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SUGARPLUMS

Africa is home to more than 30 species of wild fruit trees belonging to the genus Uapaca. Several produce fine flavored and attractive looking fruits that are in high demand in various parts of the continent. They are an African heritage that adds zest to traditional foods from porridges to desserts. But so far none has been accorded much—or even any—horticultural recognition.

This should change. These are promising resources for widespread cultivation. They are highly respected; farmers clearing land normally leave the wild groves standing. The public likes the fruits so much that in several countries an organized trade occurs, much as if the harvest came from orchards rather than wild stands. And in nature the trees seem fully at home on adverse sites where food production is generally poor. Indeed, because of that feature they have traditionally helped people survive famine.

Fully ripe, these typically plum-sized fruits are yellow-brown in color, juicy and honeylike in taste. They enclose several white seeds, each with a characteristic ridge along its back. Most are eaten fresh, but some are pounded with water and served as a refreshing drink. If left to ferment, this sugary liquid develops into a pleasant fruit wine. In addition, tasty snacks are made from the pulp by adding water, flour, and sometimes egg, flattening the doughy mixture into round cakes, and frying them.

Although little is known about these fruits’ nutritional value, it is thought to be outstanding. The level of vitamin C can be especially high. In part, this is what makes sugarplums important foods in time of famine.

When left on the tree, fruits tend to ripen unevenly. Thus, although they can be picked up effortlessly from the ground, most are picked green and stored several days in the dark. They may be put into plastic bags or other containers. Commonly, they are placed in a shallow hole in the ground and covered with leaves from the tree. Other times they are placed in the village grain bins. In each case, they are exposed to ethylene, the fruit-ripening hormone, and they ripen evenly. Once ripe, they exhibit a good shelf life.

These valuable trees could be useful components of several cultivation systems, including backyard gardens or orchard-like plantings, as well as in agroforestry operations. They are ideal tools for projects proposing to protect soil and/or conserve habitats and native biodiversity. They are promising for



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