Cherry of the Rio Grande Berries
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The Cherry of the Rio Grande grows on a narrow shrub of the same name, that reaches an average of 5 meters tall and has dark green, glossy leaves. The tree flowers in spring and is covered with 4 to 5 white petaled blooms and multiple long white stamen. Fruits appear within weeks of the flowers. A Cherry of the Rio Grande is oblong and measures around 2 to 3 centimeters. Like a pomegranate, the remnants of the flower bud (called a persistent calyx) are prominent at the end of the fruit, appearing like green beaks. The fruits emerge with a pale pink to red skin and mature to a dark red and almost purple-black color. The skin is thin and hides a paler-colored flesh and one to two small white seeds. The flavor of a Cherry of the Rio Grande is sweet, and can be described as a combination of cherry and plum, and some even say hints of banana.
Cherry of the Rio Grande is available in the late spring and summer months.
Cherry of the Rio Grande is a tropical fruiting plant botanically classified as Eugenia involucrata, and a member of the myrtle family. They are distant relative of the Surinam cherry and come from a genus that was only recently given more thorough study. It is commonly planted as an ornamental tree; the bark of an older tree will peel off revealing a smooth, cherry colored wood. In Australia, the Cherry of the Rio Grande is one of the more popular substitutes for traditional ‘Prunus’ cherries in warm climates. It is one of the few trees that can tolerate temperatures below freezing once it is established.
Little nutritional data is available for the Cherry of the Rio Grande. Studies have demonstrated that the fruit has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Other members of the Eugenia genus contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, B-complex vitamins, as well as a small amount of iron, magnesium and potassium.
Cherry of the Rio Grande fruits are often eaten fresh, or used to make jams, jellies, and juices. Cut the small fruits to remove the permanent calyx and the seed. Add prepared fruits to baked goods and breakfast cereals or yogurts and parfaits. Store Cherry of the Rio Grande fruits in the refrigerator in a breathable container for up to a week.
Many of the native plants in the Amazon and what botanists call the “Atlantic forest” region just to the south, have only recently undergone extensive research, including DNA sequencing. The Cherry of the Rio Grande is known under the classification of Phyllocalyx involucrata throughout South America, though it was given the distinction of Eugenia aggregata in English literature. In 2015, the recommendation was made to permanently classify the South American fruit as part of a larger group: Eugenia sect. Phyllocalyx. The specific epithet of involucrata is far more recognized by the scientific community over the former aggregata.
Cherry of the Rio Grande is native to southern Brazil, and areas of Paraguay and Uruguay. Despite being a tropical plant, the Cherry of the Rio Grande is quite drought tolerant and older trees will withstand a frost. The age of the tree, as well as the amount of water and run it receives in the mid-spring has a great impact on the quality of the fruit. The small, cherry-like fruits are not very common outside of their native South America, but can be found in parts of eastern Australia and in both Southern California and Florida in the United States.