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Aratiles Tree Propagation

Muntingia Calabura Propigation

Overview:

This article was written to share the insight that I have gained about how to propagate Muntingia calabura (the Aratiles tree).  The following are some successful techniques and pitfalls discovered after some experimentation.

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Berries on the tree

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Berries on the tree

 

Background:

In the world of gardening (and other fields) the source of accepted information can sometimes be based on legend, conjecture and opinion. Therefore, I have begun to do some gardening experimentation to clarify potentially unsupported ideas.

Specifically, there are several reports about how the Muntingia calabura tree can be propagated. I have listed the top options below.  In my quest, I started down this list and eventually stumbled upon an option that worked for me.

List of potential propagation methods: 

  1. Seeds from the Aratiles fruit are be squeezed out of the fruit directly into the fields.
  2. Aratiles  seeds are be cleaned, dried and saved for future planting.
  3. Shoots that come up from the main/mother trees roots are be harvested and replanted.
  4. The Aratiles tree can be propagated by the process of “air layering.”
  5. Soaking the seeds in vinegar has been used in efforts to duplicate the effects of the seeds passing through a birds digestive tract.

 

 

Evaluating the list

1st option (from the list above):

  • There are a few online references about Brazilian farmers methods of growing this tree by just squeezing the seeds out of the fresh fruit into the fields. Therefore, my first attempt at propagating the Muntingia calabura tree was to duplicate this method at home.  I tried this general method in all kinds of growing conditions; I sowed the Aratiles tree seeds in the shade, in the sun, under irrigation lines, in rocky soil, in fertile soil, etc. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no luck with any variation of this technique that I tried.

 

2nd  (almost) attempt:

  • I thought about trying the cleaning the Aratiles tree seeds option that is mentioned above… However, the seeds of this plant are so freeking small, I just couldn’t imagine how this was a practical solution.  So yea, I just skipped this option.
Strawberry tree fruit

Muntingia calabura to show size & cut to show tiny yellow dot-like seeds inside.

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) showing the multiple tiny seeds against the black background

Magnification image showing the multiple tiny seeds against the black background

3rd option (from the list above):

  • I have heard some reports that young green shoots will pop-up from the roots of a mature Aratiles tree like suckers.  These shots can apparently be harvested and grown into a new tree.  However, in my experience, I have never seen this type of growth pattern from the roots of the Aratiles tree.
  • Therefore, I wonder if this apparent growth pattern is the result of two possibilities:
  1. In warmer tropical areas, the growing conditions may be more optimal to allow the Aratiles tree to demonstrate this particular phenotypic growth pattern. Likewise, the suboptimal-dry growing conditions in Southern California may not allow this type of growth to occur.
  2. The apparent observation may actually be the result of new Aratiles tree seedlings growing under the tree from dropped seeds/fruit… and not from shoots popping-up from the main trees roots.

 

4th and 5th options (listed above):

  • Haven’t tried these options yet

 

New option (not previously listed):

  • After my initial failed experience, I begin to wonder if I needed to try a few different growing conditions in a more controlled environment.  Therefore, I designed a controlled Aratiles tree propagation experiment.

 

Aratiles Tree Propagation Experiment: 

 

Methods:

 

Soil:

  • I filled four small seedling containers with two different types of soil.
  • Two containers were filled with peat moss and two containers were filled with a tropical type of planting soil mix.  This tropical planting soil mix is equal parts of grow mulch, native soil and peat moss.
  • The four small seedling containers were connected to each other for convenience.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) fruit in hand

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) fruit in hand

 

Sow the Aratiles tree seeds: (Sept 4, 2015)

  • On September 4, 2015, eight similar appearing Muntingia calabura (Aratiles tree) fruit were picked fresh at the same time.
  • The Muntingia calabura fruit was then squeezed so that the pulp fell on top of the seedling soil.
  • The pulp with seeds of two fruits was squeezed on to the top of the soil for each container.
  • The seedy pulp for both the peat moss soil and the tropical mix was left on top of the soil on the one side of the joined containers (this is the left side in the provided images).  On the right side, the seedy pulp for both the peat moss soil and the tropical mix was worked just under the soil surface.
Aratiles Tree Propagation

Date: 9.4.14 The start of the Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation experiment. Fruit squeezed on to the soil.

