TREE TOMATO
(Cyphomandra betacea)
 

 

A plant of tree tomato

  

Family: Solanaceae

Synonym: Solanum betaceum

Other names: Dutch eggplant, tamarillo, terong Belanda, tomate de árbol.

Tree tomato is a native to the Andes of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.  It is grown in several countries in various parts of the world e.g. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, the United States, Venezuela, Portugal, Indonesia etc.  However, its organized commercial cultivation for international trade has been taken up in New Zealand.  The name “tamarillo” was also given there.  It is also cultivated in Portugal for international trade.

Description

A small, half-woody, attractive, fast-growing, evergreen brittle tree; shallow-rooted; reaching 10 to 18 ft (3-5.5 m) in height; rarely as much as 25 ft (7.5 m).

Leaves alternate, nearly cordate at the base, ovate, pointed at the apex, 10-35 cm long, 4-12 cm broad, thin, softly hairy, with conspicuous coarse veins, muskily odorous.  

 

Flowers of tree tomato

Fruits

 

Flowers borne in small, loose clusters near the branch tips, fragrant, 1.25-2 cm wide, having 5 pale-pink or lavender, pointed lobes, 5 prominent yellow stamens, and green-purple calyx.

Fruit smooth, egg-shaped but pointed at both ends and capped with the persistent conical calyx, long-stalked, pendent, borne singly, or in clusters of 3 to 12, 5-10 cm long and 4-5 cm in wide; skin color may be solid deep-purple, blood-red, orange or yellow, or red-and-yellow, occasionally with faint dark, longitudinal stripes; flesh color varies accordingly from orange-red or orange to yellow or cream-yellow.

Skin somewhat tough and unpleasant in flavor, outer layer of flesh slightly firm, succulent and bland, and the pulp surrounding the seeds in the two lengthwise compartments is soft, juicy, and subacid to sweet; it is black in dark-purple and red fruits, yellow in yellow and orange fruits.

Seeds thin, nearly flat, circular, larger and harder than those of the true tomato and distinctly bitter.

The fruit has a slightly resinous aroma and the flavor suggests a mild or under ripe tomato with a faintly resinous aftertaste.

Utilization

The fruit is eaten raw as well as for the juice, preserves, jellies, and as a vegetable, either cooked or raw in salads.

In Colombia and Ecuador, fresh fruits are frequently blended together with water and sugar to make a juice. It is also available as a commercially pasteurized purée.

Cultivation

Tree tomato is an extremely fast growing shrub to 20ft. Flowers are self-pollinating, and tree tomatoes may bear from seed in just over a year.

For right growth and fruiting, besides rich soil, this plant also requires lots of water and good drainage.  Standing water will kill the plant in just a few days.

  Tree tomato is also excellent container plant in cold climates.

            Propagation is usually by seed, but grafting is also possible. Seeds sprout quickly and seedlings and grow very vigorously.


            There are apparently no named cultivars, but there are local preferences according to fruit colour. Red fruits are chosen for the fresh fruit markets because of their appealing color. The dark-red strain, called “black”, is the leading commercial variety in New Zealand.

            Yellow fruits are considered best for preserving because of their superior flavor.

            The seedlings are set out in the field when 5-7 cm high, spaced at 80 cm in rows 2 m apart.  In New Zealand, the trees are set 2.5-3 m apart in paired rows 2.5 m apart with 4.25 m between each pair.  The distance is increased if the soil is too fertile.

           
            If cuttings are to be used in place of seed, then these should be made from 1 to 2 year old wood.  These should be 10-25 mm thick and 45-75 cm long.  The leaves are removed and the base cut square below a node. They can be planted directly in the field. The cuttings tend to be precocious but should not be permitted to fruit in the first year.

 

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