The guava, while useful in many ways, is preeminently a fruit for jelly-making and other culinary purposes. To the horticulturist the species is admirable as being one of the least exacting of all tropical fruits in cultural requirements, for it grows and fruits under such unfavorable conditions, and spreads so rapidly by means of its seeds, that it has in truth become a pest in some regions. It is a fruit of commercial importance in many countries, and one whose culture promises to become even more extensive than it is at present, for guava jelly is generally agreed to be facile princeps of its kind, and is certain to find increasing appreciation in the Temperate Zone.
The first account of the guava was written in 1526 by Gonzalo Hernandez de Oviedo, and published in his "Natural History of the Indies." Oviedo says:
"The guayabo is a handsome tree, with a leaf like that of the mulberry, but smaller, and the flowers are fragrant, especially those of a certain kind of these guayabos; it bears an apple more substantial than those of Spain, and of greater weight even when of the same size, and it contains many seeds, or more properly speaking, it is full of small hard stones, and to those who are not used to eating the fruit these stones are sometimes troublesome; but to those familiar with it, the fruit is beautiful and appetizing, and some are red within, others white; and I have seen the best ones in the Isthmus of Darien and nearby on the mainland ; those of the islands are not so good, and persons who are accustomed to it esteem it as a very good fruit, much better than the apple."
The guava is an arborescent shrub or small tree, sometimes growing to 25 or 30 feet. The trunk is slender, with greenish brown scaly bark. The young branchlets are quadrangular. The leaves are oblong-elliptic to oval in outline, 3 to 6 inches long, acute to rounded at the apex, finely pubescent below, with the venation conspicuously impressed on the upper surface. Flowers are produced on branchlets of recent growth, and are an inch broad, white, solitary, or several together upon a slender peduncle. The calyx splits into irregular segments; the four petals are oval, delicate in texture. In the center of the flower is a brush-like cluster of long stamens. The fruit is round, ovoid, or pyriform, 1 to 4 inches in length, commonly yellow in color, with flesh varying from white to deep pink or salmon-red. Numerous small, reniform, hard seeds are embedded in the soft flesh toward the center of the fruit. The flavor is sweet, musky, and very distinctive in character, and the ripe fruit is aromatic in a high degree.
Fig. 35. The common guava of the tropics (Psidium Guajava), an American plant which has become naturalized in southern Asia and elsewhere. (X 1/2)
The native home of the guava is in tropical America. The exact extent of its distribution in pre-Columbian days is not known. In the opinion of Alphonse DeCandolle, it occurred from Mexico to Peru. In the former country the Aztec name for it was xalxocotl, meaning sand-plum, probably a reference to the gritty character of the flesh. The name guayaba (whence the English guava) is believed to be of Haitian origin. The plant was carried at an early day to India, where it has become naturalized in several places. It is now cultivated throughout the Orient. In Hawaii it has become thoroughly naturalized. Occasional specimens are said to be found along the Mediterranean coast of France, and in Algeria. In short, the guava is well distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics.
In the United States, the two regions in which guavas can be grown are Florida and southern California. The plant is said by P. W. Reasoner to have been introduced into the former state from Cuba in 1847. It is now naturalized there in many places and cultivated in many gardens. It is successful as far north as the Pinellas peninsula on the west coast and Cape Canaveral on the east, but has been grown even farther north. If frozen down to the ground, the plant sends up sprouts which make rapid growth and produce fruit in two years. In California the species has not become common, as it has in Florida, nor is it suited to so wide a range of territory in the former as in the latter state. Accordingly it can only be grown successfully in California in protected situations. At Hollywood, at Santa Barbara, at Orange, and in other localities it grows and fruits well, although occasional severe frosts may kill the young branches.
Guayaba is the common name of Psidium Guajava throughout the Spanish-speaking parts of tropical America. The French have adopted this in the form goyave, the Germans as guajava, and the Portuguese as goiaba. The latter name is used in Brazil, where the indigenous name (Tupi language) is araca guacu (large aracu). In the Orient there are many local names, some of them derived from the American guayaba. The commonest Hindustani name, amrud, means "pear." The term safari am, meaning "journey mango," is also current in Hindustani.
The two species Psidium pyriferum and P. pomiferum of Linnaeus are now considered to be the pear-shaped and round varieties of P. Guajava. They represent two of the many variations which occur in this species. The pear-shaped forms are often called pear-guava, and the round ones apple-guava. A large white-fleshed kind was formerly sold by Florida nurserymen under the name Psidium guineense, and in California as P. guianense; but it is now known to be a horticultural form of P. Guajava, as is also a round, red-fleshed variety introduced into California under the name P. aromaticum. The true P. guineense, Sw. (see below) has been itself confused with P. Guajava, but can be distinguished from it by its branchlets, which are compressed-cylindrical in place of quadrangular, and by the number of the transverse veins, which is less than in the latter-named species.