Solanum betaceum is a small tree or shrub in the flowering plant family Solanaceae (the nightshade family). It is best known as the species that bears the tamarillo, an egg-shaped edible fruit. It is also known as the tree tomato, or tamamoro.
The tamarillo is native to the Andes of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. Today, it is still cultivated in gardens and small orchards for local production, and it is one of the most popular fruits in these regions. Other regions of cultivation are the subtropical areas throughout the world, such as Rwanda, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, China, United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The first internationally marketed crop of tamarillos in Australia was produced around 1996, although permaculture and exotic fruit enthusiasts had increasingly grown the fruit around the country from the mid-1970s on.
The plant is a fast-growing tree that grows up to 5 meters. Peak production is reached after 4 years, and the life expectancy is about 12 years. The tree usually forms a single upright trunk with lateral branches. The flowers and fruits hang from the lateral branches. The leaves are large, simple and perennial, and have a strong pungent smell. The flowers are pink-white, and form clusters of 10 to 50 flowers. They produce 1 to 6 fruits per cluster. Plants can set fruit without cross-pollination, but the flowers are fragrant and attract insects. Cross-pollination seems to improve fruit set. The roots are shallow and not very pronounced, therefore the plant is not tolerant to drought stress, and can be damaged by strong winds. Tamarillos will hybridise with many other members of the Solanaceae family, though the hybrid fruits will be sterile, and unpalatable in some instances.
The fruits are egg shaped and about 4-10 centimetres long. Their colour varies from yellow and orange to red and almost purple. Sometimes they have dark, longitudinal stripes. Red fruits are more acidic, yellow and orange fruits are sweeter. The flesh has a firm texture and contains more and larger seeds than a common tomato. The fruits are very high in vitamins and iron and low in calories (only about 40 calories per fruit).
The tree seen here (first photo, extreme left) is growing in our garden, and is only two years old. It has produced a profusion of flowers and already has some small green fruits. The last photo is from a tree we had a few years ago, which always produced many fruits. It was unfortunately destroyed in a storm with severe winds.
This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Friday Greens meme.