From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
article from "Lost Crops of the Incas"
Prunus capuli, P. salicifolia or P. serotina
highland villages from Venezuela to southern Peru, the capuli is one of
the most common trees. Easily identifiable, it has been said to
characterize the Andean region much as the coconut palm typifies
Yet it is probably not an Andean native: capuli
(pronounced Ka-poo-lee) is an Aztec word, and most botanists believe
that Spaniards introduced the tree from Mexico or Central America in
Colonial times. Whatever its origin, this attractive tree has become so
popular that it is seen from one end of the Andes to the other,
especially around Indian settlements. In fact, it is now cultivated
much more in the Andes than in its probably northern homeland, and the
fruit is often much larger and more flavorful.
capuli fruits are abundantly available in Andean markets. Capuli is a
cousin of the commercial black and bing cherry, which it usually
resembles both in appearance and taste. However, fruits are carried on
short stalks and in bunches almost like grapes, and some taste like
plums. They are round and glossy and are maroon, purple, or black in
color. Their flesh is pale green and meaty, and most are juicy. The
skin is thin, but sufficiently firm for the fruits to be handled easily
without bruising. Although mostly eaten as fresh fruit, they can also
be stewed, preserved, or made into jam or wine.
This fruit could
become popular throughout much of the world. Although it grows in the
Andes at tropical latitudes, it thrives there only in cool upland areas
(2,200-3,100 m) at the Equator; fruit set occurs between 10-22°C.
It is therefore a plant for subtropical or warm temperate regions. Some
newly introduced specimens are growing particularly well in northern
areas of New Zealand, where little or no frost occurs.
its promise, the fruit also has a down side. The pit is rather large in
proportion to the size of the fruit. Also, there is usually a trace of
bitterness in the skin. However, in the best varieties it is so slight
as to be unobjectionable and the fruits compete well with imported
It is curious that this fruit doesn't have more
negative features because it has scarcely benefited from concentrated
horticultural improvement and so far has been propagated primarily by
seed. This is not because of any inherent difficulty: both grafting and
budding are easy and successful, and the plant also roots easily from
The tree is extremely vigorous. It sets
flowers and fruits heavily in its third - or even in its second - year
of growth. It eventually reaches 10m or more in height. Apparently, it
is not exacting in its soil requirements and grows well on any
reasonably fertile site. It can thrive in poor ground, even clays, and
seems to prefer dry sandy soils. Although resistant to damping-off,
powdery mildew, and other seedling diseases, it is susceptible to the
common black knot fungus and does not thrive in wet areas (areas
receiving 300-1800 mm are said to be best in Ecuador).
Sketch of Capuli Cherry twig with leaves and fruits
from bearing fruit, this is a useful, fast-growing timber and
reforestation species (because it produces in poor soils, cost of
production is also lowered). A few years after planting, its wood is
suitable for tool handles, posts, firewood and charcoal. After 6-8
years it yields an excellent reddish lumber for guitars, furniture,
coffins and other premium products. The wood is hard, is resistant to
insect and fungus damage, and sells at high prices. Young branches are
supple and strong, like willow canes, and the prunings are often used
to make baskets.
Capuli seems particularly suitable for
agroforestry systems. Its deep roots help prevent erosion, and it may
not dry the soil. It can be inter-planted with field crops such as
alfalfa, corn, and potatoes. It is a good plant for wind protection and
it acts like a biological barrier - the birds enjoy its fruits so much
they leave nearby crops alone.
Notes: Locally the fruit is often
just termed 'cherry' ('cereza' or 'guinda'). Little-used Quechua names
are 'murmuntu' and 'ussum'. In English, it is sometimes called
The name Prunus capuli is used extensively in
agricultural and horticultural publications. Research indicates that
the capuli is actually a large-fruited subspecies of the North American
black cherry, formally designated as Prunus serotina subsp. capuli.
Notes: The above is only the first part of the "Lost Crops" article on
the Capuli Cherry. The fruit is also sometimes called the Capulin, or Prunus salicifolia or Prunus serotina Ehrh. subsp. capuli (Cav.) McVaugh). However, the name Capulin is also applied to two other quite unrelated fruits, Muntingia calabura (from Tropical America) in the Elaeocarpaceae Family and Eugenia acapulescens (from Mexico) in the Myrtaceae.
Capulin Cherry Page