Central and South America

Bursera microphylla - Torote, Torote Colorado, Elephant tree

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Pouteria sapota - mamey sapote

Originating in Central America, Mamey has become common in the throughout Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. It is widely cultivated in the American tropics, sold in produce markets and, to a lesser extent, supermarkets. Historical records indicate that the Mamey served as the principal source of food for Cortez and his soldiers during their march to Honduras in 1524. The fruit was a very important food source for the Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

Depending on weather it is grown from seed or grafted, and depending on the variety, the Mamey tree can take on a variety of forms. Larger seedling varieties can grow up to 30 m tall, grafted trees can be managed at a relatively low height. The fruit is large, 10 – 20 cm long, either round or oblong with a thick, rough peel. The bright reddish pulp surrounds a large shiny seed. The photos below show an exceptionally large fruit, the largest I have ever seen.

Good Mamey varieties can be very sweet and aromatic, eaten fresh, or used in fruit drinks and ice creams. In Central America the large seed kernel is traditionally toasted and ground with cacao to make a hot beverage. Medicinal properties are attributed to both the fruit and the seed. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C, calcium and phosphorous.

Justicia pectoralis - Tilo, piri piri (South America), Chapantye (Cuba)

Justicia pectoralis is a low growing, branching sprawling shrub, can grow up to 3 ft. It has small lanceolate leaves and violet flowers, similar in appearance to those of snapdragons.

In areas of the Central American Caribbean coast it is considered to have aphrodisiac properties. The entire plant is dried in the sun and made into a powder before being used. Notably, the powder is effective only when it is taken via the nasal membranes, (as snuff), or smoked (in conjunction with Cannabis sativa). In South America one variety, Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla, is used to produce psychedelic experiences or used as an additive in ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). The plant contains psychedelically active tryptamines. A “tilo tea” is commonly seen sold in supermarkets, it has anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

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Manilkara zapota - Chico Sapote, Nispero

Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, Sapodilla (or Chico Sapote) is a traditional food plant of the Mayan and Aztec cultures and the source of chewing gum, or chicle, chewed by the Aztecs in pre-Colombian ties, still used in some commercial gums. The tree has spread to other parts of the tropical world, becoming a minor fruit crop. Although grafted varieties can be managed low, larger trees can reach a height of 20 m. The tree is evergreen and produces round or egg-shaped fruits, which vary in size. Good varieties can be truly incredible. A good Sapodilla tastes like brown sugar, very sweet and slightly gritty like pears.

Myrciaria glazioviana - Yellow Jaboticaba, Cabelluda

Sterculia apetala -Panama Tree

Cercidium (Parkinsonia) microphyllum - Palo Verde, Dipua

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Palo Verde grow as a large bush or small to medium size tree. It has smooth, greenish photosynthetic bark. There are numerous species of Cercidium (sonorae, praecox, peninsulare), which can are referred to variously as Palo Verde, Palo Estribo, and Dipua. There is some confusion amongst the layperson as to what, exactly, this differentiation is. Thus, to such individuals, all Cercidium species are thought to be "Palo Verde". This, of course, is not the case. The below photos are of Cercidium microphyllum, which can be distinguished from other Cercidium species by the lack of nodal thorns. Instead of nodal thorn thorns the tree has closely crowded spiny branchlet tips in broom-like arrangements. 

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Natives of the area used to (and probably still do to an extent) shell, toast and grind the seeds to store for winter sustenance. Reportedly, unless the seeds are fully ripe when harvested, dried and processed, they can cause severe diarrhea. The upper branches have been known to be used as a forage for mules, horses and burros (donkeys).

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Pouteria campechiana - Eggfruit, Canistel

egg-fruit-canistel
egg-fruit-canistel

Canistel originates in Mexico and Central America where it has been cultivated since antiquity. It is now very common in Cuba and tropical America from Florida to Uruguay, it can also be found in the Philippines and Malaysia. The tree is typically managed between five and eight meters high. The fruit is five to ten centimeters long and round, or in the form of a egg with a point. The pulp is firm and almost powder, likened to the texture of a hardboiled egg yolk. It has a very rich flavor and texture. A fantastic fruit, in my opinion. I have heard that cheesecake made out of the fruit pulp is exceptional. Due to its almost powdery texture, the eggfruit is highly versatile and can be integrated into virtually any kind of blended drink or dish.

The fruit contains up to 40% carbohydrates, 2.5% protein, and is  great source of Vitamins A, B3, and C.

Canistel is adaptable to a wide variety of soils and can be grown in both tropical and subtropical climates, as long as there is no freeze. It is very drought tolerant.

Myrciaria floribunda - Rumberry, Guavaberry

A close relative of Camu-camu. This is native to dry and moist coastal forests of tropical America. Bears a small, bright orange berry. The flesh is strongly fragrant. Makes an excellent jam or juice. At Christmas time in parts of the Lesser Antilles (W. Indies) a Guavaberry rum is made. This is a delicious, aromatic, rum-based liqueur that has apparently been brewed for centuries.

M. floribunda is a very slow growing species, rarely found cultivated in its region of origin, although wild trees are typically left in pastures that have been cleared of their vegetation.

I know of a single tree and have harvested fruit once. Bears heavily.

In my experience the small, hard seeds can take a while to germinate. After months of waiting for germination I kind of lost track of them. Eventually I got a few sprouts. A light scarification might prove beneficial in expediting the process. Next season i'll germinate a few dozen, as this is a very uncommon in interesting tree.

Myrciaria cauliflora var. ? - Dwarf jaboticaba

The Jaboticaba originates in Southern Brazil where it is one of the most popular fruits, in some parts of the country this is the most common fruit in markets.

Typically Jaboticaba trees grow from 10 - 12 meters high and can take from 6-8 years to bear fruit when grown from seed, and even longer (8-10) when grown in lower, hotter climates.

The variety photographed below is a dwarf, only about two and a half feet tall, bears three times a year, and has larger leaves then the common Jaboticaba. The skin is thin enough to be eaten. As long as it gets irrigated when fruiting, this particular variety seems to do great in the lowland, dry humid tropics.

This is a stem bearing tree. When it is in full bloom the trunk and thicker branches are covered in an almost fuzz like layer of flowers, then the bulbous fruit appear and grow quite rapidly. It seems to take about 15-20 days from flower to mature fruit on this tree.

I'm trying to grow as many as I can. It's bearing right now (end of April).

Dwarf Jaboticabajpg
Dwarf Jaboticabajpg
Dwarf Jaboticaba Flower
Dwarf Jaboticaba Flower
Dwarf Jaboticaba, young fruit
Dwarf Jaboticaba, young fruit
dwarf jaboticaba fruit
dwarf jaboticaba fruit
Dwarf jaboticaba, fruit
Dwarf jaboticaba, fruit
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Jaboticaba fruit close-up, cross-section
Jaboticaba fruit close-up, cross-section