From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc. Adapted from an article
by C.A. Schroeder, Ph.D., which appeared in Fruit Gardener (Magazine of the California Rare Fruit Growers)
Brazenly Beautiful Tamarillo
Although the term "tamarillo" is slowly becoming common usage in
many countries of the world, the "tree tomato" is still a curiosity for
many people. It is a native of Andean Peru and southern Brazil, but has
become widely distributed throughout many temperate and subtropical
areas. the tamarillo was acceptable to this foreign market.
Investigations conducted in New Zealand on the horticultural practices
and the handling, storage and shipping techniques improved commercial
production. These investigations have resulted in the selection of
several improved cultivars and in the development of shipping
containers and conditions for overseas shipments.
family Solanaceae is among the more important groups of plants that
provide a great number of useful fruits and products. Among the more
prominent fruits are the tamarillo (Cyphomandra betacea), tomato
(Lycopersicum esculentum) pepino (Solanum muricatum), naranjilla
(Solanum quitoense), Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), tomatillo
(Physalis philadelphica), eggplant Solanum melonga and chilli peppers
(Capsicum spp.). Several important alkaloids and medicinals are derived
from other members such as belladonna (Atropa belladonna) and tobacco
From Inca culture to commercial crop
major development of tamarillo as a commercial crop has taken place in
New Zealand where it has becoming a thriving industry. It was
introduced into New Zealand in 1891, but it was not until World War II
and the virtual isolation of the country in the mid-1940s, that the
need for fresh fruits resulted in a wider local usage of the relatively
"Tamarillo" was adopted on January 31, 1963 by
the growers of New Zealand as the official common trade name for
Cyphomandra betacea. In many countries the common name is still some
variant of the English term "Tree tomato". Slowly, however, the term
"tamarillo" is being accepted in the trade to designate this
attractive, though somewhat neglected member of the tomato family.
few shipments to California indicated that the tamarillo is a rapidly
growing evergreen subtropical fruit that can be injured by exposure to
temperatures of about -20°C to -30°C. The shrubby tree can
attain a height of 3 to 4 metres, but should be maintained as a smaller
tree, as the rather soft-wooded stem tissue is especially susceptible
to wind damage. Limb breakage is often a problem especially as the
plant tends to bear heavy clusters of fruits at the tips of the long
The plant should be trained by pruning back long
shoots and pinching shoot tips to induce a compact growth and the
production of the fruit clusters near the centre of the tree. The plant
is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions, but thrives best in
well-drained soils. The roots are shallow, hence the plant wilts easily
under water stress and should be irrigated frequently. The large leaves
- up to 30cm in length - are simple, entire and elongated heart-shaped,
with a short petiole; the young leaves are covered with soft
pubescence. The succulent new shoots and the leaves have a somewhat
unpleasant odour when crushed. The flowers are borne in pendant racemes
at the tips of the branches and are very fragrant and white or light
blue to pinkish in colour. There is no apparent pollination problem as
the plant is self-fertile.
Pollen transfer is accomplished by bees or shaking of the branches by the wind.
fruit is a berry of two cells with many seeds attached to the central
placenta. It is an oval in form, somewhat pointed at both ends, and
with a thin, smooth skin. The colour of the fruit ranges from a
greenish or dark purple, to dark red, orange or yellow when ripe. The
flesh is succulent, subacid in flavour and generally agreeable,
somewhat like the ordinary tomato.
There is a bitterness often
associated with the skin and the tissue immediately under the skin.
These tissues should be removed before cooking or when using the fruit
fresh as in a salad. The rather hard rind withstands rough handling and
prolongs the storability of the fruit.
Sketch of tamarillo leaf,flower and fruit.
investigations in New Zealand on all aspects of tamarillo culture and
usage have resulted in the selection and development of several
cultivars of superior qualities. Among these cultivars are New Black, a
hybrid with a large fruit which was selected about 1927 by William
Bridge. Ruby Red, has been the standard cultivar of the New Zealand
industry for many years. Oratia Red is a large heartshaped fruit,
deep red in colour and of sweet taste, selected by D.J. W. Endt in
1970. Inca Gold is an amber coloured, oval and slightly pointed fruit
especially suitable for canning. Ecuadorian Orange is another selection
with a fruit colour between yellow and red. Kaitaia Yellow was selected
in 1979 for its good flavour, sweetness and suitability for processing.