Aratiles Tree Propagation

Date: 9.4.14 Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) seeds being worked just below the soil surface on the right side.

Summary of containers:

  • P1.     Peat moss soil:     seeds of 2 fruit rests on top of the soil.
  • P2.     Peat moss soil:     seeds of 2 fruit worked just under the soil surface.
  • T1.     Tropical soil:     seeds of 2 fruit rests on top of the soil.
  • T2.     Tropical soil:     seeds of 2 fruit worked just under the soil surface.
Name of containers

Name of containers

 

Aratiles tree propagation conditions:

  • The soil was kept moist for the duration of the experiment.
  • The seedling container was placed in a South facing window next to the kitchen sink.

 

Results:

  • Sept 14, 2014: Aratiles tree seedlings sprout from container P2 only (10 days to first germination).
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 9.14.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propagation 9.14.14. A few tiny green dots which are tiny seedlings can be seen in the right hand corner container (P2).

 

  • Sept 19, 2014: Aratiles tree seedlings can be seen in all containers except for P1.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 9.18.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propagation. Date: 9.18.14

 

  • Sep 23, 2014: A white fungus is more clearly seen as the reason for the lack of growth in container P1. However, there are a few Aratiles tree seedlings growing on the edges of the P1 container that are not in contact with the fungus.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 9.23.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propagation. Date:  9.23.14

 

  • Oct 5, 2014: Continued growth of the Aratiles tree seedlings in the P2 container are significantly larger than the other containers.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 10.5.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propagation. Date: 10.5.14

 

  • Oct 16, 2014: The few surviving Aratiles tree seedlings in container P1 are now the second largest in size. The largest sized Aratiles tree seedlings are still in container P2.  Some seedlings in container P2 are clearly much larger than others in the same container. There seems to be an even split with a larger and smaller group of Aratiles tree seedlings in P2.  The Aratiles tree seedlings in T1 and T2 are the smallest compared to the other containers and T1 and T2 seedlings are roughly the same small size.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 10.16.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 10.16.14

 

  • Oct 21, 2014:  The trend from Oct 16th continues.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 10.21.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 10.21.14

 

  • Oct 31, 2014: Mysterious partial die off of Aratiles tree seedlings in container T1. Suspect fungal infection.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 10.31.14

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 10.31.14

 

  • Jan 9, 2015: Massive sudden die off of Aratiles tree seedlings in all containers.  This is most notable in container P2. This sudden die off occurred right after the kitchen window was cleaned with a detergent spray. Therefore, highly suspect that the detergent spray mist fell on the leaves of the seedlings and that is the cause of the sudden and dramatic damage.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 1.9.15

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 1.9.15

 

  • Jan 9, 2015: The remaining Aratiles tree seedlings were covered with the clear plastic bottom of a strawberry container.  This is intended to protect seedlings from future over-spray. Also expect that this will contribute to more stable growing conditions and increased humidity.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 1.9.15 cover

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 1.9.15 cover

 

  • Feb 9, 2015: Remaining Aratiles tree seedling in P2 continue to grow. A few Aratiles tree seedlings in T2 takeoff in growth to match remaining seedling in P2. Other Aratiles tree seedlings of various smaller size show minimal additional growth.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 2.9.15

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 2.9.15

 

  • Mar 14, 2015: The few largest Aratiles tree seedlings continue to grow large. Many smaller seedlings planted at the same time remain small. There also seems to have been another round of delayed seedling sprouting from the initial planting.  The plastic cover was removed because of the size of the largest seedlings.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 3.14.15

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 3.14.15

 

  • Mar 25, 2015: Continued growth from Mar 14, 2015
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 3.25.15

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 3.25.15

 

  • April 23, 2015: Continued growth, most notably of the largest Aratiles tree seedlings.
Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) propigation 4.23.15

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 4.23.15

 

Update June 4th 2015.

