Plant of the
Month: May 2011
by Arthur Lee Jacobson from his website arthurleej.com
Copyright © 2001
Fruit or Plant
Barbados Cherry Family
Two species share common names (Peanut-butter Fruit or Plant) and
confusingly similar scientific names: Bunchosia argentea
and Bunchosia Armeniaca.
Therefore, I sought to learn what's the difference? Which is more
commonly cultivated? This article shares my findings. The reason I care
is because the plants bear pretty yellow blossoms and red edible fruit.
The English name Peanut-butter Plant is applied to at least four plant
genera: Melianthus major
(leaf scent); Clerodendrum
trichotomum (leaf scent), Glyptopleura marginata
(leaf flavor), and Bunchosia
spp. (fruit flavor). It is only the latter that I write about here.
All 55 - 80 Bunchosia
species are from tropical or subtropical Mexico, the West Indies, and
South America. The generic name Bunchosia dates from 1822, when these
plants were segregated from the 1753 genus Malpighia. The
and family MALPIGHIACEÆ commemorate Marcello Malpighi (1628 -
1694), distinguished Italian doctor and naturalist, who wrote on the
anatomy of plants. George Don in 1831 explained: "Bunchosia, from
Bunchos, the Arabic name for coffee, in allusion to the similarity
between the seeds of this genus and those of coffee."
From what I learned, of the few Bunchosia
species that I studied, the one named (B. Armeniaca),
has been cultivated sparingly, for fruit and ornament, in NW South
America, and is, at certainly nominally, less cultivated and less known
in the U.S. than another species (B.
glandulifera --usually misidentified in U.S. horticulture
as Bunchosia argentea).
True Bunchosia argentea
is fairly common in NW South America and is not cultivated there or
in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. A Kichwa
(Quechuan language variant) name is Usan (Usuma, Ushum). Spanish names
include: Ciruela verde, Ciruela silvestre, Ciruela de la tierra,
Ciruela de cansaboca, Ciruela de fraile --translating Green Plum,
Forest Plum or Monk's Plum; Indano. In English, we call it
It is an evergreen shrub or tree 12 to 40
feet tall. The leaves are borne in opposite pairs, measure about 5
inches long, and are practically hairless. The largest leaves reach
8.25 by 4 inches. Flowers are small, yellow, in elongated clusters,
giving rise to the fruits, about an inch long. The fruit's shape
recalls the common apricot (Prunus
Armeniaca), and hence the species
was named in 1789 Malpighia
Armeniaca, then Bunchosia
1824. The seed or pit is said to be poisonous.
As for northern
hemisphere cultivation, it was in Hawai'i by 1909. I found few books
suggesting it is cultivated in the mainland U.S., mostly in Florida, to
a minor extent. Tropical Flowering Plants by Kirsten Albrecht Llamas
2003, includes it.
Stephen Facciola, in Cornucopia II (1998) describes the fruit as very
sweet, rather cloying pulp, eaten raw or in preserves.
J. Campbell in South American fruits deserving further attention (1996)
wrote: "Precocious, fruiting within 3 years from seed. The trees flower
and fruit throughout most of the year. Fruit are ellipsoid and borne in
clusters. The red or yellow fruit are from 3 to 4 cm in length with a
cream-colored flesh. The flavor is sweet, but often astringent. Even in
areas where the tree is common, the fruit are not highly esteemed for
fresh consumption. They are more commonly used as a flavoring. Bunchosia
is a common addition to the home garden, but only rarely used as a
commercial crop. The trees are tolerant of freezes, being slightly
damaged by temperatures of -2 degrees C in Florida. Martin et al.
(1977) finds it to have little potential for further commercialization.
However, it could have potential, given its precocity and adaptive
nature if superior cultivars could be identified."
At present, I know no mail-order nurseries offering this to U.S.
customers. But possibly some plants sold as Bunchosia argentea
are really it.
(Jacq.) DC. 1824
in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Guianas, Panama,
Peru, Venezuela. A Kichwa (Quechuan language variant) name is Wanpula
panka. Spanish names include: Ciruela del monte --translating Mountain
Plum; and Marmelo. In English, we call it Peanut-Butter Fruit.
Don in 1831 wrote that its twigs were minutely hairy; leaves
lance-shaped, glandular, and silvery beneath; and that it had been
cultivated since 1810. The Latin name argentea means silvery.
Flora of Suriname 1976, gives a technical description that I here
paraphrase: Small tree [it can reach 65 feet tall] or shrub; young
parts and flower clusters densely appressed-hairy; leaves densely silky
on both sides, later hairless above; ovate or oblong; up to 16 by 9cm
[6.25 by 3.5 inches]; 2(3) glands 1-2cm above the leaf base. Fruit
Clearly, this species, despite being listed in many
books, catalogs and websites, is in fact never cultivated, and plants
so-called are really either B.
