The pitanga is the best of the Eugenias. Outside of Brazil it is not appreciated as it deserves to be, although it is commonly grown in several countries. In its native home it is a popular favorite. Father Tavares observes: "Surely Brazil does not need to envy Europe her cherry trees, bending in May under the weight of their ruby fruits. Our pitangas surpass them both in beauty and taste."
In the United States the pitanga is usually seen as a broad compact shrub, but in Brazil it sometimes becomes a small tree up to 25 feet in height. The foliage is deep green and somewhat glossy, the new growth being of rich wine-color. The branchlets are thin and wiry, the leaves subsessile, ovate in outline, bluntly acuminate at the apex and rounded at the base, 1 to 2 inches long, and glabrous. When crushed, the leaves emit a pungent agreeable odor, for which reason they are sometimes scattered over the floors of Brazilian houses.
The fragrance they give off when trampled under foot is doubly appreciated as being thought efficacious in driving away flies. The white slightly fragrant flowers are 1/2 inch broad, and are borne in the axils of the leaves. They have four oblong cupped petals, with a prominent cluster of stamens in the center. The fruit is oblate in form, conspicuously eight-ribbed, up to one inch in diameter, deep crimson in color when fully ripe, and crowned at the apex with the persistent calyx-lobes. The flesh is soft, juicy, concolorous with the skin, and of aromatic sub-acid flavor. Usually there is one large round seed, but sometimes two hemispherical ones.
Fig. 37. The pitanga (Eugenia uniflora), an excellent fruit from Brazil which should be more extensively cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions. (X |)
The pitanga is indigenous in Brazil, extending over a wide area. Father Tavares 1 reports that it occurs in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Parana, Santa Catharina, and Rio Grande do Sul. In wild form it usually grows along the banks of streams and in the edge of the forest, but it is also common in cultivation throughout many parts of Brazil. At Bahia it is particularly abundant; in fact, it takes an important place among the cultivated fruits of the region.
1 Broteria, No. 5, 1912.
From its native home it was carried to India at an early date, undoubtedly by the Portuguese, but is not commonly cultivated in that country at the present time. In Ceylon, according to H. F. Macmillan, it thrives at elevations of 1000 to 3000 feet. It has been reported from southern China, where it was probably introduced by the Portuguese. In Hawaii it has become a common garden-shrub. L. Trabut 1 believes that it would rapidly become more popular in Algeria if it fruited more abundantly, since it has been found quite hardy along the coast. It has also proved hardy in the garden of A. Robertson-Proschowsky at Nice, on the Mediterranean coast of France. In Cuba it is occasionally seen in gardens. In the United States its culture is limited to Florida and California. Writing in 1887, P. W. Reasoner said : "The tree is quite frequently met with in Orange county and middle Florida, and is gaining in favor as a fruit-bearing plant." It is now common in gardens along the lower east coast of Florida (especially in the vicinity of Miami, where the fruit has begun to appear in the markets) and on the west coast from Fort Myers northward to Tampa Bay. After the plants have attained the requisite age, they fruit abundantly, sometimes producing two crops a year.
In California the pitanga has not become so common as in Florida, owing perhaps to the fact that many of the plants which have been tested in various parts of the state have not fruited well. F. Franceschi reported in 1895 that it was growing at Montecito, near Santa Barbara, but it still is rare in California gardens. If it is found that the plants, after attaining sufficient age, will fruit abundantly, as has been indicated by the behavior of specimens at Santa Barbara and Orange, the pitanga should certainly be planted extensively in California. Up to four or five years of age it does not produce much fruit.
1 Revue Horticole de l'Algerie, p. 161, 1908.
The local names of this fruit are several. In the United States it is known as Surinam-cherry, and less commonly Cayenne-cherry and Florida-cherry. The name pitanga which is used throughout Brazil was applied to this fruit by the Tupi Indians, who inhabited Brazil at the time of its discovery by Europeans. According to Martius, the word is derived from the Tupi piter, to drink, and anga, odor or scent. In India it is called Brazil-cherry, and in Ceylon, goraka-jambo. The common names in French are cerise de Cayenne and cerise carree. In Spanish it is sometimes called cereza de Cayena. While most commonly known botanically as Eugenia uniflora, L., several synonyms have been used by botanists: E. Michelii, Lam., is one which is frequently seen. Stenocalyx Michelii, Berg, was used by Barbosa Rodrigues in Brazil, and S. bras-iliensis, Berg, by M. Pio Correa. A plant introduced into California as E. Pitanga, Kiaersk., seems to be of the uniflora species; the true E. Pitanga has narrow leaves acute at the base.
