Most people wouldn’t be able to recognize the Jaboticaba on sight. Most wouldn’t even know what the word means. However, this unusual tree is much-beloved in the permaculture community for many reasons. The small space needed to grow the Jaboticaba, their ease of care, pest resilience and compact growth make them an easy pick for anyone trying to incorporate more edible, unusual and hardy plants into the start of their food forest.
Covered in massive quantities of purple fruit, about the size of a marble or a little larger, all along the trunk and branches during harvest season, this Brazilian tropical tree’s delicious produce is rarely found in other regions of the world. However, certain areas of both Australia and the southern United States (such as Florida) have caught on to its appeal. Likened to a grape, the fruit is said to be more vibrant and potent in flavor, with its sweet taste intensifying the longer it’s left on the tree. The flesh is white and seeded. The candy-like flavor makes it a popular ingredient when making jams and jellies, desserts and even liquer. After harvest, the fruit can be kept dried or frozen (though it doesn’t last long by itself – only about four days – which is why it’s typically only available fresh from the tree and never in the store). The intrigue alone is enough reason for some green thumbs to give it a go.
There are many agricultural benefits to adding the Jaboticaba to your food forest, however, beyond the culinary options. The tree takes a very small amount of space, so even those with limited acreage can find a spot for it. Some even add it to their landscaping, or grow it right within a pot, saying the the appearance easily adds curb appeal, making it a possible contender for urban permaculture gardens as well.
After a while, the tree will eventually, with good care, make it to about 15 metres, but this only after many decades. Many in the wild are just around 5 metres high. Vertical growth, therefore, is very, very slow, and, with the right pruning, the trees can even be cut down into more of a shrub, to save additional space. On the other hand, if you have an expansive food forest, you can mimic the Jaboticaba’s position in nature, where it grows well next to streams, as a second-story tree, protected by the canopy.
There’s no need for most pest control, as the fruit has a leathery skin that protects it from insects (while you can eat the skin along with the fruit, many do not prefer to, as it’s very astringent and has a high tannin content). The only real competition you’ll have for the fruit is the bird population.
The Jaboticaba, as it is a tropical plant, can’t grow in every climate, particularly those with long winters, but if it’s potted, you can simply keep it in a protected environment, away from intolerable frosts. It is, however, relatively hardy when it comes to different kinds of soils, and will thrive in just about any type. It needs a certain amount of shade, but, if planted in full sun, the entire tree will eventually adjust and become sun tough.
During a dry season, some owners will “trick” their Jaboticaba into producing again, by applying a larger than normal amount of water. The tree can flower and fruit up to six times per year, if conditions are just right. Other gardeners choose to ringbark part of the tree, to induce more fruiting in a different way. While some may worry this can cause lasting harm to the tree, the Jaboticaba is most usually always able to bounce right back from such harm.
When it comes to food production, this tree really shines. While it may take as few as three or as many as eight years for it to finally begin to fruit, once it does, you’ll be amazed at the amount just one tree can produce. The largest harvests begin in the late spring, with a single tree giving up hundreds of pieces of fruit, up to 100 pounds. Believe it or not, though, some individuals have had Jaboticaba trees growing on their property, without recognizing their production potential. On mature trees, the fruit is often hidden behind the outer leaves and greenery, making them easy to miss, even if they are appearing in huge quantities. Because of this, during harvest time, make sure to check the entire tree for fruit.
There are several different kinds of Jaboticaba trees you can choose from. While the most popular is described above, you can also find some with larger leaves and fruit (though those aren’t as sweet), as well as some that produce yellow fruit. These less popular varieties also flower and fruit less throughout the year.
A tree that’s easy to grow for even the most novice permaculture gardener, Jaboticabas are fantastic for smaller food forests and large operations alike, as they constantly give back more than they require.