One of the best rosaceous fruits of tropical countries is the capulin or wild cherry of Central America and northern South America. In its present wild and semi-wild state a fruit of fairly good quality, it would seem that with a little attention from plant-breeders it might become a valuable addition to the list of fruits suitable for moist subtropical regions. Geographically it is a tropical fruit, but in climatic requirements it is distinctly subtropical, for it does not thrive upon the tropical littoral, but grows in cool mountain regions at elevations of 4000 to 9000 feet. It should, therefore, be sufficiently hardy to permit of cultivation as far north as California, Florida, and the Gulf states, and it may also be of value for northern India, southern Brazil, and similar regions.
The botany of this species is confused. It seems to differ very little from the Prunus Capollin, Zucc, of Mexico (P. Capuli, Cav., Cerasus Capollin, DC); possibly the two are identical. Prunus Capollin is abundant in the Mexican highlands, where it is an important fruit. Prunus salicifolia is supposed to be found only in South America, but specimens collected in Guatemala have been identified as of this species. Horticulturally there is little difference between the capulins of Mexico and those of Central America. The name is taken from the Nahuatl language of Mexico. In Spanish the fruit is often termed cereza (cherry).
The tree is erect, often somewhat slender, and reaches a height of 30 feet. The trunk is stout, reaching as much as 3 feet in thickness, with bark rough and grayish. The leaves, which are borne upon slender petioles 3/4 inch long, are commonly 4 1/2 inches in length, oblong-lanceolate in outline, with a long slender tip, and are deep green on the upper surface, glaucous below, with margins finely serrate. The flowers, which in Guatemala are produced from January to May, are white, about 3/4 of an inch broad, very numerous, on slender racemes 2 to 4 inches long. As many as fifteen or twenty fruits sometimes develop on a raceme, but half or more fall before reaching maturity. The ripening season in Guatemala is May to September. The fruits resemble northern cherries in appearance; they are 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter, and deep, glossy, maroon-purple in color. The skin is thin and tender, though sufficiently firm for the fruit not to be easily injured by handling. The flesh is pale green, meaty, and full of juice, and the flavor sweet, suggestive of the Bigarreau type of cherry, with a trace of bitterness in the skin. The stone is rather large in proportion to the size of the fruit. Pleasant to eat out of hand, this cherry can also be used in various other ways, - stewed, preserved whole, or made into jam. In the highlands of Guatemala, where it is abundant, it is usually eaten as a fresh fruit or made into a sweet preserve. While not equal to the cultivated cherries of the North, - fruits which have been produced by generations of selection and vegetative propagation, - the capulin is a fruit of remarkably good quality for one which has never had the benefit of intelligent cultivation and has been propagated only by seed. Naturally, some trees produce much better fruit than others, and it will be worth while to select the best seedling forms now existing in tropical America and propagate them by budding or grafting.