The Brazilian tree grape is a little known fruit which should prove to be a winner for Perth’s gardeners. Known as Jaboticaba, the tree is related to the pitanga or Brazilian cherry – its botanical name is Myrciaria caulifora. Apart from producing a sweet juicy fruit for eating fresh, a delicious highly-popular wine can be fermented from the juice. These twin uses make Jaboticaba a highly-prized fruit in its native Brazil.
Purple-black plum-size fruits cluster directly around the trunk and main branches. Apart from their grape-like appearance, the flavour also is reminiscent of grapes, being sweet with an attractive sub acid tang.
The skin is tougher than grapes and this aids storage and handling. One to four seeds are contained in the white gelatinous pulp. Rather than concentrating its crop in one brief three or four-week period, Jaboticaba can produce five or six crops a year.
Flowering usually begins in spring and goes through to the onset of cool weather. Fruits can be harvested 20 to 30 days after flowering. This style of fruiting is ideal for the home gardener, overcoming the “feast or famine” syndrome. Aboticabas can be successfully frozen fresh or processed into juice or jelly.
Growing to a bushy four to six metres high, the Brazilian tree grape is a handsome compact ornamental tree. Dark green foliage and a pleasing symmetrical crown make it a worthwhile landscape specimen. While intolerant of salt water and spray, the tree can withstand light frosts down to minus 3 C.
The main factor limiting commercial exploration is the slow early growth and the fact that seedling trees take up to 10 years to bear. However, grafted trees are now available in limited quantities and these should produce their first fruits in three to five years from planting. Like many nut-bearing trees, Jaboticaba needs to be seen as a longer-term investment, with an abundant and delicious payback. Girdling is a method of forcing a mature, but unfruitful tree into cropping.
Take a sharp knife and cut through the bark to the wood in a horizontal ring around the trunk. Then make a second cut two to three centimetres above. Don’t remove the bark between these cuts, as you could ringbark and kill the tree. Best done in late winter, this girding usually shocks the tree into flowering and then fruiting. Jaboticaba will thrive in most soils which are well drained and don’t have a high water table.
Our sand or loam soils are both ideal if richly improved with organic materials such as Compeat, compost and mature animal manure. Mulching is beneficial, particularly to aid growth in our hot summer months, and protection from strong winds will encourage growth and improve fruit setting. Protection from winter cold is recommended for the first two to three years. Jaboticaba is an ideal birthday tree. Plant it to celebrate the birth of a baby and when he or she is old enough to climb trees there will be a sweet reward halfway up the main trunk.