Is­land gar­den­ing

Island Life - - Contents -

With Cor­nelia Wyl­lie.

Iam blind­folded and asked to iden­tify a fruit. I ten­ta­tively take a round ob­ject into my mouth. It is smooth and firm. I let my tongue pop the berry. It is sweet and has two small seeds in­side. I guess it is a grape. The blind­fold is re­moved. Nope, it is not a grape. The fruit look like grapes with a dark ma­roon skin but they are grow­ing off a tree trunk. The flesh is semi trans­par­ent to milky white. I had just eaten a Jaboticaba. This de­li­cious fruit grows in Van­u­atu and it is a pity that more Jaboticaba is not grown here. I could easily have stood by the three -me­tre tall tree and con­tin­ued to pluck away, it is that de­li­cious! Jaboticaba is a bushy, multi-branch­ing shrub that can reach five me­tres in height. The canopy can be as wide as the bush is tall. It grows best in rich, deep soils away from salty coastal winds and it makes an ex­cel­lent gar­den tree. Flow­er­ing off the stem is called ‘cauliflora’. The flow­ers are honey scented and the fruit is ready to eat within 30 days of flow­er­ing. New growth has a cop­pery tinge and is ex­tremely at­trac­tive and the leaves are small and look like most Myr­taceae. Any fruit­ing tree that is as pro­duc­tive as this should have a per­ma­nent place in the gar­den. It yields be­tween 500 to 800 kg of fruit per tree, which is not some­thing to be ig­nored. Van­u­atu is as good a home for Jaboticaba as its na­tive home in the south of Brazil and a prop­a­ga­tion pro­gram for jaboticaba fruit to be­come more read­ily avail­able for the tourist and lo­cal trade, as juice and fruit, would be an as­set to our reper­toire of won­der­ful trop­i­cal fruit. Prop­a­gat­ing Jaboticaba is easy as the seeds are ‘polyem­bronic’. This means it will pro­duce a plant that is true or close to the par­ent plant. Air lay­er­ing or soft­wood cut­tings is another op­tion to rapidly mul­ti­ply a good se­lec­tion. Graft­ing a young tree will pro­duce fruit in three years whilst al­low­ing the seedling to ma­ture will de­lay the fruit­ing cy­cle for up to 15 years. The abun­dance of fruit has not yet at­tracted the my­nah birds, per­haps be­cause the fruit is in­side the canopy of the bush and on the trunks, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for the birds to reach. Fruit­ing cy­cles can con­tinue most of the year with four peaks of flow­er­ing cy­cles. Long pe­ri­ods of dry­ness will cause the flow­ers to dry off so a lit­tle wa­ter will en­sure bumper crops. Pun­nets of fruit can be eaten fresh as one would eat grapes and the shelf life is re­stricted to a cou­ple of days as they soon start to fer­ment and lose their flavour. Work is be­ing done to ex­tend the shelf life of the fruit for com­mer­cial farm­ers, such as spe­cial nutri­tion regimes at flow­er­ing and mod­i­fied at­mos­phere pack­ag­ing. If a sur­plus was ever reached, the skins of the jaboticaba make an ex­cel­lent con­serve and the fruit it­self pro­duces co­pi­ous amounts of juice. While I did not no­tice any pest or dis­eases on the tree I was graz­ing on, I would ex­pect that rots or rust dur­ing the wet sea­son may be­come a chal­lenge if there is not enough air­flow. But this is a for­mi­da­ble tree, easy to grow in Van­u­atu and with plenty of ben­e­fits. And like most fruit grown in Van­u­atu it has never been sprayed so it’s safe and flavour­some – a plea­sure to eat. Cor­nelia Wyl­lie is the care­taker of Rain­bow Botanic Gar­dens. She is well-known for her in depth knowl­edge of trop­i­cal plants and gar­den­ing. Rain­bow Gar­dens Nurs­ery and the Botan­i­cal Gar­dens is open Mon­day to Fri­day 7.30 am to 5 pm, Satur­day 7.30 to 12 pm and af­ter hours by ap­point­ment. Take a tour of the Gar­dens to view Van­u­atu’s fan­tas­tic range of trop­i­cal plants. Con­tact Tudsie on 77 26720 to book a Gar­den Tour. Con­tact Cor­nelia to ar­range func­tions and cater­ing on 77 24720.

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