Jamaica Cherry – Muntingia Calabura


PLANT FAMILY: Muntingiaceae Flowering Trees

BOTANICAL NAME: Muntingia Calabura


OTHER COMMON NAMES: Strawberry Tree, Panama Berry, Jamfruit, Aratilis, Vene Vene, Capulin Blanco, Chitato, Bolina, Calabura, Cedrillo, Bois D’Orme, Memiso, Cereza, Takhop Farang, Cay Trung Ca, Buah Cheri, Panjasaara Pazham, Chinese Cherry, Japanese Cherry

PLANT RELATIVES: Dicraspidia Donnell-Smithii, Neotessmannia Uniflora Burret

EDIBLE PARTS: Fruit, Leaves for tea

Fruit, Flowers and Leaves

Can you believe how beautiful the berries of the Jamaica cherry tree are? Their rosy color and eye-catching metallic sheen remind me of tiny ornaments hanging from the tree’s branches. Because the lovely fruit falls easily to the ground, there’s a precious feel collecting berries off the tree. Even the generous leaves have a delicate character. They’re soft and suede-like.

Muntingia calabura is native to southern Mexico, Central America, tropical South America, and some Caribbean islands. It’s prized as an ornamental as well as a back yard fruit source. It’s easy to understand why it has spread to many tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

Though muntingia calabura is widely cultivated and fruits year-round, commercial production is mostly non-existent. It would take a while to pick a good lot of the tiny, thin-skinned berries. Plus, I am thinking they wouldn’t last long on a shelf. Thus, I suspect most people rely on collecting the fruit straight off trees or the kind graces of a friend who has done so. For these reasons, I consider it a real treat to have even a handful.

Wondering what they taste like? Well, don’t let the name strawberry tree, from Florida, throw you off. That moniker is actually a reference to the flowers resembling those of strawberry plants. Likewise, the word cherry is misleading. Muntingia calabura doesn’t have a pit inside and isn’t tart. Instead, it has tiny imperceptible seeds, and a flavor like…..are you ready for this? Cotton candy!

The leaves make a pleasant tasting tisane. Surprisingly, the green leaves turn a light golden color similar to chamomile tea. The mouthfeel is very soft, and I find sipping the tea relaxing. Like so many tropical plants, Jamaica cherry has a long list of medicinal benefits.

A Rare Family

If all these things aren’t rare enough, I find it interesting how exclusive muntingia calabura’s plant family is. There are only three genera in the family. The family is called Muntingiaceae and all three genera are flowering trees. Of note is the fact that each tree is it’s own singular species. Of the three, only Jamaica cherry goes by common names.

Indeed, the rarest of the two siblings is Neotessmannia Uniflora Burret. It’s confined to its native habitat in Amazonian Peru. I searched high and low but couldn’t find any photos of its fruit and flowers. It would be so exciting to know someone who has actually seen this species. Be sure and ring me up if that person is you.

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8 months ago

Oh cotton candy, I want to try, hope that I will find some one day!

8 months ago
Reply to  Elise

I hope you can too. They are an amazing fruit! I’ll keep you in mind when they ripen again and I can pick a few.