CRFG Fruit Gardener Vol. 22 No. 3 1990

Notes of a Myrtaceous Fruit Grower

John M Riley

My interest in growing "rare fruit" likely began with sour, scrubby Surinam cherries picked from the hedges in Southern Florida —in the early 1950’s. Since then I have tried many species of Eugenias with moderate success. Here in Santa Clara the annual temperatures include mild freezes each winter and in very few years prolonged freezing spells of around 200F. With a little help, many plants survive and stay to bear fruit. The more tender plants are replaced as necessary. —Currently I have a large Jaboticaba tree that bears up to four crops a year. It has withstood temperatures down to 190 without noticeable damage. Some of the fruit is 1 ¼" in diameter. Of course there is the Feijoa which bears reliably in our climate. My variety is a registered seedling called Jackson. The fruit is large and round. It resists darkening in the unusually small seed cavity. There is the Chilean guava with small but spicy fruit, a red guava (registered in my name!), Eugenia nutans with large fruit. A rose apple that bore fruit ‘til this year (killed by frost). Austromyrtus dulcis, a delicate looking shrub with ¼" porcelain berries spotted with deep violet dots ... wonderful spicy —flavor. A variegated Eugenia aggregata. There are a half dozen other species in 1 - 5 gallon pots.

One of the exasperating things about the Eugenias is that they grow so slowly. I am convinced that this growth may be doubled or quadrupled by the use of a gibberellic acid spray. The plants seem to grow in flushes, growing rapidly and then resting for several months. By observing this behavior one can keep them in practically constant growth. Adequate moisture, plenty of organic material in the soil and foliar feeding seem to help them make good growth. Better results are obtained with —plants in the ground as compared to containers. Possibly more uniform moisture and nutrition is the cause.

Most of the Eugenias I have grown are from seed. It has been my experience that freshly harvested seed will germinate in about two weeks, but seed that has dried out seems to enter a deep dormancy, remaining alive, but not sprouting even though kept constantly moist. To overcome similar effects with seed of the Solanaceae I purchased a gibberellic acid powder. When prepared at a concentration of about 2000 parts per million, soaking overnight will usually break dormancy if the seed is still alive, and cause early germination. I will water delicate seedlings with —hydrogen peroxide to provide oxygen to the roots and to suppress fungi.

Grafting the Myrtus is of varying difficulty, but there are some rather powerful techniques now for assisting in the grafting process. These include girdling the scion limbs well in advance so that they accumulate sugars in the scion. Another is to avoid drying from transpiration. Spraying the completed graft with wilt-pruf or equivalent will greatly reduce the moisture loss.

At present I have a dozen or so seed of the Pitomba, swelling and about to germinate. Robert Stone was generous enough to send seed of Campomanesia discolor (Guabiroba) from Brazil. I cannot find reference to it in my books, but the common name seems to suggest a guava of some sort.

Some time ago there Eugenia nutans were obtained. This is supposed to be a very rare species from Argentina. Two of the plants bloom, but do not bear fruit. The third bears a nice crop of berries resembling an elongated Surinam cherry. The fruit is about 2" long, and chartreuse when ripe. It has a delightful fragrance and spicy flavor, though lacking sugar. A somewhat objectionable aril surrounds the single large seed. At present I have several seedlings in pots. No telling if they will be self-fruitful like the parent.

Until last year I had a large specimen of the variety Nacha. Some fruits were 1¼" in diameter, good flavor, though not as sweet as desirable. This tree reached about 15 feet and had a trunk diameter at the base of about 4''. Alas, my neighbor kept her garden flooded. A fungus (I believe it was Oak Root Fungus) girdled this tree at the soil line. It also took out a large paw paw and a pommelo tree. Seedlings or root suckers are still emerging in the yard. These seem to be very deep-rooted, possibly as result of two years of very dry weather. South Seas Nursery still lists named varieties of Nelson Westree’s selection of the Surinam cherry. These came from Brazil and are quite different from the commonly grown Florida seedlings. I expect the selections to disappear, as there just isn’t much profit from selling rare fruit to the public.

Dan Say has been particularly effective in locating references to the Myrtaceae. We need a translator for a paper from South Africa which describes a local Fugenia that bears large fruit. It is a small plant found in the grasslands there.

John Riley is a co-founder of CRFG.