Armeniaca or B.
It has hairy fruit. I suspected this, and it was confirmed by the
expert botanist Dr. William R. Anderson, of University of Michigan's
Herbarium; he is writing a monograph on the genus Bunchosia, and
supplied accurate corrections to my first draft of this article.
(Jacq.) Kunth 1822
This species, compared to Bunchosia
is apparently more commonly cultivated in the United States (and
certainly so in South America). It is not hard to find web sites and
nurseries that discuss it under the name Bunchosia argentea
and show photos of it. Perhaps native in northern Venezuela and
Colombia, it is widely cultivated for its fruit elsewhere in northern
South America. It has been called in French café moka and
café bois, and in Spanish Ciruela. George Don in 1831 wrote that
it had been cultivated in Europe since 1806. It is a shrub or small
tree to 25 feet tall. The leaves are lightly hairy, and measure up to
up to 18 by 12cm [7 by 4.75 inches], with wavy edges. The fruit can be
an inch and an eighth in length.
The leaf hairs on the specimen that I purchased from Logee's
Greenhouses of Connecticut, are very short, sparse, and tiny.
photos seen using Google's image search, show many plants that look
like the one I bought. Again, the leaves of Bunchosia Armeniaca
hairless, while those of the real Bunchosia
argentea are densely silky
Assuming for the moment that the plants being sold
and described and photographed under the name Bunchosia argentea
to be misidentified specimens of Bunchosia
glandulifera, below are
examples of what is being written of them:
(1998): Fruit about the size of a quail egg, reddish-orange, not very
juicy, but with concentrated sugars much like a dried fig or American
Logee's: "During the 1st year it should bloom several
times March thru October. Once mature (8-10 inch pot), they will
produce yellow flowers that turn into 1 inch fruits that ripen red.
Fruits have soft, sweet, dense pulp and a large seed. The plants are
naturally upright and for good fruit set, need warmth & sun. In
North, container-grown plants yield fruit by the fall --if in a
greenhouse or conservatory with abundant heat, earlier. Zone 10
higher outside. Grows 3-6 feet in container, min. temp. inside 40
Frankies nursery (HI): fast growing small tree.
Attractive clusters of yellow flowers; abundant 1 inch fruits which
turn red upon maturity.
FruitLovers.com (HI): "The fruits are
orange when ripe and the size of a peanut. The tree likes full sun but
can take some shade. Plant 12 feet apart. Good to pick when the fruits
are just starting to turn orange but still hard. Let ripen fully
indoors. Fully ripe when totally soft."
"Highly underestimated. Apart from being a valuable tree for the fruit
it bears it is also highly ornamental. It can be grown into a bush or a
small tree with a tendency to go deciduous during the winter. The
yellow flowers are produced through late Spring and are followed by a
nearly constant production of fruits in varying quantities. The
dark-red to dark-orange fruit is the size of a quail egg and needs to
be picked every day as they spoil quickly on the tree. They can be
stored for several days in the refrigerator or can be separated from
the seed and frozen. The skin is very tender with rich, sweet flesh
that has a texture very similar to peanut butter or a sweet potato. The
concentrated sugars of the fruit make it much like a dried fig. They
are especially good when blended into a milkshake. The trees, which
have a distant affinity to the Acerola Cherry, are hardy and highly
tolerant of frost. They grow quickly and produce from their first year."
photos I show are on the specimen that I bought in September 2010 from
Logee's Greenhouses. As you can see, in the 8+ months I have had it as
a houseplant, it has grown larger. When it flowers I will take
pictures. (In June 2012 it started.)
glandulifera miscalled B. argentea as
bought from Logee's, September 15, 2010
glandulifera miscalled B. argentea
plant 8 months later,
May 30, 2011
glandulifera miscalled B. argentea.
up of stem and leaf hairs
glandulifera miscalled B. argentea.
up of glands on leaf underside
glandulifera miscalled B. argentea
close up of flowers & buds
If by chance any readers have tasted the
fruits of more than one of the three aforementioned species, and care
to share opinions as to the relative merits, I welcome such news.
you desire a great deal more information on this genus, including
photos, the definitive website is:
A lifelong Seattle resident, Arthur developed a passion for plants at
17 and has made his living growing, photographing, and writing about
plants. He is a rare expert who can speak about wild plants, garden
plants, and house plants.
Arthur has a special interest in edible plants, and, in his field guide
Wild Plants of Greater Seattle, he includes comments on the edibility,
taste, and uses of plants found in the city.