A Miracle (Fruit) for All

Sunday, November 9, 2014

 BY RICHARD J. CAMPBELL

FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

As published in the Miami Herald

The miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) is an unassuming fruit from sub-Saharan Africa with a most unique quality. When the red berry is placed in one’s mouth and the slippery flesh teased from the seed, a most unusual change comes over your palate. All that you eat now tastes like it was bathed in sugar. The sensation can last for up to 2 hours in some people.

 

This unusual plant is also a good addition to the home landscape, if a few key requirements are obeyed. First and foremost, the miracle fruit is not adapted to the many of the soils of <st1:place w:st="on">South Florida. So, depending on where you live, the miracle fruit can die a quick death if planted in the ground in the home landscape. The best way to insure success is to keep this attractive shrub in a container.

 

Container growing of a miracle fruit will satisfy its need for an acid soil. The container should be of a 10-gal capacity or more and have proper drainage. Obviously the larger the plant grows, the large the container should be. Take care if using decorative containers that they have the proper drainage holes. Many of these containers look attractive, but they are not practical and will hinder your growing efforts. It also pays to place some broken pieces of discarded clay containers into the bottom of the container to aid in drainage.

 

The container should be filled with a 1:1 mixture of peat moss and silica sand. This mixture will provide the proper acidity, weight and drainage for your miracle fruit. Take care to get neutral silica sand and not high pH sand made of crushed limestone. There are other acid soil mixes available at local garden centers that will work well. Just remember that they should be low pH and have proper drainage.

                                                                                                                               

The miracle fruit will thrive on a program of daily watering and once a month feeding with a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer. This will allow for vigorous growth, profuse flowering and overall health of the plant. After the first year or two the training will have to begin on your miracle fruit. Pruning is simple and consists of shearing it into the shape and height that you desire. The miracle fruit is not a large tree, so maintaining its size is both simple and rewarding. A minor element spray two times a year will keep your plant lush and green.

 

The miracle fruit will also allow you to improve your green footprint. Since it is an acid-loving plant it will benefit from the use of rainwater for watering. Rainwater will be near neutral, whereas our groundwater will have a pH of 7 or higher. Rainwater can be collected in home-made or commercial barrels and used for the watering. Sprinkle your old coffee grounds in the container for an even greater acidifying effect. 

 

The container should be grown in full to partial sun to allow for the best fruiting. Flowering and fruiting will begin in the second year. There is no need to have more than one miracle fruit – a single containerized plant will bloom and fruit on its own. The miracle fruit has two flowering seasons; once during the summer and the again in the spring. The fruit will follow about 6 weeks after flowering and they ripen gradually over an extended time. Fruiting can be heavy and provides a most beautiful show of red fruit, in contrast to the dark green leaves.

 

The miracle fruit is not for the homeowner that is looking for a fruit to fill the dinner table. Instead, it is best used as a novelty for sweetening anything you desire. The fruit are used for an effortless and low calorie lime-aid and other tart concoctions. So special is the miracle fruit’s properties that many big city folk in places like <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New York City and elsewhere build special parties around the miracle fruit. The miracle fruit, however, does not have to be so pretentious. A simple fruit, a slice of lime and one can find a pure, economical diversion.

 

The fruit also has its serious side. Miracle fruit is currently involved in medical trials for chemotherapy patients. All of the fruit from the plants at <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Fairchild <st1:placename w:st="on">Tropical <st1:placetype w:st="on">Botanic Garden have been earmarked for these studies, conducted with <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Mount Sinai <st1:placetype w:st="on">Hospital in the last year. The test is for the enhancing of appetite and weight gain in those undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Thus far the results are promising and may lend credence to the medical use of the miracle fruit. Now there will be a noble reason to include the miracle fruit in the home landscape.

 

Miracle fruit plants can be purchased from local specialty nurseries, although the interest in the fruit has taxed local supplies in the short run. However, it is worth the effort to call around and locate a miracle fruit plant, grow it and enjoy its miraculous effects. There is really no excuse, for it takes up little space, it will grow well in your container and it will thrive with a minimum of care. It may be a miracle indeed, so good growing.
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