Jabuticaba (Plinia cauliflora) is the fruit of the the Jabuticabeira tree in the family Myrtaceae native to Minas Gerais and São Paulo states in southeastern Brazil. Related species in the genus Myrciaria, often referred to by the same common name, are native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia. The tree is grown for its purplish-black, white-pulped fruits. Other common names include Brazilian Grape Tree, Jaboticaba, Jabotica, Jabuticabeira, Guaperu, Guapuru, Hivapuru, Sabará and Yvapurũ (Guarani). The fruits grown on Jabuticaba tree can easily be mistaken with plums or red grapes; that’s how it got its name Brazilian Grape Tree.
The name jabuticaba, derived from the Tupi word Jabuti (tortoise) + Caba (place), meaning the place where you find tortoises. The Guarani name is “Yvapurũ”, where yva means fruit, and the onomatopoeic word purũ for the crunching sound the fruit produces when bitten.
While all jabuticaba species are subtropical and can tolerate mild, brief frosts, some species may be marginally more cold-tolerant. Commercial cultivation of the fruit in the Northern Hemisphere is more restricted by extremely slow growth and the short shelf-life of fruit than by temperature requirements. Grafted plants may bear fruit in 5 years; seed grown trees may take 10 to 20 years to bear fruit, though their slow growth and small size when immature make them popular as bonsai or container ornamental plants in temperate regions.
The fruits look as if they may have been pinned there by an over enthusiastic gardener to impress the neighbors but they really do grow off the trunk of the tree.
Jabuticaba fruits can be eaten raw or be used to make jellies and drinks (plain juice, wine or a strong liquor). After three days off the tree the fermentation will begin so sometimes, there is no choice.
The tree is a slow-growing evergreen. If you want one of these in your garden then you have to be patient. The tree takes an age to grow, but once it reaches maturity it is worth it. However, it has proven to be very adaptable and although it prefers moist and slightly acid soils it will even grow well in an alkaline type soil.
The flowers themselves appear on the tree at most twice a year – naturally. They look like some strange alien creature that has deposited itself on the trunk and branches. The habit of flowers doing this makes them cauliflorous. Instead of growing new shoots these plants flower direct from the woody trunk or stem.
You might ask why it is this way. The simple answer is that it has evolved in this manner so that animals that cannot climb very high can reach it, eat it and then expel the seeds away from the parent tree to further propagate the species.
If the tree is well irrigated then it will flower and fruit all the year round. The fruit itself is about four centimeters in diameter and has up to four large seeds.
Due to the extremely short shelf-life, fresh jabuticaba fruit is very rare in markets outside of areas of cultivation. The skin of the fruit is very high in tannin and is very bitter. Traditionally, an astringent decoction of the sun-dried skins has been used as a treatment for hemoptysis, asthma, diarrhoea, and gargled for chronic inflammation of the tonsils.
Several potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory anti-cancer compounds have been isolated from the fruit. One that is unique to the fruit is jaboticabin.
In Brazil, it is common to refer to something allegedly unique to the country as a “jabuticaba” since the tree supposedly only grows in Brazil. It is usually a pejorative expression