|Fig. 97: A leafy, spiny, climbing shrub, the Barbados gooseberry (Pereskia aculeata) is an atypical cactus.|
|Fig. 98: The pecular yellow or reddish fruits of the Barbados gooseberry bear recurved, leafy sepals until fully ripe.|
The plant is an erect woody shrub when young, becoming, with age, scrambling or climbing and vinelike, with branches up to 33 ft (10 m) long that may shroud a large tree. Spines on the trunk are long, slender, in groups; those on the branches are short, recurved, usually in pairs, rarely solitary or in 3's, in the leaf axils. The deciduous, alternate, short-petioled, waxy leaves are elliptic, oblong or ovate, with a short point at the apex; 1 1/4 to 4 in (3.2-10 cm) long, sometimes fleshy. To some people, the flowers are lemon-scented; others say sweet and pungent in odor; still others, of unpleasant or repulsive odor. They are borne profusely in panicles or corymbs; are white, yellowish or pink-tinted; 1 to 1 3/4 in (2.5-4.5 cm) across and the calyx tube is prickly. The fruit is round, oval or pyriform, lemon- or orange-yellow or reddish; 3/8 to 3/4 in (1-2 cm) wide, with thin, smooth, somewhat leathery skin. It is beset with the curling, leafy sepals of the calyx and often a few spines, until fully ripe, when it is juicy and subacid to tart. There are only a few flat, thin, brown or black, soft seeds about 1/6 in (4 mm) long.
Origin and Distribution
The Barbados gooseberry is believed to be indigenous to the West Indies, coastal northern South America and Panama. It is seldom found truly wild but is frequently grown as an ornamental or occasionally for its fruits in the American tropics, Bermuda, California, Hawaii, Israel, the Philippines, India and Australia. In many areas it has escaped from cultivation and become thoroughly naturalized. It was growing at the Agricultural Research and Education Center in Homestead in the early 1940's and running wild to some extent in the Redlands, but has since disappeared, possibly destroyed by winter cold or excessive rainfall. At least one nursery in Winter Haven, Florida, is now growing the plant in quantity. Gardeners had to give up the plant in South Africa in 1979 when it was banned as an illegal weed because it had been invading and overwhelming natural vegetation. It is frequently grown in greenhouses and as a house plant in temperate regions of both hemispheres. Horticulturists often use this species as a rootstock on which to graft other less vigorous cacti.
There are 2 cultivars in the ornamental-plant trade:
'Godseffiana'bushy, with broad leaves basically yellow-green variegated with scarlet and copper on the upper surface, purplish or rosy-red on the underside.
'Rubescens'the leaves variegated with red.
The Barbados gooseberry is tropical and suited only to low elevations. In greenhouses, the favorable temperature range is from 68º F (20º C) at night to 99º F (37.22º C) in daytime. Chilling causes the leaves to fall.
The plant is easily grown from seeds or cuttings of half-ripe wood.
Flourishing with little or no care, the plant is drought-tolerant and suffers from over-watering. In greenhouse experiments, it has been found highly responsive to light. Under high light intensity, it can be kept erect and compact; under low light, it grows higher, with ascending stems and the leaves are larger and thinner.
In Jamaica, the plant blooms in June and again in October and November; fruits mature in March and October.
The fruits are generally stewed or preserved with sugar, or made into jam. Young shoots and leaves are cooked and eaten as greens. In rural Brazil, they are important as food for humans and livestock.
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion
|Fat||0.7 g||6.8-11.7 g|
|Fiber||0.7 g||9.1-9.6 g|
|Ash||0.6 g||20.1-21.7 g|
|Calcium||174 mg||2.8-3.4 mg|
|Phosphorus||26 mg||1.8-2.0 mg|
|Vitamin A||3,215 I.U.|
|Ascorbic Acid||2 mg|
|Amino acid per 100 g Protein:|
Studies of the leaves in Brazil show a protein content of 17.4-25.5% and a mean digestibility of 85.0%.
Protein, lysine, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium levels are higher than in cabbage, lettuce and spinach.
In Israel, the flowers are said to be of great value in apiculture.
Medicinal Uses: In Brazil, the leaves are valued for their emollient nature and are applied on inflammations and tumors.