Several food-plants which were cultivated by the agricultural Indians of ancient Peru have become of economic importance to the modern world, one of them, the potato, of immense value. The tree-tomato, a bush fruit which was planted in their gardens high upon the mountain-sides, is now grown in the hill-regions of India and Ceylon, as well as in several other countries.
In its native home, where it forms a miniature tree 5 or 6 feet high, O. F. Cook says the plant is cultivated at elevations of 6000 to 10,000 feet. In California it grows 8 or 10 feet high. It has large cordate-ovate, subacuminate leaves, small pinkish flowers, and oblong fruits produced in clusters of three or more. In length these fruits are about 2 inches; in color and in general character they resemble tomatoes, to which they are, of course, closely related. "It has become thoroughly established in many hill gardens," writes H. F. Macmillan of the tree-tomato in Ceylon, "and is commonly grown about Nuwara Eliya for market. The egg-shaped and smooth-skinned fruit, produced in great abundance and in hanging clusters at the ends of the branches, is in season almost throughout the year, but chiefly from March to May. At first greenish purple, it changes in ripening to reddish yellow. The subacid and succulent fruits are refreshing and agreeable when eaten raw, but their chief use is for stewing; they may also be made into jam or preserve. The tree is a quick grower, and commences to bear fruit when about two years old, remaining productive for several years."
It has been found in California that the species withstands several degrees of frost. It may be killed back to the large limbs by a temperature of 26° to 28° above zero, but it promptly recovers. In Mexico and Central America, where it is known as tomate, it is cultivated by the Indians at elevations of 4000 to 8000 feet. It likes a rich loamy soil and grows best when abundantly irrigated. It does not require a high degree of atmospheric humidity.
Propagation is effected by means of seeds which germinate readily and develop rapidly into strong plants.
Fig. 62. The tree-tomato (Cyphomandra betacea), a fruit produced by a half-woody shrub from South America, closely resembles the tomato in character, and is useful in the same ways as the latter. (X 1/2)