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in Tucson, Phoenix,
Arizona and California

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California


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Growing Jamaican Cherry: Muntingia calabura

Botanical Overview

The tropical Jamaican Cherry family (Muntingiaceae), has three genera, each with only one species. In the Muntingia genus, the sole species is Muntingia calabura, Jamaican Cherry.

Description

Form: Tree.
Lifespan: Estimated to be 30 years maximum.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Rapid. Can grow 13' tall in two years.
Mature Size: 25-40' high and as wide.
Flowers: In clusters of 1-3, with five white petals and prominent yellow stamens, lasting only one day. Each flower is at the end of a long stalk raised above the surface of the surrounding leaves. As the fruit develops after pollination, the stalk drops below the leaves where the ripe berry can be plucked by birds without disturbing the pollinating bees above.
Bloom: A few flowers bloom each day, continually throughout the year in tropical climates. In temperate climates, blooming will cease during the four to six coolest months.
Self-fruitful: Yes.
Years before fruiting: 18-24 months.
Fruit: Round, 1/4" - 1/2" wide, smooth, thin, red skin. Light-brown, soft, juicy pulp, exceedingly sweet, flavored like cotton candy or caramel, filled with tiny, barely noticeable seeds. Cold weather may cause a change in flavor. The fruit are high in vitamin C and antioxidants and have been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Months for fruit to ripen: 6-8 weeks. The fruit are ripe when the skin turns fully red, but will not ripen further once picked. They ripen individually, and should be checked twice a day.
Storage after harvest: The fruit decay quickly must be eaten raw, frozen, or processed immediately.
Leaves: Lance shaped, irregularly toothed, dark-green on top, light green underneath.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Spread very wide; suckers in moist soil. The suckers do not transplant and should be removed.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees. The fruit attracts birds, fruit bats and small mammals. Netting may be required to keep birds and bats from stealing the fruit.
Toxic / Danger: None.
Origin: Southern Mexico to South America, and the Caribbean.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. Young plants must be protected from freezing temperatures. Established plants will withstand 29°F with some branch dieback.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: This plant continuously flowers between 60-90°F. It may need extra water above 95°F.
Drought tolerant: No. This plant prefers a humid environment.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Planting: Locate this plant in full morning sun with winter-deciduous afternoon shade. Avoid low-lying areas where cold air collects in winter and are the first to frost over. It can be grown in a container.
Soil: Well draining, pH 5.6-8.5 (acidic to alkaline). It grows in poor soil in tropical, high rainfall regions and is considered a pioneer species. It is not salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Use organic fertilizer, spread over the root area, once a month during the growing season, especially when growing in a container.
Water after becoming established: Deep water once a week when fruiting, every two weeks at other times.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch to protect roots from extreme heat and cold, and to retain soil moisture. Keep mulch 8" from the trunk.
Prune: To shape and reduce height, but prune no more than 30%. Flowers occur on new growth.
Litter: Moderate leaf and branch drop.
Propagation: Seed planted immediately after harvest, seed cleaned and dried, cuttings, air layering.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, bird garden. The fruit is eaten raw, made into jam or cooked into pastries. A tea with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties is made from the leaves. Children often pick and eat the raw fruit off the tree, getting sticky hands.

Comments

Other common names are Panama Berry and Cotton Candy Tree. While it is sometimes called strawberry tree because the flowers resemble those of strawberries, that name properly belongs to the European species Arbutus unedo.
This tree is considered moderately invasive in regions with moist soil, due to root suckering and bird propagation.
The plant has little commercial value because the fruit ripen only a few at a time and perish quickly, but it is an excellent residential tree.



Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
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By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada - Muntingia calabura, the flower of Panama Berry, CC BY 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-34450507

By Prenn - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-18151193


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Latest update: June, 2020