I am blindfolded and asked to identify a fruit. I tentatively take a round object into my mouth. It is smooth and firm. I let my tongue pop the berry. It is sweet and has two small seeds inside. I guess it is a grape. The blindfold is removed. Nope, it is not a grape. The fruit look like grapes with a dark maroon skin but they are growing off a tree trunk. The flesh is semi transparent to milky white. I had just eaten a Jaboticaba.
This delicious fruit grows in Vanuatu and it is a pity that more Jaboticaba is not grown here. I could easily have stood by the three -metre tall tree and continued to pluck away, it is that delicious! Jaboticaba is a bushy, multi-branching shrub that can reach five metres in height. The canopy can be as wide as the bush is tall. It grows best in rich, deep soils away from salty coastal winds and it makes an excellent garden tree.
Flowering off the stem is called ‘cauliflora’. The flowers are honey scented and the fruit is ready to eat within 30 days of flowering. New growth has a coppery tinge and is extremely attractive and the leaves are small and look like most Myrtaceae. Any fruiting tree that is as productive as this should have a permanent place in the garden. It yields between 500 to 800 kg of fruit per tree, which is not something to be ignored. Vanuatu is as good a home for Jaboticaba as its native home is the south of Brazil and a propagation program for jaboticaba fruit to become more readily available for the tourist and local trade, as juice and fruit, would be an asset to our repertoire of wonderful tropical fruit.
Propagating Jaboticaba is easy as the seeds are ‘polyembronic’. This means it will produce a plant that is true or close to the parent plant. Air layering or soft-wood cuttings is another option to rapidly multiply a good selection. Grafting a young tree will produce fruit in three years whilst allowing the seedling to mature will delay the fruiting cycle for up to 15 years.
The abundance of fruit has not yet attracted the mynah birds, perhaps because the fruit is inside the canopy of the bush and on the trunks, making it more difficult for the birds to reach. Fruiting cycles can continue most of the year with four peaks of flowering cycles. Long periods of dryness will cause the flowers to dry off so a little water will ensure bumper crops.
Punnets of fruit can be eaten fresh as one would eat grapes and the shelf life is restricted to a couple of days as they soon start to ferment and lose their flavor. Work is being done to extend the shelf life of the fruit for commercial farmers, such as special nutrition regimes at flowering and modified atmosphere packaging. If a surplus was ever reached, the skins of the jaboticaba make an excellent conserve and the fruit itself produces copious amounts of juice.
While I did not notice any pest or diseases on the tree I was grazing on, I would expect that rots or rust during the wet season may become a challenge if there is not enough airflow. But this is a formidable tree, easy to grow in Vanuatu and with plenty of benefits. And like most fruit grown in Vanuatu it has never been sprayed so it’s safe and flavoursome – a pleasure to eat.
With Cornelia Wyllie. Cornelia Wyllie is the caretaker of Rainbow Botanic Gardens. She is well-known for her in depth knowledge of tropical plants and gardening. Rainbow Gardens Nursery and the Botanical Gardens is open Mon to Fri 7.30 am to 5 pm, Saturday 7.30 to 12 pm and after hours by appointment. Take a tour of the Gardens to view Vanuatu’s fantastic range of tropical plants. Contact Tudsie on Ph 77 26720 to book a Garden Tour. Contact Cornelia to arrange functions and catering Ph 77 24720.