What is Pitomba?
Pitomba, Eugenia luschnathiana, is the fruit of an evergreen shrub native to Brazil. The fruit is little known outside of Brazil, despite several attempts to grow the plant in areas other than its tropical home. Pitomba fruit is reminiscent of apricots in shape, color, and flavor, although sometimes slightly more bitter in taste. Pitomba, like its relative, the surinam cherry, is also frequently used to provide a landscaping accent and appears in hedges, topiaries, and on its own.
The pitomba shrub can grow up to 25 feet (7.5 meters) in height, although it is rarely allowed to attain this height by gardeners. It has long, glossy, dark green leaves that are somewhat paler underneath, and new growth has small bronze hairs on the underside of the leaves. The pitomba shrub produces white to orange-yellow flowers that appear singly in late spring or early summer. In some areas, the pitomba shrub may flower more frequently.
The pitomba fruit is round and orange in color, with creamy flesh. It may contain a pit, or two to three seeds. If the plant is given plenty of water and sufficient fertilizer, the pitomba fruit will be plump and juicy. The fruit generally reaches maturity in November or December, when it is used in jams, jellies, and other preserves by Brazilians. Pitomba is considered an acid fruit, and it can be resinous as well if picked too early.
Pitomba appears in the United States as a landscaping bush, and in some parts of Florida, it is cultivated for its fruit. The pitomba shrub is often used for produce topiary, because it can be easily trained into a pleasing form. Pitomba shrub is often chosen in coastal regions, because it has a salt tolerance and can grow in poor soil. The plant also matures rapidly, growing as much as 2 feet (2/3 meter) per year, and taking four to seven years to fruit, depending on fertilization and water supply. When pitomba is used for landscaping, the fruit needs to be collected to prevent volunteer growth.
Both flowers and fruit of the pitomba plant have a pleasant scent that is enhanced on warm tropical days. For this reason, it is frequently planted along walkways and near homes. The aromatic shrub has a small following in the United States, although it is hoped that at some point in the future, the plant will gain wider popularity, along with other little known tropical species.
The name pitomba is shared with a different type of South American plant, the Talisia esculenta. This tree, which can grow to over 30 feet (9 meters), produces round, brown fruit with a diameter of about 1.5 inches (4 cm). The fruit is eaten fresh, with a white pulp that has a sweet-sour taste.
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