Species Author: L.
Vernacular: Panama Berry, Capulin
This is a very fast-growing tree reaching 7.5-12 m. in height, with spreading, nearly horizontal branches. The leaves are oblong and pointed at the ends 5-12.5 cm long, dark-green on the upper surface, and somewhat hairy on the underside.. The flowers grow in 2's or 3's from where leaf attaches to the branch. The flowers are tiny, 1.25-2 cm wide, and last less than a day, typically dropping off the tree in the afternoon! Each tree produces many round, small (1-1.25 cm) fruits, with red or sometimes yellow, smooth, thin skin. The fruits are very sweet and delicious, comparable in taste to a fig, and contain many tiny seeds.
(Morton, J. 1987. Jamaica Cherry. p. 65–69. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.)
The flowers are said to possess antiseptic properties. An infusion of the flowers is valued as an antispasmodic. It is taken to relieve headache and the first symptoms of a cold.
The sapwood is yellowish, the heartwood red-dish-brown, firm, compact, fine-grained, moderately strong, light in weight, durable indoors, easily worked, and useful for interior sheathing, small boxes, casks, and general carpentry. It is valued mostly as fuel, for it ignites quickly, burns with intense heat and gives off very little smoke. Jamaicans seek out trees blown down by storms, let them dry for a while and then cut them up, preferring this to any other wood for cooking. It is being evaluated in Brazil as a source of paper pulp. The bark is commonly used for lashing together the supports of rural houses. It yields a very strong, soft fiber for twine and large ropes.
The Jamaica cherry is indigenous to southern Mexico, Central America, tropical South America, the Greater Antilles, St. Vincent and Trinidad. It is widely cultivated in warm areas of the New World and in India, Southeast Asia, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Several trees were introduced into Hawaii by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1922.(http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jamaica_cherry.html)
Muntingia calabura fruits are eaten straight off the tree. It can also be cooked in pies or made into preserves. The leaves make a flavorful tea when steeped in hot water.
In Brazil foresters have recommend that the tree be planted on river banks so that the flowers and fruits falling into the water will attract fish for the benefit of fishermen. In Malaya, the tree is considered a nuisance in home gardens because fruit-bats eat the fruits and then spend the day under the eaves of houses disfiguring porches and terraces with their pink, seedy droppings.
We currently have 14 herbarium specimens for Muntingia calabura in our collection. Click on any specimen below to view the herbarium sheet data.
- 030362 - collected by D. Mueller-Dombois in 1981
- 004912 - collected by Joel Lau in 1985
- 057327 - collected by Jacques Florence in 1986
- 004913 - collected by Tim Flynn in 1986
- 001981 - collected by J. S. Burley in 1987
- 006592 - collected by David H. Lorence in 1988
- 002814 - collected by Tim Flynn in 1989
- 039577 - collected by Steve Perlman in 2003
- 040146 - collected by K. R. Wood in 2003
- 043480 - collected by Francisca Sohl in 2004
- 053329 - collected by Natalia Tangalin in 2007
- 051537 - collected by Natalia Tangalin in 2007
- 047360 - collected by Clay Trauernicht in 2007
- 084620 - collected by Kelsey Brock in 2017