The small Aratiles trees were transplanted to a larger pot today. In the process, you can see a side view of the dominant taproot from a seedling that grew at the edge of the container (see pics below).

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) . Strawberry tree roots seen at transplanting

Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) roots seen at transplanting

 

Update September 12, 2015:

  • Wondering how long it takes Muntingia Calabura to flower from seed?  Well I have the answer.
  • Today, (almost exactly one year after planting the seeds) one of the seedlings from the experiment has put out its first flower (see pictures below).
Muntingia calabura seedling flowering

A follow up pic of the same plants grown from seed for the experiment above. This picture taken (9.12.15). At one year, it is clear that Muntingia calabura will flower very early.

 

Strawberry tree time to flower from seedling

Just a close up pic of the Muntingia calabura flower on this little seedling This pic taken one year after planting seed (9.12.15)

Conclusions:

  • Aratiles trees can be successfully germinated without the need for any complicated seed preparation.

 

  • In this small experiment, peat moss seemed to be associated with early accelerated growth.

 

  • Seedlings grown in the same soil and planting conditions have demonstrated varying growth rates. This growth variation could possibly be the result of a few factors. For example, the seeds of this plant may be intentionally programmed with this variation in germination time and speed as a way to ‘hedge the bets’ for the optimal environmental growing conditions.  On the other hand, the difference in seedling growth that was observed may also be the result of the seeds coming from different fruits.

 

  • Mold is an issue that can kill Aratiles tree seedlings. The seeds that were worked just under the soil surface seemed to be protected from this fungal infection. The presence of the Aratiles tree fruit pulp mixed in with the seeds may have contributed to fungal growth.  Therefore, washing the seeds before planting could potentially reduce the chance of fungal infection.

 

  • Accidental kitchen cleaning detergent over-spray on the Aratiles tree leaves may kill seedlings.  Protect the plants from harsh chemicals.

 

  • My initial failure at growing the seeds directly outside may have been the result of snails. Therefore, these ravenous gastropods may have removed any evidence of early outdoor seedling growth.  Therefore, I recommend that you grow these young seedlings in a snail protected environment.

 

 

 

For more information about growing this wonderful tree and its fruit, please check out the article Aratiles tree: Cultivating the cotton candy flavored fruit.

 

Note: Muntingia Calabura is also known by many different names:

Aratiles tree, 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 on a bit 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.

26 comments

  1. Do you know how to grow mangosteen? I also live in the SoCal area and I want to grow the “Queen of Fruits”. I have a shop near me that should sell them so I could probably get my hands on a few mangosteens and their seeds, but I don’t entirely know how.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Kurisu
      I love mangosteen fruit.
      Even though I had read that the weather was too cold in the winter and too dry in the summer.
      I tried to grow them anyways.
      And the tree died.
      They are very fickle and this is not the climate for them.
      Too bad.
      However, if you have a perfectly regulated greenhouse I suppose it would work, but that would get really expensive.

      All of that being said….
      I did hear a roomer that a hearty variety of mangosteen was being developed that might survive in Southern California.
      Crossing fingers.

      Best,
      Tom

  2. Thank you so much for the step by step instructions. I will give this a try!
    Do you grow Moringa? I really like edible landscape, and it is ornamental it’s a bonus. Luckily my zone is 10 a and I grow lots of exotic fruit.

    Thanks again,

    Petra

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Petra

      Thank you and your are very welcome.

      Per you question:
      I recently did a similar experiment for the Moringa… Just havent written it up yet.
      Stay tuned!

      Thanks,
      Tom

  3. Thank you for the easy step by step directions. Would you mail me 10 fruits to Florida and I will try my hand at this. Also do you know where to obtain the yellow or white fruited strawberry tree? I live in 9b and have heard the yellow type is more cold hardy?
    THANKS
    Mike

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks Mike.
      Glad to hear you liked the article.

