Malvaceae (Mallow family)

Description. Medium-sized evergreen tree with a broad growth habit. Alternate, orbicular to cordate leaves soft tomentose, 30-40 cm (12-16 in) in diameter. Yellow hermaphroditic flowers along the lower trunk and on thicker branches. Dark brown, ellipsoid fruits, 12-16 cm (5-6.3 in) long, with velvety skin and bright yellow-orange flesh with long grayish-white seeds, growing in small clusters on trunk and branches.


Origin and Distribution. Native to humid lowland and premontane rainforests of western and eastern Ecuador. This is a rare species that is not commonly cultivated. Fruits are mostly collected from wild trees.

Food uses. The ripe fruits have a sweet, mealy flesh with an agreeable flavor and are usually eaten out of hand.

Comments. With its dense clusters of brown fruits on the trunk and showy yellow flowers, the chupa zapote has some potential for tropical landscaping as a very exotic ornamental. In the wild, the fruits are eaten by ground dwelling animals such as peccaries and agoutis as well as monkeys and birds.

The tree is closely related to the chupa chupa (Quararibea cor data), native to tropical South America and often seen in local markets.

The seeds of this fruit are edible and can be roasted like sunflower seeds or chestnuts.

Description. Large, erect, mostly evergreen tree with gray bark, 25-35 m (80-115 ft) tall. Alternate, compound leaves with 4 opposite, elliptic leaflets with pointed apices, 6-13 cm (2.4-5.2 in) long. Greenish-white, fragrant flowers, 5-9 mm (0.2-0.4 in) wide, are produced in terminal panicles. Male and female flowers are normally found on separate trees. Green fruits spherical with a thin, smooth skin and a yellowish, translucent, juicy pulp enclosing a large, hard seed. The taste ranges from sour to acid-sweet or sweet, depending on variety. Origin and Distribution. The mamoncillo is native from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to northern South America. The tree is not strictly tropical and can withstand very light frosts. Food uses. The fruits, which are sold in bunches on street markets, are usually eaten out of hand. After the brittle skin is torn open, the aril is squeezed into the mouth and the juice sucked from the pulp. In Colombia, the peeled fruits are boiled and the resulting juice is chilled and served as a refreshing drink on hot days. In Mexico, the more acidic fruits are eaten with chilies, salt, and lime juice. The seeds are edible and can be roasted like sunflower seeds or chestnuts. Indigenous people of the Orinoco region of Venezuela boil and eat the seeds as a substitute for cassava (Manihot esculenta, p. 265).

Comments. The mamoncillo is a minor member of the Sapindaceae family, mainly because very little pulp surrounds a large seed and in most varieties the flesh adheres tightly to the seed. Other species have more pulp that is easily separated from the seed.

The pulp produces a dark brown dye that was used in the West Indies by native Arawak people to dye clothing.

Description. Annual herbaceous vine growing 3-5 m (10-16 ft) in length and climbing with tendrils. Alternate leaves round to broadly oval, deeply lobed with 5-9 lobes. Single, yellow, monoecious flowers with 5 petals measuring 2-5 cm (0.8-2 in) in diameter are borne in leaf axils. Oval to oblong fruits, 10-20 cm (4-8 in) long with warty surface turning from light green to yellow when fully ripe, curling back and exposing the bright red arils surrounding the reddish-brown seeds. Fruits have a bitter taste that increases with ripeness.

Origin and Distribution. Probably native to tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia and southern China. The plant is cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics for its edible fruits.

Food uses. Immature fruits are eaten as a cooked vegetable. To reduce bitterness, the fruits must be boiled or immersed in saltwater for several hours. They are very popular in South and Southeast Asia, where bitter melons are commonly used in soups, stir-fries, and curries. Unripe fruits are also pickled or stuffed with meat and vegetables. They are used to make tea and a soft drink. Young shoots, leaves, and flowers are eaten as a vegetable.

Comments. Bitter melon is a good source of vitamin C, iron, calcium, and phosphorous. M. cochinchinensis (spiny bitter cucumber) is native from Myanmar to China, Japan, and New Guinea. The immature, round to pear-shaped, spiny fruits are eaten as a vegetable and used in curries and stir-fries.

Description. Creeping herbaceous vine that climbs trees to a height of 8-15 m (26-50 ft). Cylindrical green stems with numerous long aerial roots. Alternate leaves with petioles up to 1 m (3 ft) long. Dark green blades leathery, oval to cordate, 80-100 cm (30-40 in) long, deeply segmented and perforated by round or oval holes. Flowers in erect cylindrical stalks surrounded by a cream-colored, waxy spathe. Compound, elongated green fruits, measuring 20-35 cm (8-14 in) long by 3-4 cm (1.2-1.6 in) in diameter, are covered in a thick, hard rind made of hexagonal plates. Whitish pulp soft, juicy, with a taste and consistency reminiscent of pineapple and jackfruit.

Origin and Distribution. The ceriman is native to the understory of tropical lowland and premontane rainforests of tropical America from southern Mexico south to Panama. The plant is commonly grown as an ornamental and ubiquitous indoor plant. M. deliciosa requires a tropical climate and cannot tolerate frost.

