A Miracle (Fruit) for All



As published in the Miami Herald

The miracle fruit (Synsepalum
) is an unassuming fruit from sub-Saharan Africa
with a most unique quality. When the red berry is placed in one’s mouth and the
slippery flesh teased from the seed, a most unusual change comes over your
palate. All that you eat now tastes like it was bathed in sugar. The sensation
can last for up to 2 hours in some people.


This unusual plant is also a good addition to the home
landscape, if a few key requirements are obeyed. First and foremost, the
miracle fruit is not adapted to the many of the soils of South
Florida. So, depending on where you live, the miracle fruit can
die a quick death if planted in the ground in the home landscape. The best way
to insure success is to keep this attractive shrub in a container.


Container growing of a miracle fruit will satisfy its need
for an acid soil. The container should be of a 10-gal capacity or more and have
proper drainage. Obviously the larger the plant grows, the large the container
should be. Take care if using decorative containers that they have the proper
drainage holes. Many of these containers look attractive, but they are not
practical and will hinder your growing efforts. It also pays to place some
broken pieces of discarded clay containers into the bottom of the container to
aid in drainage.


The container should be filled with a 1:1 mixture of peat
moss and silica sand. This mixture will provide the proper acidity, weight and
drainage for your miracle fruit. Take care to get neutral silica sand and not
high pH sand made of crushed limestone. There are other acid soil mixes
available at local garden centers that will work well. Just remember that they
should be low pH and have proper drainage.


The miracle fruit will thrive on a program of daily watering
and once a month feeding with a liquid 20-20-20 fertilizer. This will allow for
vigorous growth, profuse flowering and overall health of the plant. After the
first year or two the training will have to begin on your miracle fruit.
Pruning is simple and consists of shearing it into the shape and height that
you desire. The miracle fruit is not a large tree, so maintaining its size is
both simple and rewarding. A minor element spray two times a year will keep
your plant lush and green.


The miracle fruit will also allow you to improve your green
footprint. Since it is an acid-loving plant it will benefit from the use of
rainwater for watering. Rainwater will be near neutral, whereas our groundwater
will have a pH of 7 or higher. Rainwater can be collected in home-made or
commercial barrels and used for the watering. Sprinkle your old coffee grounds
in the container for an even greater acidifying effect. 


The container should be grown in full to partial sun to
allow for the best fruiting. Flowering and fruiting will begin in the second
year. There is no need to have more than one miracle fruit – a single
containerized plant will bloom and fruit on its own. The miracle fruit has two
flowering seasons; once during the summer and the again in the spring. The
fruit will follow about 6 weeks after flowering and they ripen gradually over
an extended time. Fruiting can be heavy and provides a most beautiful show of
red fruit, in contrast to the dark green leaves.


The miracle fruit is not for the homeowner that is looking
for a fruit to fill the dinner table. Instead, it is best used as a novelty for
sweetening anything you desire. The fruit are used for an effortless and low
calorie lime-aid and other tart concoctions. So special is the miracle fruit’s
properties that many big city folk in places like New York City and elsewhere build special
parties around the miracle fruit. The miracle fruit, however, does not have to
be so pretentious. A simple fruit, a slice of lime and one can find a pure,
economical diversion.


The fruit also has its serious side. Miracle fruit is
currently involved in medical trials for chemotherapy patients. All of the
fruit from the plants at Fairchild
Tropical Botanic
Garden have been earmarked for these studies,
conducted with Mount Sinai
Hospital in the last
year. The test is for the enhancing of appetite and weight gain in those
undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Thus far the results are
promising and may lend credence to the medical use of the miracle fruit. Now
there will be a noble reason to include the miracle fruit in the home


Miracle fruit plants can be purchased from local
specialty nurseries, although the interest in the fruit has taxed local supplies
in the short run. However, it is worth the effort to call around and locate a
miracle fruit plant, grow it and enjoy its miraculous effects. There is really
no excuse, for it takes up little space, it will grow well in your container
and it will thrive with a minimum of care. It may be a miracle indeed, so good