Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Surinam Cherry:
Eugenia uniflora

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Botanical Overview

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


Form: A large shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: 40-150 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 8-20' high and as 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. The flowers produce pollen but no 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: 1-2 years for grafted plants, 2-6 years for seedlings.
Fruit: Round, seven to ten deep ribs, slightly flattened at the ends, with small apical sepals. The thin skin turns bright red or almost 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. Dark colored fruit varieties are sweeter and contain little to no resin. Each fruit contains one to three seeds. The fruit size, one-half to two inches, depends on the amount of water the plant receives during fruiting. The flavor varies between plants grown from seed.
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, red or 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 resin. No thorns.
Roots: Deep. Invasive in wet climates. Cuttings of desirable cultivars are grafted onto rootstock grown from seed.
Cultivars of Note:
'Black Star' - ripe fruit are black.
'Lolita' - ripe fruit are bright red.
'Zill Dark' - ripe fruit are purple.
Wildlife: The flowers attract insects, especially bees, bats and birds. The fruit attracts birds, lizards, and mammals.
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.

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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.
Drought tolerant: No.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Planting: Locate in an area with full sun and afternoon shade, in well draining soil. Space 2-5' apart for a hedge. It can be grown in a large container.
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 tolerant.
Fertilize: Use an organic fertilizer applied every month or two except in winter.
Water after becoming established: Deep water once or twice a week during fruiting. Abundant water increases fruit size and sweetness.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" away from the trunk to prevent soil evaporation and protect roots from temperature extremes.
First Year Care: Protect from freezes during the first two years in the ground.
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: Semi-woody cuttings, with leaves, can be top clef grafted onto rootstock. Softwood and semi-woody cuttings of 1-2 mm diameter and 5 cm long with 2 opposing leaves can be rooted. Seed are viable for up to one month after harvest, sprout 3-8 weeks after planting, and are not true to parent. Dried seed purchased through the mail are not viable.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit when very ripe, hedge. Ripe fruit, when seeded, sprinkled with sugar, and refrigerated, 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 Brazilian Cherry, Pitanga, Cayenne Cherry, and in Hawaii, Pumpkin Cherry.
When this plant does not receive sufficient water during fruiting, the fruit tastes like a Bell pepper, hence the name Cayenne Cherry.
This plant is related to Grumichama, Cherry of the Rio Grande, and Star Cherry.

Do you have additional information or a different experience for these plants that you would like to share? Email All contributions are welcome and appreciated.

Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Hermann, CC BY-SA 3.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Huertasurbanas, CC BY-SA 3.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

John Robert McPherson, CC BY-SA 4.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Latest update: April, 2021