Forest & Kim Starr
Plant Common Name
Brazilian Cherry, Pitanga, Surinam Cherry
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
Fresh, new leaves emerge coppery while the fragrant white blossoms of the Surinam cherry soon develop into acidy, spicy, dark red fruits that look like tiny pumpkins. An evergreen tree often used as a hedge in tropical areas, it is native to northern South America. The abundant fruit production can result in birds scattering around fruits and creating a nuisance of new seedlings across the landscape.
The rich green, glossy leaves are oval-shaped with an acute point. When young, the leaves are a light green to coppery tint. The fragrant, bee-attracting white flowers appear heavily in the warmth of spring and early summer, soon followed by small yellow fruits. When at this stage, they are very bitter tasting but can be pickled. As the fruit ripen they become first bright red and then a deeper red, signaling that they have lost most of their bitterness and have much more sweetness in their juicy flesh. The fruit's flavor ranges from peppery and sour (bright red) to spicy and sweet (darker red). They can be used in preserves or as fresh juice. In cooler regions the evergreen leaves may take on a burgundy or reddened blush.
Grow Surinam cherry in full to partial sun in any fertile, well-draining soil. Sandy soils should have a thick mulch topping over the tree's root zone. Tolerant of drought and moderate exposure to saltspray, it is a great shade tree or roadside median plant as well as shearable for tall hedges and screens. If pruned as a formal hedge, fruiting is typically sacrificed. Birds will eat the fruits and scatter the viable seeds across the landscape; volunteer seedlings grow under mother plants as well as across a garden. Fruits also attract fruitflies.
Surinam cherry is considered invasive in certain tropical regions, such as southern Florida and Hawaii. It will create a thicket that will shade out understory native plants.
Two forms of this tree are known, one with red fruits, another with nearly black fruits that are known to taste much sweeter. Cultivar 'Lolita' often forms two crops a year with small, blakc fruits while 'Nacha' has larger red but acidy fruits. Both 'Vermilion' and 'Black' have large fruits with a flavor like a nectarine.
AHS Heat Zone
12 - 9
USDA Hardiness Zone
10 - 12
H1, H2, 21, 22, 23, 24
Full Sun, Partial Sun
20'-33' / 6.1m - 10.1m
10'-15' / 3.0m - 4.6m
Early Spring, Spring
South America, Brazil
Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline
Pollution, Drought, Salt
Drought Tolerant, Average Water
Edible, Fruit / Fruit Tree, Hedges, Screening / Wind Break, Tropical
Sharp or Has Thorns