Home / Aratiles / Aratiles tree: Cultivating the cotton candy flavored fruit.

Aratiles tree: Cultivating the cotton candy flavored fruit.

Aratiles

(Muntingia calabura)

 

Aratiles Overview:

The Aratiles tree is a fast growing tree with cotton candy flavored fruit.

Strawberry tree fruit

Strawberry tree fruit

Fruit appearance:

The Aratiles fruit is small, about the size of a blueberry. Unripe green fruit turns orange to red when ripe.

 

Strawberry tree fruit

Muntingia calabura with penny to show size & cut to show insides.

Fruit taste:

  • The Aratiles fruit is juicy, somewhat gelatinous inside.
  • Hundreds of tiny yellow seeds give a nice texture similar to tiny rice crispy crunches.
  • The fruit is sweet and the smell/flavor is very close to cotton candy. Yes, it is not a typo; cotton candy on a tree. It’s kind of amazing.

 

Fruit Season:

As soon as the fruit ripens more flowers form.  In the warmer months, this is a plant that gives and gives; every day there is more fruit.  However, the tree does take a break in the winter.

Aratales: unripe green and ripe orange/red fruit

Muntingia: unripe green and ripe orange/red fruit

Landscaping use:

  • A medium sized, evergreen, fast growing tree (25 to 40 feet tall).
  • It makes a great shade tree.
  • Slightly drooping lancet shaped leaves. I have noticed that the leaves droop/fold more at night, perhaps to conserve heat.
  • The flowers are small and white. The flowers look like the flowers of a strawberry-thus one of the common names for the tree.
  • I have seen conflicting reports about the life span of this tree. Some say it is short lived (on the order of 7 years). Others say that they had the same tree growing in their yard their whole life (at least 40-50 years).

 

Aratales flowering, with ripe and unripe fruit at same time

Muntingia flowering, with ripe and unripe fruit at same time

 

 

Aratales silhouette

Muntingia silhouette

Soil:

  • Everything I have read says the plant can grow in the worst soils where other plants can’t survive.
  • It is also said to be drought tolerant. However, the San Diego backyard grower that I bought the tree from insisted that it needs a lot of water.
  • I played it safe and I planted my tree in my typical very rich soil mixture. I have it on a 2-3 x a week watering schedule (it’s on the same drip line as my stone fruit). This has worked very well for me and the tree is thriving.
  • Click here to see my 6/9/13 post on the best planting technique to avoid transplantation shock. 

 

Water:

Many references that I have read say that the tree is drought tolerant when established.  However, the guy that I bought it from says that the tree needs a lot of water.  So I don’t know what to tell you.  My experience is that I just water it like my citrus trees and it had been happy.

The tree won’t tolerate salt.

 

Sun:

Full

 

Fertilization:

I haven’t read anything about fertilizing. Considering the numerous reports about how well the plant does in terrible soils it may not need fertilizer. I am going to take a wait and see approach on this for now.

 

Temperature:

  • It is a tropical or near tropical tree and it is said to be rather cold sensitive.  Therefore , I was rather concerned about the occasional cold snaps we get below 0 F.
  • As a result, I planted the tree on the top of a hill to avoid the possibility of any cold air pooling around it in the cooler months.  I guess it worked because it survived the 2012/2013 winter.
  • Side note: I later went back to the place where I bought the tree and the grower was very surprised that it survived the winter. I am not sure if I should feel happy or pissed that someone sold me something they thought would probably die.
  • For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”

 

Pests:

  • Prone to leaf spot caused by Phyllosticta sp. and Pseudocercospora muntingiae.
  • Also subject to crown gall caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
  • In Florida the fruit have been infested with Caribbean fruit fly larva.
  • I am told that birds love the fruit.  However, I think I eat the fruit off the tree so fast that they dont have a chance to notice it.  However, for other fruiting plants, I have used Holographic Bird Scare Tape that works rather well at keeping the birds away.  If you are going to use glitter tape, it is best to only use it during the fruit season so that the birds don’t get use to it.  A very similar product is Flash Tape but I haven’t tried that.

