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Page 213 Berries Scattered throughout the highlands of tropical America from Mexico to Peru are dozens of species of native berries. Their fruits are common both in the countryside and in the markets of Bogotá, Quito, and other large cities. Some are said to be superior in flavor and size to their well-known cousins, the commercial raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. In Latin countries they are important fresh fruits as well as ingredients in jellies, jams, juices, thick syrups (jarabes, from which are made refreshing confections), and even wines. Despite their popularity, these native berries have not been widely studied. Most are still gathered from the wild, and only a few are seen in regular cultivation. Because the plants have received little or no horticultural attention, their fruits exhibit widely variant size, color, and quality, and the flavors in any batch may range from extremely acidic to cloyingly sweet. This chapter highlights several berries that are found mainly at elevations between 1,300 and 3,000 m in the Andean region. These seem to show promise as new cash crops for farms and backyards both in the Andes and elsewhere. SPECIES Mora de Castilla. This blackberry 1 (Rubus glaucus) is native to the broad area from the northern Andes to the southern highlands of Mexico. Although common in the wild, it is also abundant in the gardens of hundreds of towns and villages, especially in Ecuador and Colombia. In two Ecuadorian towns, Ambato and Otavalo, nearly every garden has the plants, and mora de Castilla (pronounced mor-a dey cast-ee-ya) fruits appear in the markets most of the year. In Colombia, the mora de Castilla has become an increasingly important cash crop. During recent years, its cultivation has increased because 1 By accepted definition it is a blackberry because, when picked, the floral receptacle detaches from the plant and remains on the fruit. Other than that, it resembles a raspberry in the appearance of its leaves and the flavor of its fruits. Like other species in the genus, it exhibits a wide variability.
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Page 214 ~ enlarge ~ Although many species of wild berries are found in the Andes, the mora de Castilla is the most famous and popular. This Andean counterpart of the loganberry could have a big international future. Test samples of its high-quality, deep-red juice have been well received at a large U.S. fruit-drink corporation. This product might prove valuable for giving pallid juices (such as grapefruit) a rich ruby red color. (Wilson Popenoe © 1926 National Geographic Society)
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Page 215 RASPBERRIES AND BLACKBERRIES The status of the Andean berries today is not markedly different from that of the commercial raspberries and blackberries in other parts of the world, even in relatively recent times. Worldwide, there are more than 3,500 species of the genus Rubus. These are brambly, wild bushes that carry edible fruit. Two (subgenera Eubatus, the blackberries, and Ideobatus, the raspberries) have enormous commercial significance in many countries throughout the world; most of the rest are little known. Even the commercial species were neglected until the last century. Blackberries (there are several different species) were first cultivated in the United States in the 1800s, becoming common about 1850. In Europe, although blackberries had been gathered for centuries, their cultivation as a domestic crop is perhaps even more recent than in the United States. The red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), a wild European bramble, was first domesticated in Greece and Italy in about 1600, and the black raspberry (R. occidentalis and R. leucodermis) was domesticated in the United States within the last 150 years. it is profitable, and because its fruits are now exported to the United States. More than 2,500 hectares are planted in it, and near Bogotá 1,300 hectares are in commercial production. Three commercial varieties have been selected and are under cultivation in Colombia. Although it is often the most common blackberry in the Andean markets, the mora de Castilla is barely known elsewhere. However, it has flourished in Haiti and is being grown in a small way in Guatemala and El Salvador. This could be an indication of its future spread. Mora de Castilla is one of the Andean berries that is said to be superior in flavor and quality to most cultivated blackberries and raspberries. Its fruits are large (up to 3 cm long). When fully ripe, they range from dark red to nearly black in color. Their seeds are small and hard, with little flesh adhering to them. In flavor, they are rich and rather tart, much like loganberry, making them well suited for eating fresh as well as for use in juices, jams, and preserves. They are exceptionally juicy (the juice has a striking, purple-red hue) and make excellent jam, which tastes like jam made from black raspberries. The plant is a vigorous shrub of luxuriant growth that, climate permitting, produces fruit year-round. Its canes, 3–4 m long, are armed with small, but very annoying, hooked prickles. 2 They have a whitish, 2 The hooked prickles on canes and stems, and especially those on backs of leaves, make working on the plants disagreeable. They adhere to skin of the backs of hands, as well as to most gloves. Smooth gloves made of heavy plastic or hard leather are the only answer.
