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Pitanga (Eugenia uniflora), the Surinam Cherry

May 16, 2020

Discover the incredible medicinal properties of this Amazonian fruit. We also show you how to grow it in a pot and in a bonsai.

The pitanga, or surinam cherry, is a fruit found in its wild form from the Guyanas and Venezuela, and passing through Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Pitanga belongs to the class Magnoliopsida, subclass Rosidae, order Myrtales, family Myrtaceae. Its scientific name is Eugenia uniflora L., and is also known as 帽angapiry, capul铆, or cayenne cherry.

The pitanga has various names, depending on the country, such as: array谩n and 帽angapiri in Argentina; the Brazil cherry, Suriname cherry, Cayenne cherry, and Florida pitanga cherry in English-speaking countries; cherry from Surinam, currant from Mexico and pitanga in Spanish-speaking countries; and Cayenne cherry and cherry from Suriname in French-speaking countries (Fouqu茅, 1981; Villachica et al., 1996).

The word Pitanga is derived from the Tupi-Guarani word pytang媒, which means reddish, in reference to the color of its fruits.

Under free-growing conditions, the pitanga plant is a shrub of the Myrtaceae family, measuring approximately 7.5 m to 8 m in height, grown as a branching shrub from the base or as a 1.5 m high living fence (Morton, 1987; Villachica, 1987). et al., 1996).

Its foliage is persistent, its roots are deep and large, its branches are thin and uneven, its leaves have a bronze color with a membranous consistency when they are young, and when the leaves are adult they have a dark green coloration and sometimes have reddish colorations in the winter. Its blade is oval-lanceolate and has a size between 2.5 to 7.0 cm wide and 1.2 to 3.5 cm long, and its ribbing is rounded and shiny. (Lorenzi,1998).

The plants are seed-propagated and begin to produce fruit between three and four years of age. Even when grafted, they can produce a great number of fruit with good flavor and high antioxidant content within a year after grafting (Griffi s et al., 2009).


How to plant pitanga

The planting of pitanga is done mainly by seeds and it is advisable to plant it in the spring in order to benefit the germination process and for its good development. Initially it has a slow growth and needs some shade.

The plant is resistant to strong winds and very low temperatures. It has a certain tolerance to dry soils, and it does very well in semi-arid conditions, as long as the soil is provided with a minimum amount of water to keep it moist.

It grows well in different types of soils, both sandy and sandy-clay and also in stony soils (Villachica et al., 1996).

The following steps can be followed to plant pitanga:

  1. The planting location should be outdoors, in full sun or semi-shade.
  2. The soil needs to have good drainage.
  3. Care for the shrub by watering it every 2 days during the summer and every 4 to 5 days during the rest of the year.
  4. It is advisable to fertilize with phosphorus-rich fertilizers to improve fruit quality.
  5. Germination will be effective after approximately one month. (Tropical Agronomy, 2010)

Description and characteristics of pitanga cultivation

In order to plant the pitanga, a good systematization of the soil and a good supply of organic matter is required with enough time to achieve good weed control.

Planting should be done on canals that also have a minimum slope to allow good external drainage of the soil.

To plant the pitanga tree, always use seeds that are almost new because they can germinate just a month after being planted.

If a seed is older than four weeks, its fruit will not be the same or the plant will not bear as expected. In addition, irrigation is a fundamental element to obtain a plant of optimum productive size in the shortest possible time.

It is recommended that pitanga not be planted at the beginning of the rainy season; it is preferable to plant it on cloudy days to avoid dehydration (de Melo Silva, 2006).

If pitanga is planted in soils with high clay content, it will have a slower growth.

Pitanga should be planted during a frost-free period, taking into account the water deficit during the summer months. In this sense, spring is the most propitious time to carry out plantings, given that there is generally rainfall and it is not a period of frost (Vignale, et al., 2018).

The flavor of pitanga

The fruit of the pitanga is classified as a globe-shaped berry, flattened at the poles, with 7-10 grooves or indentations more or less marked lengthwise, 1.5-5.0 cm in diameter. When the ripening process begins, the fruit turns from green to yellow, passing through orange to red and reaching a dark red (Sanchotene, 1985).