      Growing zone 9b should work for Aratiles Tree growing, as long as you keep it high out of a cold air/frost area.
      I do have a lot of fruit on the tree now… However, I am not sure about the agricultural fruit import laws into Florida (I know some states such as California and Florida are fairly strict).
      These fruit dont seem to last long off the tree, so shipping would have to be pretty protected and fast.
      Perhaps someone else has some insight for you.

      Best,
      Tom

      • There are no laws or restrictions pertaining to Muntingia calabura in Florida. There are strict laws regarding citrus which do not apply. Please pick 10-12 fresh ripe fruit and send in a regular envelope regular mail. My address is

        If you would please put seeds in a ziplock bag and even if they are crushed I will plant immediately on arrival. I will be happy to pay you for your trouble. I am very
        excited!
        THANKS
        Mike

        • Thomas Osborne, MD

          Hi Mike,
          If you could send me some sort of official Florida Agricultural policy that is it ok, then I would be happy to help you out.

          • Thomas Osborne, MD

            Thanks Mike

            In that document you sent me, there is a section titled,
            “HOST FRUIT OF FRUIT FLIES”

            The materials regulated are,
            “All host fruit which is know to be or found to be a host or articles that may be infested of any fruit flies…”

            It goes on to say that this category is,
            “Prohibited into the State of Florida unless accompanied by a certificate issued by an authorized representative of the USDA or the state of origin denoting the absence of fruit flies listed above, or having complied with a treatment established by the department or USDA to insure freedom from fruit flies”

            Unfortunately, Aratilies (Muntingia calabura) is a target of the fruit fly (see link below)
            “In Florida, in recent years, the fruits are infested with the larvae of the Caribbean fruit fly…”
            https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jamaica_cherry.html

            The Caribbean fruit fly (Anastrepha suspensa) is also one of the ones specifically called out in that Florida Aggie link you sent.

            For the benefit of Florida:
            Florida (and other areas) already has a lot to deal in regards to invasive species and agricultural pests.
            I would be very happy to help you personally… but as you can imagine, I also want to do the right thing.
            And as a public website on topics such as this, it is important set an example and educate for the benefit (and food security) of all.

            Thank you for the inquiry. However, coordinating to get my fruit officially certified by an authorized representative of the USDA, tagged, and then shipped out, is a bit out of my scope at the moment.

            Best,
            Tom

  4. Hi Thomas,

    It’s the BEST and most simplest web article and great information on this tree. I am living in Pretoria South Africa, bit worry about winter (can drop down to -2 C). Do advise me if they can survive or should I try to grow some in door?.

    I have only one survived from couple months ago winter and it looks exactly like the: Aratiles tree (Muntingia Calabura) Propagation. Date: 2.9.15.

    SO buy the look of it my little tree is approx 5 months old.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Henriko
      Thank you very much

      Unfortunately, below freezing temps do not sit well with the Aratilies.
      In addition, this tree grows really fast… so growing indoors will be a major challenge.

      Perhaps growing your tree close to a South facing wall that radiates heat could help you through the colder days.
      And/or planting in an elevated spot that wont collect cold air is a big help.

      Frost cloth is another option if you are up to covering the plant when cold weather is on the way.
      Check out my article on that topic for more info:
      Prepare for a cold snap

      Best,
      Tom

  5. Thank you so much for this detailed post

  6. Hello and thank you for this article. In my experience, it looks like they do need to be moist.when I got my plant I tried to do “water only when it appears dry”and eventually it died. Another time I kept it inside an aquarium to keep the humidity around 80% then it got weird spike like mold, then died. This time, I started with a bigger green house 2x4x6 and used mister and watered seldom.it started green, appeared to dry up, then I started to water more, keeping it moist and it recovered, git the first flower and a couple weeks later, it got more flowers and a growth spurt (also transferred to a bigger pot with fertilized garden soil). I might need to take it out of the green house (inside the bedroom), but still inside the bedroom until it reaches more than 8ft. The question is, how will the flowers become fruit -does it take some time or does it need to be pollinated? I want to protect it as much as I can or indoors…I’m in northeast Pennsylvania.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Wynn
      Thanks for the note and your insight.
      Growing in PA is ambitious.

