One of the weirdest and most interesting small fruit trees we have in our Demonstration garden is the jaboticaba. Hailing from southern Brazil, the jaboticaba is a smallish, slow-growing, shrub-like tree with unique, grape-like fruit. Our tree produced fruit for the first time this year and it was delicious!
Jaboticaba or Brazilian grape tree is an evergreen tree growing no more that fifteen feet tall in our area. Arriving in Florida in about 1928, jaboticaba started to appear in home landscapes in the 1940’s. Still fairly rare in our area, it is hardy from zones 9b to 11. The literature mentions that brief events of twenty-six degrees F. have not damaged
Jaboticaba – good news for our area. Plant this tree in a full sun to light shade site. Jaboticaba is well adapted to a wide range of soils as long as irrigation is available. Use jaboticaba as a large shrub, a small tree, a hedge or even as a large container plant. This tree is not tolerant of salt, so watch your water quality and keep it protected from salt spray.
It will take several years for your jaboticaba to begin to bear fruit. A five to six foot jaboticaba may be eleven years old. Support the slow growth with supplemental irrigation as needed after establishment. Established trees are tolerant of temporary flooding. Fertilize no more than three times per year or as per label directions with a slow-release fertilizer suitable for citrus or tropical fruit. When jaboticaba reach fruiting age, small white puffy flowers will develop and cover the branches and parts of the lower trunk in late winter and spring. This is followed by large green berries which grow and ripen into one to one and one-half inch dark purple fruit which look just like Muscadine grapes. Inside the tough skin is a white pulp with several seeds. The fruit is very much like a Muscadine grape both in texture and taste. Eat them fresh as they do not keep well for long once harvested. The gelatinous pulp is a thick and juicy. Accordingly, I understand why the name jaboticaba supposedly means “like turtle fat” in the native language.
I am not sure what cultivar of jaboticaba we have in our Demo garden. There are at least nine varieties available with different characteristics – fruit size and color, taste, leaf size, etc. As far as availability, check local family-run garden centers and regional tropical fruit tree venders. There are also a number of Internet mail-order sources available where small specimens can be secured. They can be started from seed which will germinate in about one month. Then, prepare to wait at least eight years for that seedling to begin to produce fruit. Cuttings and air-layering are also propagation methods. Grafted trees may quicken the pace a bit with fruit in as early as six years. The fruit is worth waiting for as I found out with our first crop and my first taste of this rare oddball.
If you have the patience, consider growing a jaboticaba – a tasty treat from Brazil! For more information on all types of tropical and subtropical fruits suitable to grow in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
Brown, S.H. (2015) Myrciaria cauliflora. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFA.
Morton, J. (1987) Jaboticabas. Fruits of Warm Climates. Purdue University.