The pulp of the fruit is very juicy and aromatic; its flavor is slightly acidic, making it very appetizing, and it can be consumed directly from the tree or in the form of preserves, jams, salads, juices, ice creams and pastries. Also, some people macerate it in alcohol, producing a liquor of an unmistakable and tasty flavor. It is also useful in perfumery.

Eugenia uniflora fruits
Eugenia uniflora fruits.
Guilherme Barbaresco / CC BY-SA

The pitanga offers a great variety of colored fruits such as red, pink, red-violet, almost black, giving it a great diversity of flavors. The fruit is rich in vitamin A, phosphorus, calcium and iron, from which wine or vinegar can also be produced.

The fruit is small, with an intense and characteristic aroma and contains tannins with staining pigments. Each fruit contains one or two large seeds. The fruit is rich in lycopene, and the pulp is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and iron (Hoyos, 1989).

Pitanga in pots

The potted pitanga reaches approximately three to four meters in height. The fruits appear isolated or in clusters with two or three fruits in the new ones and are born in full sunlight or under shade. It develops easily without fertilizers and responds favorably to the application of water (Griffi’s, et al., 2009).

Caring for the potted plant is simple; it should be planted and taken outdoors where in summer it should receive good sunlight on all its leaves; and in other seasons, it should also be exposed to full sun, always keeping the soil moist because its flowering and fruiting depend on sun exposure.

It is a plant that requires excessive water consumption. It should be watered daily during the hot season (summer) and sometimes it must be watered several times a day to maintain humidity. In the cold seasons it is important to make sure that the soil is not completely dry, but if the soil is too wet, it can cause fungi that can kill the bush.

The maintenance of the plant is easy; it can even be pruned with scissors, starting by cutting the branches that are deteriorated, but it should not be pruned too much, to avoid removing the branches with good wood needed for the growth of the fruit.

To achieve a dense foliage, pitanga in hedges can withstand intense and continuous pruning. Hedge pruning is easy and can be done with scissors, starting by cutting the small branches, those that are not even, to avoid the indiscriminate growth of the plant; also, pruning the new wood will eliminate the wood where the flowers appear (Griffi’s, et al., 2009).

After being pruned as a shrub, the pitanga is cultivated as an ornamental plant in parks and gardens.

Pitanga Bonsai

Bonsai is a word of Japanese origin that literally means bon = tray + sai = to cultivate (although etymologically it comes from the Chinese term penjing or penzai, meaning p茅n = tray + z膩i = plant) which consists of the art of cultivating trees and plants, reducing the size so that it is much smaller than its natural size by means of techniques such as transplanting, pruning, wiring, clipping, etc., and giving it its natural shape but in miniature. For this effect it is necessary to pot the plant. (D铆ez and Bl谩zquez, 2015).

As the pitanga is a tree, it should be grown outdoors, preferably in soil, and then potted so that it can be worked as a bonsai. Ideally, it should be left to grow for about three years before being potted. The transplant of the pitanga bonsai should be done every two years, always in the spring season. Being a tropical plant, the pitanga requires abundant sun; however, once it adapts to the pot, you must be aware of the soil substrate, because if it does not have enough nutrients, the plant will grow and can be worked as a small tree, but it will never emit fruits.

As for the care of a pitanga Bonsai, the tools that will be used for pruning must be taken into account. This tree handles pruning very well; therefore, it is the best way to shape it. It requires a lot of sun to grow in a healthy way.

The flower

The flowers are white, long and abundant; they are formed on a base of two branches, composed of four to eight hermaphrodite flowers. The tree usually blooms in the spring and summer and its seven petals have a length of 2 to 3 cm long, are very thin, and with numerous whitish stamens.

The flowers are softly perfumed and are composed of four oblong-elliptic sepals of 2.5 to 4.0 mm. The corolla is formed by four free petals, cream-white, thin, oval and measure between 6 to 8 mm in length. The flowers have dozens of yellow stamens with abundant pollen. Its ovaries are smooth with eight protuberances. (Sanchotene, 1985).

Pitanga flower - Eugenia uniflora
Pitanga flower – Eugenia uniflora
Carlos E. Perez S.L / CC BY-SA

When winter arrives, both the flowers and the leaves of this tree turn beautiful and give a white to reddish color. Its flowers are medicinal, used to soothe stomach pain, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches, among other ailments (Vignale, et al., 2018).