Goldmine is a cultivar under trial in New Zealand. Rothemer is a large
85-gramme fruit with a bright red skin and goldenyellow flesh,
which was developed at San Rafael, California. Solid Gold is a sweet,
orange fruit. Red Delight, Yellow and Oratia Round are also grown in
In general, yellow-fruited cultivars are considered
sweeter and preferable for use as fresh fruit and in processing. Red
types tend to be more acid; the pigment stains badly and causes
corrosion when in contact with metal surfaces.
Seedlings as well
as rooted cuttings tend to come into bearing early, within one and a
half to two years under good cultural conditions. The tree will
continue to bear good crops for 10 to 12 years. In poor soils or soils
where nematode infestations or virus infections are possible prevalent,
replanting with clean stock will be necessary and is recommended after
a period of three or four years.
tamarillo requires full sun and freedom from competition with roots or
shade from other plants. It has a shallow root system, hence is easily
uprooted in a strong wind. Fertile soil, good drainage, ample water and
protection from winds are needed for good growth. Prune to reduce the
tree height and shorten lateral branches again to reduce wind damage.
is usually from seed, producing offspring with fruit reasonably similar
to the parent fruit. Rooting of stem or root cuttings is frequently
practised as this assures the retention of the cultivar's characters.
Propagation by rooting of cuttings, however, does involve the risk of
transmission of a virus disease which infects some plants and which
should be avoided in the selection of parent material. For seed
propagation, the pulp is fermented and the seed separated from the pulp
with a sieve, washed and dried, soaked in a fungicide for a short time
and planted about 5-6 mm deep. The seed bed should be maintained in a
warm "dry-moist" condition.
Tamarillo can be grafted on several
other closely-related rootstock species. In Java, Cyphomandra
costaricensis is sometimes used as a rootstock to attain a longer-lived
plant. It should be noted that many relatives of tamarillo in the
family Solanaceae contain powerful and frequently undesirable alkaloids
which can be transmitted to scions and into fruits grafted on such
roots. Intergrafting of tamarillo on unknown or unevaluated rootstock
is not recommended.
Pests and diseases
tamarillo seems to be free of most common pests and diseases found in
other cultivated plants. It is resistant to tobacco mosaic which
affects many plants. However, cucumber mosaic, tamarillo mosaic and
tomato aspermy virus have been found in tamarillo in New Zealand,
possible spread by aphid or nematode vectors. Propagation by seed can
avoid these viruses, but may result in unpredictable quality of fruit
in some trees.
Tamarillo is susceptible to the same soil-borne
fungus, verticillium wilt, that affects tomatoes, eggplant and
potatoes. A major pest on tamarillo is the tomato worm, the larva of
the pyraustid moth Neoleucinodes elegantalis that also attacks the
ordinary tomato and the pepino. Nematodes are a major problem in some
areas. They affect the shallow root system and reduce the vigour and
life of the plant. In soils heavily infested with nematodes it is
frequently necessary to replant with new seedling material after two or
three years. Aphids and white flies are sometimes a problem. In areas
of high humidity, powdery mildew and anthracnose will sometimes attack
the leaves or fruit to cause defoliation and loss of crop. [The RHS
Dictionary of Gardening says it is particularly susceptible to the Red
Using the fruit
tamarillo fruit has been described as "brazenly beautiful" and the
aroma "unusual and attractive". While the central soft, edible portion
is sweet and has many uses as a fresh fruit, there is a thin tissue
layer under the skin to which some palates are sensitive. The fresh
fruit is best utilised by spooning out and eating the soft interior.
For use in fresh fruit salads, the skin can simply be peeled off, or
removed from the stem end after plunging the fruit in boiling water for
a minute. Another way of removing the skin is to hold the fruit in a
flame for about half a minute until the skin splits and bubbles.
fruit can be used much as a regular tomato, but it has less moisture,
so more water, stock or gravy is needed for most cooked dishes. The
fruit is used as a garnish in salad, as slices in sandwiches, as a
stewed fruit, a jam or chutney. It can be bottled or canned, but only
the lighter-coloured fruits are suitable for canning as the
dark-coloured fruits become unattractive in the processing. Custards,
pie and cake fillings or syrupy compotes are other preparations made
from the fruit. A pleasant wine can be produced from the tamarillo.