Solanaceae (Nightshade family)

Golden, marble-sized berries are surrounded by elongated, papery calyx leaves that form a balloonlike husk around the fruit.

Description. Small herbaceous or soft-wooded plant, 0.5-1.5 m (2-4 ft) tall, with spreading branches. Alternate, heart-shaped leaves, 5-12 cm (2-5 in) wide, with pointed apices. Yellowish flowers with purplish-brown spots at the base of petals are borne in leaf axils. Golden, marble-sized berries are surrounded by elongated, papery calyx leaves that form a balloonlike husk around the fruit. The juicy flesh of the fruit, which contains numerous tiny seeds, has a pleasant sweet, grapelike taste.


Origin and Distribution. Native to mountainous regions of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. The plant, which grows at elevations between 1,000 and 3,000 m (3,300-10,000 ft) in the Andean mountains, is adapted to a cool high-altitude climate. It was extensively grown by pre-Columbian cultures of South and Central America. Starting around 1800, the plant was cultivated by early settlers in the Cape region of South Africa. From there it spread to Asia and Australia, where it has become naturalized in several areas. Today the Cape gooseberry is grown in many tropical and subtropical countries. Food uses. The fruits are eaten fresh or used in fruit salads and desserts. They are made into sauces, pie fillings, chutneys, jams, and ice cream. In Colombia the fruits are served stewed with honey. Because of their exotic appearance, the fruits in their papery husks are sometimes used to garnish various restaurant dishes. In tropical America, the fruit halves are used in avocado salads. Cape gooseberries are commonly canned in syrup.

Comments. The plant has acquired several colloquial names. Besides the two mentioned above, the fruit is also called golden berry, Inca berry, and Peruvian ground cherry.

Description. Semiwoody annual shrub 1-1.5 m (3-4 ft) tall. Alternate, ovate leaves with pointed apex 4-7 cm (1.6-2.8 in) long by 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6 in) wide. Hermaphroditic yellow flowers with reddish-brown spots are borne in leaf axils. Green, reddish-green, or greenish-yellow oblate to globose fruits 4-6 cm (1.6- 2.4 in) long, covered in dry, papery calyx leaves. Flesh yellowish-green, juicy with a mild, subacid flavor.

Origin and Distribution. Native to mountainous regions from central Mexico south to Guatemala. The to-matillo was widely cultivated by Aztecs and Mayans in pre-Columbian times. It grows best in cooler mountain climates. Grown commercially in subtropical areas of India as well as in Australia and South Africa.

Food uses. Ripe fruits are eaten out of hand. The fruit is an essential ingredient in the traditional, ubiquitous Mexican salsa verde (green sauce), which contains green tomatillos, jalapeno chili peppers, garlic, onion, and spices. Often used as a vegetable in stews, meat dishes, soups, and Asian curries. Fruits are used to make jams, marmalades, and chutneys.

Comments. The Aztecs called the fruit tomatl, meaning round and plump. In Mexico the local nomenclature often causes confusion, since the common red tomato is called jitomate and the green tomatillo, tomate. Tomatillos are a good source of vitamins C and K, potassium, and fiber.

Description. Perennial, semiwoody, evergreen vine, 2-4 m (7-20 ft) tall. Alternate, heart-shaped, hairy leaves 8-14 cm (3-5.5 in) long by 6-12 cm (2.4-5 in) wide with serrated margins. Flowers monoecious with small white male flowers and pairs of female flowers at the base of the inflorescence. Fruits, which ripen from green to brown, are star-shaped capsules 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) wide with usually 4 but sometimes up to 7 distinct lobes. Ripe fruits contain several round, flattened, dark brown seeds, 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in) long.

Origin and Distribution. Native to the western Amazon lowlands and the eastern slopes of the Andes of Peru, where the plant grows in wet tropical rainforests from sea level to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). South American indigenous tribes have used the seeds and leaves as a food staple for at least 3,000 years.

Food uses. The seeds, which are inedible when raw, develop a mild, nutty flavor after being roasted. They are commonly eaten with salt or sugar and are sometimes coated with chocolate and sold as snacks. The seeds also provide a light brown edible oil of high quality, used in the preparation of a wide variety of meals.

Comments. The seeds of the sacha inchi plant are very nutritious, containing 35-60% oil rich in unsaturated fats and vitamins A and E, and about 27% protein. Further, the seeds contain all essential amino acids and are a very good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as minerals and fiber.

The plant is also called Inca peanut or Inca nut. Both names are misleading since the plant was cultivated millennia before the Incas’ reign and the fruit is botanically not a nut.

Description. Large evergreen tree, 25-30 m (80115 ft) or in some cases up to 50 m (165 ft) tall, with an irregular, dense crown, gray bark, and often large buttresses. Alternate, paripinnate leaves up to 1 m (3 ft) long with 4-8 pairs of oblong to lanceolate leaflets 15-30 cm (6-12 in) long. Small, monoecious, white to yellowish-green flowers are borne in terminal panicles. Fruits variable in shape and color. Usually round to oval with smooth, greenish, yellow-green, purple, reddish, or brown skin. Gelatinous, translucent to white, sweet, juicy pulp with a single large seed.

Origin and Distribution. The tree grows naturally in a vast region ranging from Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands throughout Southeast Asia, with extension to southern China, Vietnam, Malesia, and the South Pacific as far as Samoa, Tonga, and Niue.

The Fiji longan is often cultivated within its natural range, especially on the southern Pacific islands. Rarely grown elsewhere.

Food uses. The ripe fruit is consumed fresh as a seasonal fruit. It is similar in taste to the lychee (Litchi chinensis), but less aromatic. The edible seed is eaten boiled or roasted.

Comments. During the fruiting season, matoa fruits are in high demand and widely sold in markets, but they are usually not exported. The fruit is mainly of local importance, lacking the appeal and superior taste of the lychee and rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum).

The matoa is also a valuable timber tree. The durable wood is used in construction and furniture making.

Description. Small evergreen tree 6-10 m (20-33 ft) tall. Opposite, glabrous, elliptic to ovate-elliptic leaves 10-25 cm (4-10 in) long by 5-15 cm (2-6 in) wide. Very showy, sweetly fragrant white flowers are produced in drooping clusters at tips of branches with tubelike corollas 8-16 cm (3-6.3 in) long. Orange-yellow, globose fruits with smooth, thick skin and several translucent-orange seeds covered in a thin layer of mealy orange pulp.

Origin and Distribution. Native to the American tropics from Mexico to northern South America. The tree grows naturally in the understory of wet tropical forests; it also grows in seasonally dry tropical forests, where it is often confined to river margins and moist pockets. It is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental. Food uses. Ripe fruits are opened and the soft, sweet aril around the seeds is eaten. Although fruits have very little pulp, they do have a delicious flavor reminiscent of a blend of mango (Mangifera indica, p. 147) and banana (Musa sp., p. 157).

Comments. Although of not much value as a fruit tree, the needle flower tree is a little-known and underestimated ornamental for tropical gardens and parks. It combines fairly compact growth with glossy dark green foliage and masses of large, very fragrant white flowers and conspicuous yellow-orange fruits. The flowers, which are particularly fragrant at night, are pollinated by nocturnal hawk moths, which have exceptionally long tongues, enabling them to reach the nectar in the corolla tubes, which can measure up to 16 cm (6.3 in) in length.

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