 

Food uses:

  • My mother in law was the first to tell me about this tree. She grew up in the Philippines and some of her happiest childhood memories were spent with her sisters picking and eating the fruit of the Aratiles (Muntingia calabura).
  • As it turns out this is not an uncommon scenario. In many parts of the tropics such as the Philippines, the fruit is devoured by young children right off the tree and the fruit never makes it to market on any scale. So as you can imagine, the fruit is great to eat just out of hand. The fruit is also made into jams and the fruit is also cooked into tarts.
  • The leaves have been used for tea and the flowers have been used for folk/home remedies.

 

Misc:

  • Native range extends from southern Mexico to Peru.
  • It is considered a pioneer plant, which means it has the ability to get established in poor growing conditions where other plants won’t survive. As a pioneer it could help condition the soil and make it habitable to other plants. However, the same intrinsic qualities of the plant make it a potential invasive species.  However, considering the cold intolerance the plant has I dont believe that this would be a problem in California.
  • I have found an impressive array of different local names for this tree from around the world (see below).
  • Strawberry tree, Jamaican cherry, Panama berry, Singapore cherry, Bajelly tree, Strawberry tree, Bolaina, Yamanaza, Cacaniqua, Capulín blanco, Cigua, Niguito, Memizo,Memiso, Kersen, Trứng cá, Thực vật, Aratilis, Aratiles, Manzanitas, Sarisa, Ceri Kampung, village cherry, palman, bersilana, jonote, puan, capulin de comer, pasito or majagüillo, chitató, majagüito, chirriador, acuruco, tapabotija, nigua, majagua, majaguillo, mahaujo, guácimo hembra, cedrillo, niguo, niguito, nigüito, iumanasa, yumanaza, guinda yunanasa, mullacahuayo, calabura, pau de seda, cedrillo majagua, capulina, chapuli, bois d’ orm, bois de soie marron, memiso, memizo, bois ramier, bois de soie, datiles, ratiles, latires, cereza, seresa, takop farang or ta kob farang, kakhop, cay trung ca, buah cheri, kerukup siam, Japanese cherry, Chinese cherry, jam fruit. • Note of naming confusion: One of the most common names for this tree is strawberry tree. However, this is also a name used for several other trees including the European native Arbutus unedo.

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

30 comments

  1. Hello, I was wondering if you could comment about where you found the tree for sale in San Diego. Just found out about the tree and would like to grow one too. I’m in Oceanside and want to give it a shot. Thank you for the article and info.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Hiel
      Thanks for the note.
      I found the tree at “Ong Nursery”: http://www.ongnursery.com/
      However, just to prepare you, its not your average nursery… and not just because it is only open on the weekends.
      The nursery is basically the owners home property. The family is from Vietnam and depending on who is there at the time, there may be a slight language barrier. Therefore, it may help to write down-or print what you are looking for so you can just point to it if need be.
      That being said, I have been to this nursery many times and they all seem very knowledgeable about their plants.
      Overall, you will find an impressive variety of hard to find tropical plants sold at a fair price by a hardworking family.

    • go to philippines they are lot their

  2. Is it Possible to use it’s fruit to make sugar?… if it is can you mail or post here the procedure Thanks!!.. by the way you did a GREAT JOB!!!.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Richard
      Thanks for the interesting question for your thoughtful complement.
      Personally, the Aratiles fruit usually gets eaten before I get back to my house.
      I have not tried to make sugar out of this fruit, but it that is an interesting idea.
      Ill ask around and get back to you if I hear anything.
      Thanks,

  3. G’day Thomas
    I also had childhood memories of picking the fruits from the tree. I migrated to Australia over a decade ago and last year I bought two Aratiles trees hoping my little girls will have the same wonderful childhood memories of the lovely fruit tree.
    I live north of Sydney and happy to let you and your readers know my trees survived last winter. They didn’t like the cold wind much so I placed it in full sun and in front of my feijoa hedge facing North (your winter sun would be southward in the northern hemisphere). I watered it less during winter as well but you are correct with watering it like a citrus tree…. We are in our last month of summer here and I noticed my trees stopped producing flowers and wasn’t looking good so I watered it everyday and gave it some organic fertilisers complete with potash and blood&bone. But I still haven’t successfully gone past the flowering stage. After the flowers die, I do not get any fruit. Got any tips? Oh by the way they are in pots as well.
    Cheers
    Chrissie

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Chrissie
      Thanks for the note.
      As far as your question about fruiting… I am not exactly sure why your tree has not fruited but I have a few ideas.