Food uses. Before the fruit can be eaten, the hard, scaly rind must be removed and the pulp separated from the inner core. The aromatic pulp of fully ripe fruit is eaten fresh or used in fruit salads or desserts. Also used to make milk shakes and ice cream.

Comments. The aerial roots contain strong fibers used traditionally in Central America for making rope and weaving baskets.

Unripe fruits as well as the sap of the entire plant contain oxalate crystals, which are highly irritable to the skin and throat.

Of the large family Araceae, containing more than 3,700 species, the ceriman is the only species cultivated for its edible fruit. Many members of the family are cultivated as ornamentals and indoor plants.

Description. Small, 3 to 10 m (10-33 ft) tall, evergreen tree. Opposite, oval, glossy-green leaves 20 to 30 cm (8-12 in) long and 12 to 16 cm (5-6.3 in) wide. White, fragrant flowers are produced in terminal heads. Compound fruit 5 to 10 cm (2-4 in) long, oval or of irregular shape, pale yellow with a soft, juicy pulp containing several small, blackish seeds. Ripe fruits emit a strong odor like old cheese or butyric acid.

Origin and Distribution. Native to Southeast Asia, Australia, and Oceania. Today planted and naturalized along tropical coastlines around the world. Noni trees require a humid, tropical climate.

Food uses. Despite its fetid smell, the fruits are eaten fresh or made into juice. Chilling the juice supposedly eradicates the smell. It is often blended with other fruit juices. Asians and the Aborigines of Australia eat the fruit raw with salt. It is sometimes added to Southeast Asian curries. The edible seeds are roasted and eaten salted. Young leaves are occasionally eaten as a vegetable.

Comments. The noni tree has been used as a medicinal plant in traditional herbal medicine for millennia. Fruits contain about 70% carbohydrates, 36% fiber, about 5% protein, and moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals like potassium and niacin. The juice of the ripe fruits, sometimes fermented, is said to boost the immune system and is used to treat respiratory and digestive problems. Many people drink noni juice to treat a variety of ailments like flu and cold symptoms and serious diseases like arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Noni has a long and rich history in Indian medicine. The plant was esteemed by ancient Indian physicians to protect the skin from becoming dry and cracked by sun exposure.

There are about 80 species of Morinda in the tropics of the Old and New World. M. citrifolia is economically the most important species of the genus.

In ancient Greece, the fruit juice of this species was employed to enhance the color of red wine.

Description. Deciduous, bushy tree, 8-12 m (26- 39 ft) tall. All plant parts contain white latex. Alternate, tomentose leaves ovate to broad-elliptic, 6-12 cm (2.4-5 in) long with toothed margins. Monoecious or dioecious, inconspicuous flowers are produced in pendent spikes. Composite black fruits, 1-3 cm (0.4-1.2 in) long, are similar to blackberries and have a pleasant, sweet-sour taste. Origin and Distribution. Native to southwestern Asia; the exact origin is unknown, however, because the plant spread in prehistoric times to the Mediterranean and to India and China. It thrives in subtropical climates. In the tropics the mulberry is cultivated in cool mountain climates without frost. fillings. In the Middle Ages, fruits were commonly fermented to make a type of wine. In ancient Greece, the fruit juice was employed to enhance the color of red wine. The leaves are used to prepare herbal teas. Comments. The bitter-tasting root bark has been used in traditional medicine to treat intestinal worms. Although similar looking, the fruits of M. nigra are not closely related to those of the blackberry (Rubus fruticosus). The closely related white mulberry (M. alba), native to northern China, is widely cultivated as a host plant for the leaf-eating silkworm (Bombyx mori), the cocoon of which is used to make silk. Food uses. Fruits are eaten fresh or made into jams and jellies. They are also used for cakes, tarts, and pie Description. Small, fast-growing evergreen tree, 6-12 m (20-40 ft) tall, with spreading, drooping branches. Alternate leaves oblong to lanceolate, 6-12 cm (2.4-4.8 in) long, serrated at margins and pointed at apex. White flowers, 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in) wide with 5 petals and numerous yellow stamens, are borne singly or in small clusters. Spherical fruits 1-1.5 cm (0.4-0.6 in) wide with red, orange, or yellow smooth skin and light brown, soft, juicy pulp containing many tiny seeds. The flesh has a very sweet, somewhat musky taste. Origin and Distribution. The tree grows naturally in Mexico, Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and tropical South America. The Jamaica cherry is widely cultivated or has escaped in most tropical regions of the world. In many parts of tropical Asia, the plant has been naturalized. The very adaptable tree requires a tropical or near-tropical climate. In tropical America, the plant often grows as a pioneer species in secondary forests and in disturbed areas.

Food uses. The ripe fruits are usually eaten out of hand. They are sometimes made into jams. The leaves are boiled to make herbal teas.

Comments. The fruits of the Jamaica cherry are an important food source for frugivorous birds and bats as well as pollinating insects, and the tree can be planted to attract a wide variety of animals. A decoction of the flowers is used in traditional herbal medicine as an antiseptic and to treat abdominal pain.

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