. Typically 5-6 years.
Fruit: Round, seven to eight deep ribs, slightly flattened at the ends, with small apical sepals. The thin skin turns bright red or almost red-black when fully ripe, with very juicy, aromatic, orange-red flesh, and a unique, non-cherry flavor, tart when partly ripe to sweet when fully ripe, containing one to three seeds. Dark colored fruit varieties are sweeter and contain little to no resin. The fruit size, one-half to two inches, depends on the amount of water the plant receives during fruiting. The flavor varies from plant to plant when they are grown from seed instead of from cuttings.
Months for fruit to ripen: Three weeks after flowering. Individual fruits ripen at different times and must be harvested once or twice a day. The fruit must not be picked until they fall off the stem easily or they will be resinous and bitter. Pruned bushes can yield 6-8 pounds of fruit per plant. Unpruned plants can yield up to twice that amount.
Storage after harvest: Fruit last one day at room temperature and up to one week refrigerated.
Leaves: Resinous, aromatic, oval to lance shaped, bronze when young, green and glossy at maturity, turning red in cold, dry weather. The aroma of crushed leaves is said to repel insects. This plant provides dense shade.
Stems: Slender, containing resinous sap. No thorns.
Roots: Deep. Invasive in wet climates. Desirable cultivars are grafted onto rootstock grown from seed.
Cultivars of Note:
'Black Star' - ripe fruit are black.
'Lolita' - ripe fruit are bright red.
Wildlife: Attracts bees, birds, mammals. Birds disperse the seeds.
Toxic / Danger: The seeds are very resinous and should not be eaten. The fruit causes diarrhea in dogs. The smell of freshly cut stems can irritate respiratory passages of sensitive individuals.
Origin: East coast of South America.

Surinam Cherry: Eugenia uniflora - fruit

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. Young plants are damaged at 28°F. Older plants are hardy to 22°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Drought tolerant: No.
Water after becoming established: Twice a week to every 10 days. During fruiting, daily water increases fruit size and sweetness.
Soil: Well draining, pH 5.6-7.5 (acidic to neutral). This plant is not particular about soil type otherwise, except that it is not salt tolerance.
Fertilize: Use an organic fertilizer applied every month or two except in winter.
Mulch: Compost helps retain water and protect against extremes of heat and cold.
Spacing: Grow 2-5' apart for a hedge or screen.
Planting: Can be grown in a container.
First Year Care: Protect from freezes during the first two years.
Prune: Do not prune until this slow-growing plant is 6-7 years old, then shape to improve harvesting or to grow as a screen or hedge. Flowering occurs on old growth and at the base of new growth.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Layering or grafting, seed. Seed are viable for only one month after harvest, cannot be dried or refrigerated, sprout 3-4 weeks after planting, and may not grow true to parent.
Uses: Hedge or screen, ornamental, edible fruit when very ripe. When seeded, sprinkled with sugar, and refrigerated, the fruit becomes mild and sweet and can be used like strawberries. It is often made into jam or jelly. The crushed leaves are used as an insect repellant.


Other common names are Pitanga, Cayenne Cherry, and in Hawaii, Pumpkin Cherry. This tree is sometimes called Brazilian Cherry, although that name properly belongs to Grumichama (Eugenia brasiliensis).
When Surinam Cherry trees do not receive sufficient water during fruiting, the fruit tastes like a Bell pepper, hence the name Cayenne Cherry.

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Latest update: December, 2018