      1. Tree could be too young:
      However, my Aratiles tree was fruiting at a really young age.

      2. Plants don’t like to be potted:
      I have noticed many fruit trees (regardless of the type) will only fruit/or would fruit better if they were in the ground.
      In large part it may be that the more extreme flux in root temperature and moisture for potted plants is rather stressful for most plants.

      3. Mycorrhizae
      I also suspect that it has a lot to do with the microscopic symbiotic ecosystem that develops in the ground… but can only develop to a limited extent in potted plants.
      The main players in this symbiotic relationship are with beneficial fungus called Mycorrhizae.
      Mycorrhizae join up with roots to bring in nutrients and water to the plant more efficiently then they could do on their own.
      So this stuff can help potted plants as well, but you often have to add it in the pot. You don’t need a lot b/c this stuff is living and it multiplies. However, it does need to touch the roots to get going.

      4. Mycorrhizae (cont)
      However, (and amazingly) Mycorrhizae also help plants talk to each other through their underground connections.
      Obviously, plants need to be planted for this to happen.
      There is a recent article about adjacent plants that would talk to each other via their roots and Mycorrhizae to warn of infections.
      I know, it sounds crazy-cool, but it is a real thing.

      Here’s a link to some of the recent Mycorrhizae-talking references.

      http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35542/title/Plants-Communicate-with-Help-of-Fungi/

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12115/abstract;jsessionid=294AE8FDFB653AFFC74CF54C4AA76F5F.d01t03

      These Mycorrhizae benefits are the main reasons why I dust the roots of my plants with Mycorrhizae at the time of planting.
      (see my planting suggestions article for more details).

      http://tastylandscape.com/2013/06/09/best-planting-technique-6-important-steps/

      Good luck and keep us posted.

  4. can i grow one from its fruit?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Faye
      That’s a great question.

      The answer is yes you can grow Aratiles (Muntingia calabura) from seed.
      I have read that in Brazil, farmers will squeeze out the fruit juice and seeds directly into the ground to grow the trees.
      In Brazil, they will also prep the seeds for future planting by rinsing/washing the fresh fruit seeds and juice several times with water and then dry the remaining seeds in the shade.

      I have also read from others that constant humidity in the germination stage is very important.
      There is some debate about the need for sunlight in the early germination stage.
      However, with the combo of humidity in a sealed container and lots of sun, I would imagine if could be easy to bake the little seedlings too.

      I have not grown any Aratiles from seed myself, but I intend to give it a try this season.
      Ill update the site if I have any luck.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Awesome suggestion Mike!
      Thats exciting!
      I will have to plant a Guama tree.
      Can you recommend the place where you bought yours?
      Any growing suggestions or issues that you would like to share?
      Thanks!

  5. Hello!

    I LOVE this fruit and have spent many hours on the web chasing its many names – it has been and still is quite a goose chase. From ‘jamaica cherry’ to ‘capulin’ to ‘panama berry’ and now to ‘aratiles’!

    I live in Florida and I cannot find this tree anywhere — furthermore, I can’t find this tree in any nursery that will ship the darn thing to me! Does anyone have a resource for this? I’d be VERY appreciative for a lead on one!

    Thank you to anyone who has a tip!
    Kc

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey KC
      Yea, I totally agree, it is a cool tree.
      Too bad you cant find it in FL… It should grow great there.
      I know some local guys around here that carry the strawberry tree, aratiles, jamaica cherry, etc…
      Ill ask around to see if they are able to ship and let you know.
      best, Tom

    • I don’t know if you found this tree or not by now, but I’ve seen this tree for sale at Kerby’s Nursery in Seffner, Florida. http://www.kerbysnursery.com/

      I saw it there last spring. They may keep a stock of these trees. I wish I purchased! Definitely an intriguing fruit. I was there for a pomegranate tree instead.

      • Thomas Osborne, MD

        Thanks for the additional info Meghan!

      • Thanks so much for the info.! I’ll check it out — I really appreciate your help, all of you! If there’s anything I can help anyone with, give me a shoutout!

        • hi kc
          I have a small edible nursery in summerfield fl, just south of ocala. I love the srrawberry tree! I also have hundreds or sale in many different sizes. U can email me at mcp4452 at gmail dot com.

  6. Hi KC, I recently ordered this tree from Logee’s. It is a nursery that ships out of CT, they have a nice variety of tropical fruiting plants. I live in Richmond VA, so I will have to keep it potted :( .If I get a few fruits a year I will be happy.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks for the info Jewel!

      • Thank you, Jewel!

        I visited the site — how long was the period between receiving the tree in the mail and its bearing fruit?

        I’m doing more and more research, learning about ‘maturity rates’ and the point at which trees are able to bear fruit — some have a ten year wait period!

        Again — thanks so much for the resource!

  7. Hi! I’m doing a research about the jamaican cheery fruit, but I can’t find any exact components these fruits contain. Can you help me to find out? Thank you for you help! :)

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Interesting Marcus

      What type of research are you doing?
      Is it personal or academic through a university?
      Quantitative research, Qualitative research, mixed methods?
      Do you want to research already published material in a metadata/Meta-Analysis format or is it novel bench research?
      What types of components are you looking into; (seed count, water content, chemical: molecular, elemental, spectroscopy, etc)?

      Best,
      Tom

      • Hi Thomas. I’m doing a research about Jamaican Cherry too. It’s an academic research. Does Jamaican Cherry have an anti-microbial component in its fruit/seeds? Does it have the necessary component to support the growth of bacteria in a culture media? It would be a great help to me and Marcus to know the answer to these questions. :)

        • Thomas Osborne, MD

          Interesting question Hamilton

          In general:
          All fruits (and vegetables) have some type of antimicrobial properties.
          Plants are not alone in this battle; other bugs and fungi fight each other fro survival with a complex cocktail of chemicals.
          Penicillin for example is produced by a fungus (Penicillium fungi) and we happened to discover that this chemical can be extracted to help us too.
          The majority of our current antibiotics are derived from nature.

          Since bacteria and other bugs are all around us in staggering numbers, fruit has evolved to combat at least some of that.
          Without some sort of antimicrobial defense, all fruit would quickly rot before it could be eaten.
          Often the bulk of the antimicrobial element is concentrated in the skin of the fruit to keep the bugs out.
          To this point, you may notice that fruits will rot faster if the skin is damaged.
          This might be why we find that the rind of some fruits (like oranges) tastes bad… It may actually not be good for us and our taste buds are letting us know.

          More specifically:
          Some fruit are better at this than others.
          Some fruit are specifically adapted to defend against specific kinds of pathogens.
          Sometimes this stuff can be good for us, and sometimes the plants defense is so powerful that it is actually bad for us.
          As an example, please reference my euphorbia article.

          Fruit is good:
          However, there is a staggering amount of evidence that eating fresh fruit is really really good for us.
          And it is no surprise because we have co-evolved to eat fruit… That’s just how we are built.
          The reason fruit is good for us is not only good because of the direct antimicrobial properties. Fruit is also good for the antioxidant elements, as well as the fiber, vitamins and minerals, etc.

          Michael Pollan has done a lot of great writing on this, His book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s ManifestoIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” is a great read.

          Article:
          A recent article in the journal of food science also touched on some of these ideas.
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3032914/

          Research considerations:
          So when doing research in in vivo, it can be a bit confounding to sift all of this out. The issue is that all of the other goodness in fruit will support our immune system to do a better job and this is difficult to separate these components from the intrinsic direct antimicrobial properties of the fruit (which I think you are asking about).
          In vitro studies attempt to avoid these issues by looking at how things work outside of people. However, this has issues too because it ignores many of the very real complex interactions.

          Jamaican Cherry (Aratiles) research:
          Theres an article in Science about the Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Bacterial Efficacy of Aratiles Leaves.
          http://www.termpaperwarehouse.com/essay-on/Anti-Inflammatory-And-Anti-Bacterial-Efficacy-Of-Aratiles/132676
          That article, and contacting those authors might be an interesting resource.

          However, overall, I would suspect that there is a lot of crossover with other fruits.
          That being said, the flavor of the Jamaican Cherry is so unique, that it may be a reflection of some interesting and specific antimicrobial elements. If something new was discovered, then you could be on to something very big and important for medicine/pharmacology.
          If I were looking to do original research on the antimicrobial properties of the Jamaican Cherry (Aratiles) I would start with in vitro studies.
          I have heard of some folkloric use of the flowers as a topical antiseptic, so there might be something to it.

          Good luck and keep us posted!

          Tom

  8. Good Afternoon, Dr. Tom. I enjoyed reading this page on aratiles. I grew up in The Philippines, surrounded by aratiles trees. I know that many Filipinos use its leaves to relieve stomach pain. I love to boil the leaves for a tea substitute with rice cakes. I love the fruits much. I have been thinking of its medicinal value and which you may share to us. Recently I planted pomegranate seeds in th Philippines which I and my children will plant these 700 – 800 seedlings, 6 months hence in our former sugar cane farm. Do you think I can plant aritiles with the pomegranate for these reasons: 1) to attract bees to pollenate the pomegranates, 2) to promote the medicinal value of the aratiles which abounds in our country. Thanks from, Adelina,a plant lover.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Adelina

      Thank you:
      Thank you for your positive feedback
      Thank you for the additional information about how many Filipinos use the Aratiles leaves to relieve stomach pain.
      …And how you use the leaves as a tea substitute.

      The fruit is wonderful:
      I currently have a crop that is beginning to ripen.
      My daughter and I have been eating the berries for the last few weeks.
      She loves them!

      Your pomegranate orchard:
      you have 700-800 pomegranate seedlings!
      Wow, that’s a lot of plants.. I only have 3 pomegranate trees/bushes.

      Attracting bees:
      Great thoughts; this is always a good idea.
      The best plant option for you would depend on what happily grows in your part of the world.
      Therefore, since you have a lot of aratiles normally growing in your area, that tree would be an awesome option.

      However, as you know, bees also love all kinds of flowering plants.
      I would think that a variety of flowering plants would be a big benefit to make sure that there are always flowers around to attract the bees.
      For example, my rosemary bushes seem to be constantly flowering and buzzing with bee life.
      If rosemary will grow in your area, this may also be a complementary plant option to consider.
      Here is an article I wrote about how to easily propagate rosemary.

      Medical value of aratiles:
      An aratiles orchard that also provides reliable education materials may be part of the solution.
      Based on your plans, you might be able to play an important role here.
      However, a key component would be to gather the most medically sound research on the subject.
      Another amazing option for you would be to partner with a university project working on this type of research.

      More academic research is needed on the subject.
      For example, before medicine (at least in the US) accepts the use of this plant, there needs to be respected evidenced based research.
      This would include research on the treatment efficacy of the plant compared to standard treatments, as well as side effect issues and safe-effective doses.

      Sounds like a fun project.

      Please keep us posted.

      Best,
      Tom

  9. I have these trees (Aratiles Calabara) growing in my garden here in Thailand. I would like to grow new ones from these trees elsewhere. New shoots spring up from the underground roots and I have to mow them to keep them under control. I have tried to take one of these shoots with some of the parent tree attached and unsuccessfully tried to grow it. What is the best way to propagate a new tree?
    A nice educational and informative site bye the way.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Ron

      Thailand:
      Another beautiful part of the world.
      I few years back I traveled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai… and then hiked into the deeper jungle with the help of elephants and bamboo rafts.
      As I am sure you know, Thailand has stunning historical sights and wonderful people.
      Overall, it was quite an amazing trip for me and I feel fortunate to have been able to take that adventure.

      Aratiles shoots:
      That is an interesting dilemma you have; my aratiles tree does not create the shoots that you described.
      Perhaps your growing environment is so good that the tree is able to express this trait.
      I would think that you would be able to grow a plant from one of these shoots though.
      It works for many other plants.
      Perhaps the shoots need to become bigger-more mature with a strong root system before they will survive transplantation.
      Hopefully another reader will have some direct experience in this area to help you.

      I suppose that some of these ‘shoots’ around the base of your tree may also be seedlings that are growing from fallen fruit/seeds.

      Aratiles from seed:
      From what I have read, farmers in tropical regions will sow the seeds directly into the field.
      If I understand it correctly, it sounds like they just squeeze out the seeds and juice of the fruit into the planting spot.
      I have done something similar when growing the Inca Berry.
      Heres a link to my Inca Berry article for reference:

      Ill have to try this myself with aratiles.

      It also sounds like you can prep the seeds for future planting by cleaning them and then drying them.
      Specifically, the seeds are washed in a container until the juice and flesh are rinsed away.
      The seeds that sink to the bottom of the container are the good ones and the rest is poured off.
      The remaining seeds are dried in the shade and saved for future planting.

      Best of luck and keep us posted.

      Thanks,
      Tom

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