|Plate LIV: RUMBERRY, Myrciaria floribunda|
This is an attractive shrub or slender tree reaching 33 or even 50 ft (10-15 m) in height, with reddish-brown branchlets, downy when young, and flaking bark. The evergreen, opposite leaves are ovate, elliptical, or oblong-lanceolate, pointed at the apex; 1 to 3 3/16 in (2.5-8 cm) long, 1/3 to 1 3/16 in (0.8-3 cm) wide; glossy, slightly leathery, minutely dotted with oil glands. The flowers, borne in small axillary or lateral clusters, are white, silky-hairy with about 75 prominent white stamens. The fruit is round or oblate, 5/16 to 5/8 in (8-16 mm) in diameter; dark-red (nearly black) or yellow-orange; highly aromatic and of bittersweet, balsam-like flavor; with one globular seed. In Surinam, according to Pulle, there are sometimes deformed fruits, rounded, flattened, leathery, dehiscent, and to 3/4 in (2 cm) across.
Origin and Distribution
The rumberry occurs wild over a broad territoryCuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico (including Vieques), the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Trinidad, southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador to northern Colombia; also Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, and eastern Brazil. It has been occasionally cultivated in Bermuda, rarely elsewhere, but, throughout its natural range, when land is cleared for pastures, the tree is left standing for the sake of its fruits. The plant was introduced into the Philippines in the early 1900's and has been included in propagation experiments in Hawaii. There is a healthy fruiting specimen at Fairchild Tropical Garden, Miami.
O.W. Barrett wrote in 1928: "There are 3 or 4 varieties in the dry hills of St. Croix; these vary as to size and color, but all are intensely aromatic." In St. John, they say the fruits produced by wild trees on Bordeaux Mountain and along Reef Bay Trail are "unusually good".
Climate and Soil
In Puerto Rico, the rumberry grows naturally in dry and moist coastal forests from sea-level to an elevation of 700 ft (220 m). In Vieques and the Virgin Islands, it abounds in dry forests up to 1,000 ft (300 m). In South Florida it is growing well, but as a small tree, on oolitic limestone.
In Cuba, the fruits are relished out-of-hand and are made into jam, and the fermented juice is rated as "una bebida exquisita" (an exquisite beverage). People on the island of St. John use the preserved fruits in tarts. The local "guavaberry liqueur" is made from the fruits "with pure grain alcohol, rum, raw sugar and spices" and it is a special treat at Christmastime. In the past, a strong wine and a heavy liqueur were exported from St. Thomas to Denmark in "large quantities".
In Camaguey, Cuba, the rumberry is included among the nectar sources visited by honeybees.
Medicinal Uses: The fruits are sold by herbalists in Camaguey for the purpose of making a depurative sirup; and the decoction is taken as a treatment for liver complaints.
The camu-camu, Myrciaria dubia McVaugh (syns. M. paraensis Berg; M. spruceana Berg), is also called camocamo in Peru and cacari in Brazil. It is a shrub, or bushy tree, to 43 ft (13 m) high with minute prickly hairs on the young branchlets and petioles. The opposite leaves are broad- or narrow-ovate, or elliptic, often lop-sided; 1 3/4 to 4 in (4.5-10 cm) long and 5/8 to 1 3/4 in (1.6-4.5 cm) wide, pointed at the apex, rounded at the base where the margins curve inward to the petiole, forming winglike appendages. Fragrant flowers, nearly sessile, are borne in 4's in or near the leaf axils; have tiny, white petals and about 125 stamens 1/4 to 3/8 in (6-10 mm) long. The fruit is nearly round, 3/8 to 1 in (1-2.5 cm) wide, yellow at first, becoming maroon to purple-black and soft and juicy when ripe. It is of acid or sweet flavor and contains 3 seeds. Locally it is considered good fish food.
This species occurs abundantly wild in swamps along rivers and lakes, especially the Rio Mazán near Iquitos, Peru, and in Amazonian Brazil and Venezuela, often with the base of the trunk under water, and, during the rainy season, the lower branches are also submerged for long periods.
Seeds were brought to Florida by William F. Whitman in 1964, and plants were raised, he says, in an "acid hammock sand soil" and regularly watered. One plant bore rather heavily in 1972, mainly in late summer with a few scattered fruits the following winter. One plant was 12 ft (3.65 m) tall and equally broad in 1974. In Brazil, the fruit is borne mainly from November to March.
Half-ripe fruits have been found to contain 1,950 to 2,700 mg of ascorbic acid per 100 g edible portion, values comparable to the high ranges of the Barbados cherry, q.v. These findings led to a certain amount of exploitation of the fruit, which must be harvested by boat. There is a trial plot at Manaus, Brazil, and some experimental plantings in Peru and the juice is frozen or bottled and exported to the United States for the production of "vitamin C" tablets for the "health food" market. In plantations, in non-flooded land a single plant may bear 400 to 500 fruits. On flooded land, the per-plant harvest has been 1,000 fruits.
Though there are still people who can be persuaded to believe that "natural vitamin C" is superior to synthetic, the commercial prospects for the camu-camu are no brighter than those for the Barbados cherry. In 1969, V.L.S. Charley, Consultant to Beecham Products, Brentford, England, in assessing prospects for the camu-camu, with its "very slight flavour characteristics", declared that the idea that natural vitamin C, per se, had some magical quality is not now acceptable ... there is little doubt that the presence of a full, clean, well-balanced flavour is more commercially important than the possession of a high ascorbic acid content."