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Page 216 waxy surface, which is characteristic of the species. This apomictic species can be grown from seeds, but is normally propagated vegetatively (using tip layers or stem pieces) because it yields sooner. It grows well on many types of soil—reportedly thriving in almost anything from heavy clays to loose volcanic sands. 3 Nonetheless, it does best on moist, organic soils. Although the species has not had the benefit of much modern horticultural attention, in well-tended plantings its annual yields are said to reach 20 tons per hectare. Improved cultural methods are needed, such as growing the plants on trellises (already done successfully in El Salvador) as well as means of controlling pests and diseases. These problems are being addressed in programs in Colombia and Venezuela. Like other Rubus species, it exhibits wide variability because of segregation. For this reason, selection of outstanding plants and vegetative propagation may be an easy way to establish superior cultivars. Successful crosses have been made between mora de Castilla and a number of other Rubus species. So far, however, most of the hybrids have been infertile and lacking in hardiness. 4 Giant Colombian Blackberry. The giant Colombian blackberry (Rubus macrocarpus) is native to a narrow, rather inaccessible zone in the higher areas of Colombia (2,600–3,400 m elevation). Its canes, leaves, and flowers resemble those of blackberries, while its light red fruits resemble raspberries in appearance and loganberries in taste. Cultivated fruits are huge—up to 5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide—several times larger than today's commercial berries. Well-grown fruits are said to be as big as a hen's egg. A number of attempts to grow this species outside its natural region of dispersal have failed, and to date, no hybrids between this and other Rubus species have been produced. The fruit is marketed in Colombia but is usually classed as a “zarzamora” (wild bush berry), to distinguish it from the mora de Castilla. When ripe, it is wine red, with compact pulp and slight acidity. Mora de Rocota. At the end of summer, peasants gather various wild berries, collectively called “zarzamoras,” and sell them in practically all Andean markets. Housewives buy them to make delicious jams and drinks. Chile exports some to Europe. The mora de rocota (Rubus roseus) is one of the three leading wild zarzamoras of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. When ripe, the fruits are 3 Popenoe, 1924. 4 Information from H.K. Hall.
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Page 217 ~ enlarge ~ The giant Colombian blackberry, one of the biggest berries in the world, is almost too large to be taken in a single mouthful. (Wilson Popenoe © 1926 National Geographic Society) crimson to nearly black in color, acid to sweet in flavor, and similar to cultivated raspberries in size and taste. They are eaten fresh, as juice, or made into preserves, wine, and aguardiente. The plant 5 grows wild at an elevation of 2,800 m in Bolivia, 3,000–3,700 m in Ecuador. So far, it has not been cultivated. Mora Común. Most of the berry fruits in the highlands of tropical America are produced by Rubus adenotrichus, the most common species from Mexico to Ecuador. It is seldom cultivated, but the fruits of wild plants are collected and sold in the markets for the preparation of jellies, refreshments, and even wine. The plant is characterized by the long, reddish, glandular hairs that cover the branches. The fruits are red, conic, compact, and up to 2 cm long; in quality they are inferior to R. glauca, but the plant yields more and is more resistant and adaptable to different conditions. Because of its wide variability, it offers the possibility that major improvements can be made merely through the selection of superior clones. 5 Also known as huagra mora, kari-kari, cjari-cjari, or chilifruta.
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Page 218 ~ enlarge ~ Ugni. Chile is marketing this fruit internationally under the name “myrtle berry.” Although now one of the least-known fruits in the world, it is meeting with a good reception, especially in Japan, and could have a splendid future. (ProChile) Mortiño. Throughout most of the Andean sierra at elevations between 2,800 and 4,000 m, the mortiño 6 (Vaccinium floribundum) is abundant. This “blueberry of the Andes” remains undomesticated, but given research it, too, could have a future in cultivation and widespread commerce. The plant is especially profuse in the northern Andes—in Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela—where it occurs mainly at elevations from 1,800 to 3,800 m. It is not cultivated, but its fruits are gathered from wild bushes and sold in village and city markets. In Ecuador it is eaten raw, made into preserves, and used in a special dish with molasses, spices, and other chopped fruits on “The Day of the Dead” (November 2, All Souls' Day). In some areas its ripening season is the occasion for picnics, the people going together into the countryside to pick and eat the fruit. The mortiño is a slender shrub. Some specimens grow 2–3 m high, others are dwarf and prostrate. Pink flowers and deep green foliage give it a handsome appearance. Its round berry is blue to nearly black, very glaucous (covered in a whitish bloom like grapes), and up to 6 Also known as macha-macha (Bolivia and Peru), congama (Peru), and mortiño falso and chivacu (Venezuela).
