The tropical Jamaican Cherry family (Muntingiaceae), has three genera, each with
only one species. In the Muntingia genus, the species is Muntingia calabura, Jamaican Cherry.
Estimated to be 30 years maximum.
Rapid. Can grow 13' tall in two years.
25-40' high and as wide.
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.
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.
Years before fruiting:
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.
Lance shaped, irregularly toothed, dark-green on top, light green underneath.
Spread very wide; suckers in moist soil. The suckers do not transplant and should be removed.
The flowers attract bees. The fruit attracts birds, fruit bats and small mammals. Bird netting
may be required to keep birds and bats from stealing the fruit.
Toxic / Danger:
Southern Mexico to South America, and the Caribbean.
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.
This plant continuously flowers between 60-90°F. It may need extra water above 95°F.
No. This plant prefers a humid environment.
Full sun to part shade.
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
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.
Use organic fertilizer, spread over the root area, once a year. In a container, apply organic
fertilizer monthly during the growing season.
Water after becoming established:
once a week when fruiting, every two weeks
at other times.
Apply organic mulch to protect roots from extreme heat and cold, and to retain soil moisture.
Keep mulch 8" from the trunk.
To shape and reduce height, but prune no more than 30%. Flowers occur on new growth.
Moderate leaf and branch drop.
Seed can be cleaned and sown immediately after harvest, or cleaned and dried for later sowing.
The seed must receive light to germinate. Rooted cuttings and air layering are used to retain
genetic properties of the parent.
Ornamental, shade tree, 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.
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 and bat 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 these plants that you would
like to share? Email info@GardenOracle.com. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.