Origin: Jaboticaba’s are perhaps the most popular native fruit-bearers of Brazil. They have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times throughout Brazil not only for their fruit but also as ornamental trees. They were introduced to the United States in the early 1900’s.
Description: The bark of the Jaboticaba is very smooth, with a mottled creamy tan and reddish hue. The bark tends to peel off in curls as the trunk and branches expand. It is evergreen but sheds half its leaves each spring before new growth begins. The leaves are 1 to 2 inches in length, narrow and tapering to a point. They emerge pinkish but change to a light to medium green. It blooms several times a year during warm months. The flower is small and yellowish white and comes singly or in clusters from the trunk and main branches. Jaboticaba grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet in Brazil, but seldom exceeds 15 feet here in Florida.
Fruit: Fruit is mature 30 days after flowering. A mature tree will produce fruit 5 to 6 times a year. Grapelike in appearance but with a thicker and tougher maroon-purple to black skin. It ranges from a ½ to 1 and a ¼ inch in diameter. The whitish gelatinous pulp contains 1 to 4 seeds and has a pleasant grapelike flavor. The skin has a slightly turpentine but not unpleasant flavor. By squeezing the fruit between the thumb and forefinger, one can cause the skin to split and the fruit to slip into your mouth. The skin contains tannin and it is recommended to avoid ingesting it in large quantities. The fruit can be made into jelly, marmalade and wine. It has been our experience the solitary trees bear poorly compared to those planted in groups.
Location & Climate: Jaboticaba trees will take full sun or some shade. They are fairly wind tolerant but do not like salty sea air. Mature trees will tolerate minimums of 27 to 29 degrees for 2 to 3 hours if they are in good condition. In 1917 one very young tree in Brooksville survived a drop to 18 degrees with minimal die back of some foliage. However young or stressed trees should be protected during these temperatures.
Soil & Fertilizing: We grow our Jaboticaba trees for the first years in a 50 – 50 mix of Canadian peat and perlite. After their second year we move them to a mix of 50 – 50 hardwood cuttings and Florida peat. To this we add 20% sand and 30% perlite. We fertilize 4 times a year with a granular mix with a ratio of 17-5-11.
Watering: Abundant water is essential to survival. The root system of Jaboticaba is somewhat shallow and watering is generally required when the upper 1 to 2 inches of soil becomes dry. Wilting and browning at the leaf tips will occur when they become to dry.
Propagation: The preferred method of propagating Jaboticaba is from seeds. These are nearly always polyembryonic, producing 4 to 6 plants per seed. The seeds germinate in 20 to 40 days. Air layers tend to take up to 1 and a half years to obtain roots, and grafting is often unsuccessful. Growth of Jaboticaba is very slow, a seedling may take up to 3 years to reach 18 inches in height. Generally they will produce a few fruit in their sixth year, none in their seventh then have good production by their eighth year of age.
Pests & Diseases: There are no serious pests or diseases of the Jaboticaba in Florida. The fruit however will be scavenged by birds, opossums, and racoons.
Bonsai Notes: Jaboticaba sets heavy branches very quickly, especially towards the top of the tree. Remove heavy branches from nursery stock then train new growth as it develops. Wounds tend to heal very quickly. The wood does not die back so cuts can be made flush with the tree. Wiring should be done somewhat loosely during the growing season. Repot only in warmer weather. If the tree is healthy it is safe to remove up to 2/3 of the roots. Frequent watering in bonsai soil is a must. Neutral brown and soft blue colored pots contrast well with the bark and leaves.