Pitanga leaf tea and its uses

Studies reveal that the Amazonian aborigines used the pitanga leaf as a digestive and anti-diarrheal drink, just by chewing its leaf or as an infusion. The leaves contain an alkaloid called pitanguine, a substitute for quinine, with antifebrile, balsamic, antirheumatic and antigout properties.

The leaves are effective when used to gargle and soothe throat irritation. It is also effective for gastrointestinal disorders, stomach tonic, hypotensive, antitussive, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, cardiotonic (Arrillaga, 1997).

It is a species widely used in folk medicine, for the aforementioned reasons. A digestive and general toning action of the system are attributed to the leaves. They use it in the same manner as coca leaves, which are chewed after meals or at any time during long walks, to give energy (Dime benef铆cios, 2018).

It is worth noting that the leaves dried in the shade can simply replace tea as an aromatic and digestive beverage, and it has also been suggested that pitanga tea could be the basis of a new industry, being able to compete with imported teas.

The leaves can also be used as insect repellant when spread on the ground in areas where flies abound, since when crushed they release a resin that repels them.

The plant has great diuretic, anti diarrheal, and digestive properties, and is also used for throat conditions, such as infections. It is also used to solve gastrointestinal problems, as a cough suppressant, and serves as a hypotensive because it has the ability to reduce blood pressure. Because it has beta-blockers, it is an ideal antispasmodic, antirheumatic, astringent, and depurative, among other benefits.

Among the most important nutrients of the pitanga fruit, we can mention the following:

  • Antioxidants
  • Calcium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Protein
  • Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 and C.

The fruit contains a lot of liquid, i.e., 90% of this fruit is composed of water, which is ideal to assist or contribute to the perfect hydration of the body.

It is used to lose weight since it is low in calories and is the best option to include in hypocaloric food plans.

A fragrance can be derived from an unprecedented natural ingredient extracted from pitanga leaves. With an essential oil extracted from the leaves of the pitanguera, a symbol of the Amazon tropics, this fragrance combines tropical, vibrant and fresh notes.

This fruit as an important source of fiber, allowing better intestinal function, helping to improve and control blood glucose levels, and lowering cholesterol in the blood.

The pitanga contains phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and minerals that allow a better functioning of the body when suffering from muscle contractions and heart problems.

Pitanga NATURA

All the qualities that this fruit possesses were first discovered and used by indigenous peoples. Besides being used in gastronomy, it is also used in natural medicine. Some indigenous ethnic groups believe that the pitangueira leaves have a mystical value.

These leaves have been widely used in the religious cults of candombl茅 (of African origin) and umbanda (urban Afro-Brazilian spiritualism) and also to cover the floor of spaces and streets at the time of processions, as well as on holidays (Noemi, 2018).

From the fruit of the pitanga we take advantage of the properties of vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 and C, and the essential oils for the manufacture of creams, soaps, colognes and cosmetics for skin care, hair care, and personal care.

This led to the creation of the Pitanga Natura around 2010, which belongs to the Brazilian perfume and cosmetics brand Natura, founded in 1969 with the purpose of taking advantage of the active principle and the natural perfume of this fruit (Natura, 2019).

Fruit properties

As the fruit has vitamin C, there are many benefits for the skin, such as keeping the skin soft and, being comprised mostly of water, it allows the skin to be more hydrated and free of dryness.

Also for the care of the skin, the extract or oil of the pitanga, due to its nutrients, can usually remove impurities and premature aging due to long exposure to the sun. It moisturizes and leaves the skin soft, firm and scented with a pleasant smell of the fruit.

The properties of this fruit, especially the high content of tannins, are ideal to assist hair growth and give more strength to the hair.

It is beneficial for the entire immune system because it has vitamin C, and is ideal for strengthening the immune system, managing to prevent infections throughout the body.

It is a stimulant for the production of red and white blood cells. This fruit, like the rambutan, has copper and manganese properties. Copper is essential for the body to produce red and white blood cells. On the other hand, manganese helps in the reproduction of enzymes that are necessary for the proper functioning of the whole organism.


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