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Capuli Cherry

Around highland villages from Venezuela to southern Peru, the capuli1 (Prunus capuli 2 ) is one of the most common trees. Easily identifiable, it has been said to characterize the Andean region much as the coconut palm typifies tropical coasts. Yet it is probably not an Andean native; capuli (pronounced ka-poo-lee) is an Aztec word, and most botanists believe that Spaniards introduced the tree from Mexico or Central America in Colonial times. Whatever its origin, this attractive tree has become so popular that it is seen from one end of the Andes to the other, especially around Indian settlements. In fact, it is now cultivated much more in the Andes than in its probable northern homeland, and the fruit is often much larger and more flavorful.

At harvest, capuli fruits are abundantly available in Andean markets. Capuli is a cousin of the commercial black and bing cherry, which it usually resembles both in appearance and taste. However, fruits are carried on short stalks and in bunches almost like grapes, and some taste like plums. They are round and glossy and are maroon, purple, or black in color. Their flesh is pale green and meaty, and most are juicy. The skin is thin, but sufficiently firm for the fruits to be handled easily without bruising. Although mostly eaten as fresh fruit, they can also be stewed, preserved, or made into jam or wine.

This fruit could become popular throughout much of the world. Although it grows in the Andes at tropical latitudes, it thrives there only in cool upland areas (2,200–3,100 m at the equator; fruit set occurs between 10–22°C).3 It is therefore a plant for subtropical or warm temperate regions. Some newly introduced specimens are growing particularly well in northern areas of New Zealand, where little or no frost occurs.

Despite its promise, the fruit also has a down side. The pit is rather

1 Locally, the fruit is often just termed “cherry” (cereza or guinda). Little-used Quechua names are “murmuntu” and “ussum.” In English it is sometimes called “American cherry.”
2 The name Prunus capuli is used extensively in agricultural and horticultural publications. Research indicates that the capuli is actually a large-fruited subspecies of the North American black cherry, formally designated as Prunus serotina subsp. capuli. Information from R. McVaugh.
3 Much of the technical data in this chapter is from R. Castillo.

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