In early spring, Surinam Cherry opens its fragrant white flowers, and the fruits are ready to pick 3 to 4 weeks later.
They can bloom several times per year, often corresponding to seasonal rains.
In Florida, the main crop ripens over a three month period in the spring. As the fruit matures, it undergoes a rapid color change from green to yellow to orange to bright red, and in some genetic strains, to black. The fruits are about an inch in diameter and have prominent ribs running from top to bottom.
When fully ripe, the fruit is very juicy. A few people find the flavor of fresh-picked fruit to be disagreeable but the fruit can also be made into jams, jellies, pies, and ice cream. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes make a distilled liqueur. Over the years I have made many delicious pints of Surinam Cherry jam!
Adequate water during the fruiting period will increase the size and sweetness of the fruit. The flavor of picked fruit can supposedly be improved by removing the seed and refrigerating the pulp. In tropical climates the fruit is susceptible to damage by fruit flies.
Surinam Cherry is likely the most widely grown species among the 42 members of the Eugenia genus. It has many common names including Brazilian Cherry and Pitanga. It is native to a large part of South America from Suriname to southern Brazil. It has been spread by humans to most tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world and will grow in USDA Zones 9-11.
Eugenia uniflora will grow in almost any soil type and is very drought-tolerant once established.
The plant can be sheared into a tight hedge but fruit production is much better if left unpruned. Full sun is the best exposure for fruit production, although plants grown as hedges will tolerate shady locations.
The leaves are a shiny green and new growth is bright red giving the plant additional ornamental value. The natural growth habit is as a large shrub or small tree. They grow with multiple trunks in a vase shape. Left unpruned, they can reach a height of about 25 foot.
Dropped seed germinates readily and this plant is invasive in Hawaii and most of Florida. Do not plant this Eugenia if you live in these areas. In central Florida, I have removed several large specimens from my property and every year there are literally hundreds of seedlings coming up around the plants that remain.
In addition to its edible fruit, Eugenia uniflora has some other uses. The leaves have been spread on floors in Brazil, where their resinous fragrance repels flies. The bark contains 20-30% tannin and can be used to treat leather. The flowers are a rich source of pollen for bees, and birds are attracted to the fruit