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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

The Joy of Jaboticaba: This Striking Tree Bears Grape-Like Delights

Dec 31, 2010 12:01PM ● By Beth Davis

Frank DeNardis is on a mission to educate and inform Southwest Floridians about the joys of growing tropical fruit in their own backyard. His 1.25-acre property in North Naples boasts more than 80 organically grown tropical fruit trees, including avocado, papaya, mango, banana, lemon and starfruit. He and his wife Mary not only enjoy the fruits of their labor, but also are happy to share their bounty with visitors.

What began as a hobby nearly 20 years ago has turned into a full-fledged business. DeNardis also holds a wholesale license to sell potted trees. “If someone is looking for a certain variety and I don’t have it, I can usually get it for him or her,” he says.

One fruit tree that DeNardis is particularly excited about is the jaboticaba, also called the Brazilian grape tree. Native to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, the jaboticaba is a striking variety, with flowers and fruit that grow right on the branches, sometimes covering the entire tree. The deep purple fruit, almost black in color, is similar in taste and texture to grapes, but with a thicker skin; its white pulp is sweet, aromatic and rich, with a soft, gelatinous texture. The fruit can be eaten fresh or made into jelly, jam, juice or wine. Both fruit and juice are well preserved by freezing.

According to Charles Boning, author of Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants, the jaboticaba is a small evergreen tree, averaging 15 to 20 inches in height in Florida. “As the tree matures, the trunk and major branches take on a gnarled, ancient appearance,” he notes.

Jaboticabas can be planted singly or established as a hedge, with six feet between the centers of the trees. Boning explains that when planted as a hedge, trimming the foliage does not significantly reduce production, because the fruit grows on older, interior wood.

Slow-growing, jaboticaba seedlings usually require nine to 10 years before they bear fruit. Those sold by DeNardis are eight to nine years old, so buyers don’t have to wait quite so long to enjoy the tree’s deep purple delights.

Once fruit production begins, it increases each year until the tree reaches maturity at about 25 years. In its prime, the jaboticaba bears fruit profusely and repeatedly, often four to five times per year. Fruiting is foretold by the appearance of hundreds of tiny polyps on the bark. These swell into small, green buds that soon burst into clusters of tufted, white flowers. Boning says that two days after they appear, the flowers begin to dry up; and then the fruit will form among the dried flowers.

DeNardis says the jaboticaba can be planted any time of year, but it must receive an adequate supply of water. “If the top part of the soil dries out, the leaves begin to wilt, and the tree may suffer damage,” he notes. “Water with a hose, not a sprinkler system, to ensure that water reaches the roots.

Few pests or diseases affect the jaboticaba in Florida, due to the tough skin of the fruit. When asked if he does anything to treat for pests, DeNardis laughs and says, “No, I just share it with them. Besides, keeping a tree healthy is what will keep pests away.”

Jaboticaba fruit contains compounds similar to those found in cranberries, grapes and other related species that offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. The advantages of this fresh fruit have certainly benefited DeNardis—at 89, he spends an average of four to five hours per day tending his tropical garden, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’ nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, in Palm River Estates, in Naples, call 239-597-8359.

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