      I have aratiles trees at the moment.
      One has been in the ground for several years and is about 12 foot tall now. That one gets watered about as often as my citrus (about 2x a week).
      I have another aratiles in a container that I started from seed. Now… at about 1year old it is about a foot tall.

      My experience with these two is that the one in the ground needs less water than the one in the container. This is pretty typical for any plant. Potted plants just dry out faster and they are more sensitive to changes in the environment because the soil conditions in a container change much faster than the ground does.

      So as far as fruiting…
      I think I have the only aratiles tree in the area so these guys must be self fertile (they dont need another plant to cross-pollinate with). However, the flowers are frequently visited by bees. Therefore, I cant say for sure if they need to be self pollinated to get fruit from the flower.

      However, from what I can tell from your note, I suspect you would be willing to be the pollinator. If so, basically all you do is use a soft paintbrush or q-tip to move the pollen from the anther (on the outside part of the flower) and transfer that pollen to the stigma (the top of the middle part) of the flower.

      It would be cool to do an experiment and pollinate one side of the tree yourself and leave the other half alone to see what happens. Then you will basically know if you need to pollinate in the future.. And let us know what the results are.

      Best,
      T

  7. Wow, fast reply, I didn’t see s notification though.
    In your tree, how long typically from flower to fruit? I’d assume that it shrivels then start forming the fruit? My first test flower just shriveled. I’ll try a paint brush, maybe it didn’t reach deep enough and let you know. Have you start using the leaves for medicinal purpose? Thanks again.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Sure, no prob Wynn
      Ill have to think about your time-to-fruit question.
      I have some fruit developing now. Ill try to keep better track for your question.

      I have not used the leaves for anything myself, but I know a lot of people do and its a big thing.

  8. This is awesome! My mother-in-law has one of these trees and I want one too, so now I can grow one!

    I see from the last comment that you have some fruit developing right now. Have you gotten fruit from these seedlings before, an if so, was it good? I know with some plants it’s hit or miss with flavor from seedlings.

    I’m currently trying to make some jam out a batch of berries from my mother-in-laws tree. That’s how I ran across your article.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Kimberly
      I have gotten a few flowers from the seedlings but no fruit yet. I suspect that they are just too young yet.

      Good point about the fruit being “true to seed”
      That is definitely an issue for a lot of plants but I have not heard of it being an issue for the aratiles tree.

      Let me know if you find a good aratiles jam recipe.

      Best,
      T

  9. Just an update, I did try manual polination, same results. I was going to say that it might still be too young (as you commented for your new plant) cause technically, it was 18″ when I got it, however old it was, then maybe 8 months with me, last 4 months pretty much doubled in size… how tall was your tree when you started getting fruits?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Wynn
      I think my tree was (perhaps) three feet tall before it started producing fruit.
      As you noted, they do grow fast, so with the right conditions, you should get there quickly.

  10. Hi, I wanted to give my update a couple of months ago, but got too busy.

    So about 2-3 months ago after seeing several flowers bloom then dry up (I stopped doing the paintbrush pollination) i noticed that finally, I see a bulb starting to develop. Naturally, I got excited and waited, then waited… nothing happened. Maybe 1/8″size, it would just dry up also. It’s about 3.5 feet tall.

    Maybe it’s learning, practicing making real/ ripe ones -what do you think?

    Until now, it’s the same thing. Now, it’s mainly 68-70 degrees in there with 40-50 humidity. I’ll try to get it more space and warmer climate to about 50-60 humidity and see.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Wynn
      Thanks for the update.
      I agree that could be whats going on.
      Its not uncommon for a young/immature plant to abort fruit.
      Keep up the good work and I would think that you will start to get fruit next season.
      T

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