Fruit Facts from
California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
© Copyright 1997, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Prunus salicifolia HBK.
Common Names: Capulin Cherry, Capulin, Capuli, Tropic Cherry.
Related Species: Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium), Western Sand Cherry (P. besseyi), Myrobalan Plum (P. cerasifera), Sour Cherry (P. cerasus), European Plum (P. domestica), Beach plum (P. maritima), Japanese Plum (P. salicina), Nanking Cherry (P. tomentosa), Common Chokecherry (P. virginiana) and others.
Distant Affinity: Almond (Amygdalus communis), Peach (A. persica), Apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris), Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), Apple (Malus spp.), Pear (Pyrus spp.) and others.
The capulin cherry is native and common throughout the Valley of Mexico
from Sonora to Chiapas and Veracruz and possibly western Guatemala. It
has been cultivated since early times and is extensively naturalized in
Central America and over much of western South America. Today it is
cultivated in the Andes more than in its northern homeland and at
harvest the fruits are abundantly available in Andean markets. The tree
was introduced into California sometime after the mid-1920s.
Capulins are adapted to a subtropical to subtemperate climate. In its
native and naturalized areas it is grows naturally at elevations
between 4,000 and 9,000 ft. It is frost tolerant, withstanding 19°
F with some damage to the smaller branches. In California the tree
grows and fruits in many regions of the state. Capulin cherries are
photo period insensitive and do not require winter chill to bear fruit.
The trees are not recommended for containers.
The semi-deciduous tree is erect and somewhat umbrella-shaped with a
short, stout trunk and rough, grayish bark. It is very fast growing and
reaches a height of 10 feet in 12 to 18 months, eventually attaining a
height of 30 feet or more. In mild climates the tree does not shed its
leaves in winter. Capulin cherries are quite attractive, both when in
bloom with dangling racemes covered with masses of flowers and after
fruit set when the racemes are thick with green, light red or deep red
The alternate, aromatic leaves are about 4-1/2 inches long, slender,
with serrated edges. They are deep glossy green above and pale
grayish-green beneath. New leaves are often rosy.
The flowers appear in early spring and are borne on slender racemes
with one or more leaves at the base. Individual flowers are about 3/4
inch wide with white petals and a conspicuous tuft of stamens.
Cross-pollination is not required.
As many as 15 or 20 fruits sometimes develop on a raceme, but half or
more fall before reaching maturity. Depending on climate and variety,
they ripen from mid-May to midsummer. Resembling the northern cherry,
the fruits are 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter and deep glossy maroon to
dark purple in color, with a thin, tender skin. The pale green, firm,
juicy flesh is sweet and agreeable with a touch of astringency similar
to wild cherries in some cases. The pit is rather large in proportion
to the size of the fruit. The trees will produce fruit 2 to 3 years
after planting, and under the right conditions will set more than one
crop per season. For reasons unknown trees with gray bark seem to
produce larger fruit than those with darker bark.
Location: Capulins should be planted in full sun. Stake young trees carefully to protect from strong winds.
The trees are not exacting in their soil requirements and grow well on
any reasonably fertile site. They can thrive in poor ground, even
clays, but seem to prefer dry sandy soils with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5
Capulin cherries are somewhat drought tolerant, but they grow better
and produce better fruit with regular watering, particularly during the
period between flowering and fruiting.
Capulin cherries respond well to light applications of nitrogen
fertilizer when the blossoms first appear in spring. In reasonably good
soils the trees may need no more than an annual mulch of compost.
The trees need very little pruning to remain productive, although some
pruning is useful to keep them at a desired height and to facilitate
fruit harvest. They will take radical pruning and can be grown as a
Capulin cherries are easily propagated by seed but the fruit quality of
seedling trees is quite variable. Seedling plants are typically used as
rootstock for desired cultivars using tip, wedge or cleft grafts. The
plants can also be propagated from hardwood cuttings for growth on
their own roots.
Pests and Diseases:
In California capulins are relatively free of many of the pests and
diseases that afflict regular cherries and other stonefruit trees.
Bacterial gummosis is an occasional problem, and some varieties are
prone to die-back for unknown reasons. Pests include mites, pear slugs
and scale. Deer will browse on the foliage when the plants are small.
Birds are attracted to the fruit, but are less of a problem than they
are with regular cherries.
Like other cherries, the fruits are ready to harvest when they has
developed full color and yield to gentle pressure. The skin is thin and
tender but sufficiently firm for the fruit to resist bruising. The
fruit will keep under refrigeration for 4 to 6 weeks in an uncovered
container. The ripe fruits can be eaten out of hand or made into jams
and preserves, or even made into wine.
Although common in the markets of Guatemala and the Andean regions, and
useful as a backyard fruit, capulin cherries have yet to achieve any
commercial success in this country. This could change if varieties
could be developed with eating qualities on par with cultivated
cherries. There is some evidence that this is an achievable goal.
Ripening before most major northern cherries, the fruits could fill a
large, round fruit up to 1-1/2 inch in diameter. Light green, sweetish
flesh, free of astringency when ripe. Drooping tree, outbears many
fruit, 2/3 to 1 inch in diameter. Flesh green, flavor rich and sweet.
Ripens late, August to September in Vista. Tree upright abut drooping,
a reliable annual bearer. Has good commercial potential.
flattened globe-shaped fruit, 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Skin deep
purple-black. Flesh green, more or less free of astringency, flavor
good. Seed relatively small, Tree is a genetic dwarf, somewhat of a shy
to very large, roundish fruits 1 inch or more in diameter. Very mild
flavor, lacking the astringency of other capulins. Ripens early to
midseason. Appears to require high temperatures to develop best flavor.
Tree a very heavy producer, tends to over produce in heavy clusters.
roundish fruit, 1 to 1-1/8 inch in diameter. Flesh fairly astringent,
flavor good. Seed small. Tree a heavy producer, often yielding more
than 200 lbs. of fruit. Bears fruit in clusters. Performs very well in
cool coastal locations.
fruit with very good flavor. Tree a light producer, appears to bear
better on certain rootstocks. Extremely vigorous, can grow 15 ft. or
more in one year. Named for Andrew Werner of Santa Cruz, Calif.