In southern Brazil there are a number of indigenous fruits of genuine merit. The jaboticaba is one of the best, but like many of the others it has until recently received little attention outside its native home.
Among the fruit-trees cultivated in Rio de Janeiro and its vicinity, the jaboticaba is one of the commonest and certainly the one which first attracts the attention of the newcomer. Its habit of producing the fruit directly upon the trunk and larger limbs, together with the unusual beauty of its symmetrical and umbrageous head of pale green foliage, makes this a peculiarly striking tree. The fruit is popular and highly esteemed by all classes of Brazilians, and occupies an important position in the markets.
When grown on rich soil, the tree reaches a height of 35 or 40 feet. The leaves are ovate-elliptic to lanceolate, acute to acuminate at the apex, usually glabrous, and vary from 3/4 inch to 3 inches in length. The flowers are small, white, with four petals and a prominent cluster of stamens. They are produced singly or in clusters on the bark of the trunk and limbs. The fruit is round, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, maroon-purple in color, and crowned with a small disk at the apex. The skin is thicker and tougher than that of a grape. The translucent juicy pulp, whitish or tinged with rose, is of agreeable vinous flavor. The seeds, one to four in number, are oval to round in outline and compressed laterally.
The jaboticaba is usually listed as Myrciaria cauliflora, Berg. There are several closely related species, however, whose fruits are all known under the same common name. M. trunciflora, Berg, and M. jaboticaba, Berg, probably furnish many of the fruits sold as jaboticabas in the markets of Rio de Janeiro. Father Tavares considers that the cultivated forms are in some instances the result of hybridization.
As a wild plant the jaboticaba is limited to southern Brazil, from Rio Grande do Sul to Minas Geraes. It is cultivated in the same area, as well as in a few other parts of Brazil. It has been introduced into the United States and a few other countries, but has not yet become established in any of them.
The uses of the jaboticaba are several. As a fresh fruit it is as popular in southern Brazil as the grape is in the eastern United States. A wine can be made from it, and also an excellent jelly.
While the tree is said to succeed on any soil, it prefers one that is rich and deep. Its growth is slow, six to eight years being required for it to come into bearing. In Brazilian orchards this tree is nearly always planted too closely; the distance apart should be 30 feet at least. Though rarely grown in those parts of Brazil which are subject to severe frosts, the jaboticaba has shown in the United States that it resists comparatively low temperatures. At Miami, Florida, it has passed successfully through a freeze of 26° above zero. So far as can be judged from the limited experience which has been gained, the soils of southern Florida are not well adapted to it. Those of southern California are more suitable, but the climate has proved to be too cold in all but the most protected spots in that state. The jaboticaba appears to demand for full success a deep rich soil and a moist, equable, rather cool climate with temperatures preferably never below the freezing-point.
Little attention is given in Brazil to the culture of this tree. Father Tavares says that the fazendeiros (planters) of Sao Paulo, who irrigate their trees at times when there is a scarcity of rain, succeed in having ripe jaboticabas throughout the year. Without irrigation, fruit is produced usually during the warmest months of the year. When heavily laden with fruit, the tree is a curious sight. Not only is the trunk covered with clusters of glistening jaboticabas, but the fruiting extends to the limbs and out to the tips of the smallest branches.
Propagation is usually by seed. It is said, however, that young plants can be inarched successfully : if so, choice varieties could well be propagated in this manner. Other methods of propagation will doubtless be developed when the jaboticaba becomes more widely grown.
The Brazilians cultivate as named varieties a number of forms which must either be distinct species or seedling races. The name jaboticaba, without any qualifying word, is considered to be applied properly only to Myrciaria cauliflora. The closely allied M. jaboticaba is known as jaboticaba de Sao Paulo, jaboticaba de cabinho, and jaboticaba do matto. According to Father Tavares, M. tenella, Berg, is known as jaboticaba macia. The fruits of the various species are very much alike. The form coroa, which is one of the Commonest named "varieties" recognized in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Geraes, can probably be referred to M. cauliflora. The form murta has small leaves; it is, perhaps, another form of the same species. The variety branca (white) is listed by nurserymen in Rio de Janeiro, also roxa (red); both are said to be distinct from the ordinary jaboticaba in color.