Aratiles (Muntingia calabura)
The Aratiles tree is a fast growing tree with cotton candy flavored fruit.
The Aratiles fruit is small, about the size of a blueberry. Unripe green fruit turns orange to red when ripe.
- 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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.