The uses of the pitanga are numerous. As a fresh fruit it is delicious, when fully ripe, although the novice sometimes finds the strongly aromatic flavor slightly disagreeable. Before full ripeness, the flavor is resinous and pungent. As the fruits ripen they lose their green color, becoming yellow, then orange, and finally scarlet or crimson. They should never be eaten until quite mature. Jelly made from the pitanga possesses a distinctive flavor, and vies in popularity with guava jelly among the inhabitants of Bahia, Brazil. Pitanga sherbet is a favorite refreshment in Bahia, and is regularly served in the cafes. It is salmon-pink in color and delicious in flavor. A liqueur is sometimes prepared from the fruit, and also sirups and wines which are considered by the Brazilians to have medicinal value.
Alice R. Thompson, who has analyzed the fruit in Hawaii, finds that it contains : Total solids 9.30 per cent, ash 0.34, acids 1.44, protein 1.01, total sugars 6.06, fat 0.66, and fiber 0.34.
In Brazil the plant is commonly used to form hedges, for which purpose it is admirably adapted since it withstands heavy pruning, and is evergreen, with foliage of rich green color. Plants in hedgerows, however, produce little fruit compared with those which are allowed to develop naturally. The foliage is often used for decorative purposes, in the same manner as holly is employed in northern countries.
The pitanga thrives in both the tropical and subtropical zones, its culture extending as far north as southern California and central Florida in this hemisphere, and the Mediterranean region in Europe. Mature plants withstand temperatures of 27° or 28° above zero without serious injury. They are more at home and fruit more profusely in a warm moist climate such as that of southern Florida than in a semi-arid region. On the dry plains of northern India, on the Algerian littoral, and in southern California, the complaint is made that they do not bear well, although in Florida and in the moist tropical regions they are heavily productive. It is not known, however, just what is the limiting factor.
Father Tavares states that the plant prefers a light sandy soil. It grows very well in southern Florida on shallow sand overlying soft limestone, and equally well in California on sandy loam. At Bahia, Brazil, it is commonly found on stiff clay. It can thus be seen that it is very adaptable in regard to soil and apparently does not object to a large amount of lime, as is indicated by its growth in Florida.
Unless trained, the plants usually assume a bushy compact form, branching close to the ground. They may be planted in the open when they are a foot high, and require no unusual care. In California they have proved to be fairly drought-resistant, but they succeed best when watered liberally. Their growth is not rapid under any circumstances, and several years are required for them to reach fruiting size. In the tropics they come into bearing the third or fourth year.
In Florida no serious enemies of the plant have been noted. E. A. Back has found in Bermuda, however, that the pitanga is one of the principal hosts of the Mediterranean fruit-fly (Ceratitis capitata Wied.), a widely distributed pest in tropical regions.
Seed propagation is the only means of multiplication of the pitanga in common use. Whip-grafting has been reported as successful but has not been employed extensively. Seedlings sometimes spring up beneath the bushes from fruits allowed to fall to the ground; these can readily be transplanted and saved. Seeds should be planted while fresh, though they may be kept for a month or more if they are washed immediately after being removed from the fruit and then dried. They may be germinated in two-inch pots, or may be planted in flats and potted off when they are 2 to 3 inches high. Germination usually takes place within two or three weeks. Unlike the rose-apple (Eugenia Jambos), which is polyembryonic and produces four or five plants from a single seed, the pitanga produces only one plant from each seed. The young plants grow slowly and do not require frequent shifting into larger pots. Light sandy loam, which need not be very rich, is the best potting soil.
In Florida and the West Indies the main crop ripens in early spring. The plants flower in February, and the fruits develop very rapidly, maturing five or six weeks after the flowers have fallen. The main crop, which is usually a heavy one, ripens at one time, extending over a period of about two weeks; following this the plants sometimes produce scattering flowers, and begin to ripen a second crop about a month after the first, extending through early summer. In the second crop only a limited number of fruits ripen at one time.
In Brazil the plants bloom in September and ripen their first crop in October, flowering again for the second crop in December and January. Father Tavares says that the fruits ripen at Bahia within three weeks from the appearance of the flowers. In California the season is late summer.
Under favorable conditions the pitanga is one of the most prolific of fruits. The flowers, which are very fragrant, are pollinated by bees and probably by other insects. The plants must be watered liberally when the fruits begin to color, otherwise the latter will remain small.
Since the pitanga is rarely propagated vegetatively, no horticultural varieties have been established. Nurserymen in Florida have disseminated a seedling race under the name of "black-fruited" which differs from the common form in being deeper crimson in color and having a distinctive flavor. There is considerable variation among seedlings of the common type although they come sufficiently true from seed for this method of propagation to be satisfactory. The size of the seed is not always the same in proportion to the size of the fruit, and plants have been observed in Brazil which normally produce larger fruits than the average. Differences in productiveness have also been noticed. It will be worth while, therefore, to perfect means of grafting or budding this species so that the best seedling forms can be propagated.