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Page 219 about 8 mm in diameter. Because the plant has been given no selection, its fruits are variable in quality; they are sometimes pleasant and juicy, and at other times are barely edible. They contain numerous, though hardly detectable, small seeds. Mortiño fruits closely resemble the blueberries of the United States, and superior types could probably be developed into commercial crops for temperate climates and tropical highlands. Andean Blueberry. This blueberry 7 (Vaccinium meridionale) grows between 2,400 and 4,000 m elevation in the cold, windy highlands (páramos) of Colombia and also between 1,000 and 2,000 m in the mountains of Jamaica. It is a shrub 1–4 m tall, or sometimes a tree growing up to 13 m high, with reddish, flaking bark. The berries are black, nearly round, and about 1 cm in diameter (larger than most blueberries). They are sweet and juicy and are borne in clusters of 10–15. The skin is somewhat tough and may be difficult to digest. The fruits are marketed in Bogotá and are popular in preserves, pastries, frozen desserts, and wines. Ugni. Outside of Chile, this plant (Myrtus ugni 8 ) is one of the least known commercial fruits; almost nothing about it can be found in the international research literature. In Chile, however, ugni 9 is not only cultivated, but the processed fruits are being exported to fill a growing demand in Japan. The fruits are oblate, up to 1.5 cm in diameter, and purplish to deep cranberry in color. They are said to fill the air with the fragrance of strawberries and have a pleasant wild-strawberry taste. 10 Like the cranberry of North America, 11 they have a “spritely” flavor and make piquant drinks, desserts, jams, and jellies. 12 The slow-growing evergreen shrub reaches about 2 m in height and flowers in 3–5 years. It is drought resistant and tolerates some frost. With its profuse, pink-tinged blossoms, it makes a showy ornamental. In Chile, most ugni is found growing wild in mountainous forest 7 Locally called “agraz,” this fruit is not to be confused with the “agraz,” or bejuco de agua, Vitis tiliaefolia, that prospers only below 1,800 m from Colombia to Mexico as well as in the West Indies. 8 Synonyms are Ugni molinae and Eugenia ugni. 9 Other common names include uñi, murta, murtilla, strawberry myrtle, Chilean cranberry, and Chilean guava. 10 Botanically speaking, ugni is a myrtle and not related to the cranberry (which the small red berries so resemble in appearance) or to the other berries in this chapter. 11 Vaccinium macrocarpon. 12 These jellies were a favorite of Queen Victoria.
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Page 220 clearings south of Temuco. 13 It is also highly prized in city gardens and is sometimes used as a border hedge. The sweeping branches establish roots when they contact the ground, and ugni can be easily propagated from such offsets as well as from cuttings and seed. In addition, researchers at the University of Concepción, Chile, have developed techniques for large-scale production of selected types using tissue culture. The plant reportedly bears well on the coast of California, is commonly grown as an ornamental in the southern United States, and is also found in New Zealand. 14 PROSPECTS The Andes. At present, little or no effort is being exerted to cultivate or domesticate most of these Andean berries. Research is now needed to determine their range, types, and distribution. Additional information on the phenology and morphology should be gathered and an evaluation made of the commercial potential of each species, including the technical problems to be overcome. These results could then be used to direct attempts at domestication and improved use. Germplasm collections will almost certainly turn up the high-quality specimens needed for large-scale success. The development of basic cultivation practices will enable plantations to be established and management strategies to be formulated. It is likely that domestication of the wild species will produce a cultivated fruit larger and sweeter than today's. However, there is also promise for the wild berries, as many people prefer their tartness. The existing stands of wild and semidomesticated plants can be made more productive by pruning to produce fruiting laterals, instead of leaving them to develop unchecked, as is now the case. Efforts to exploit these berries will probably be successful—as is being demonstrated in the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyaca in Colombia. There, small-scale growers have organized into farmers' cooperatives, and have created a prosperous agroindustry based on the mora de Castilla. Emerging technologies could make these fruits even more valuable commercially. For example, in North America, the drying or freezing of fruits to extend their marketing season has not been as effective with blueberries as it has been with other fruits. However, explosion 13 It is sometimes confused with murtilla blanca (Ugni candollei), which is restricted to the Chilean coast, and which has larger leaves and larger berries. 14 W.R. Sykes writes that “it is a fairly common garden plant in many cooler parts of New Zealand because it tolerates −10°C without seeming to suffer any damage.”
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Page 221 puffing—a process used for drying many fruits and vegetables—has recently been used successfully. This may greatly expand many markets for these popular fruits and could perhaps be applicable to the South American blueberries also. North American growers have trouble supplying enough blueberries to consumers at home and abroad, given that the harvest season is only 6 weeks in the spring. Thus, the success of new technologies for preserving berries would open the possibility of countries in the Southern Hemisphere supplying northern markets in the off-season. Other Developing Areas. Because of their extraordinary size and flavor, the mora de Castilla and the giant Colombian berry deserve trials in upland areas of the tropics. However, because their growth habits are not well understood and their genotypes largely uncollected, substantial commercial efforts should await the results of development trials in South America. Also, because of their vigor, thorniness, and easy dispersal by birds, no Rubus species should be introduced to new areas without extreme care. Industrialized Regions. The main value of these Andean berries for horticulture in Europe, North America, and other temperate zones is as sources of genes. Because of its vigor and the size and quality of its fruit, the mora de Castilla, in particular, could prove an excellent subject for crossing with northern raspberries. In addition, the unusually large size of the Colombian berry is a valuable characteristic that might be combined, by means of hybridization, with cultivated raspberries. However, previous trials have shown this plant to be susceptible to some North American raspberry diseases, and the process of capitalizing on its genetic characteristics may be slow and difficult. 15 Ugni suffers no such limitations, and it deserves trial plantings and development in many parts of the temperate zones. To ease its introduction into markets in English-speaking regions, the fruit would benefit from a new name. “Murtilla” (pronounced “mur-tee-ya”), a common name for it in Chile, is one possibility. Perhaps the best, however, is “myrtle berry,” a name now being used by Chilean exporters. 15 Information from G. Galleta.
Representative terms from entire chapter: