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.

 

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.

11 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.

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