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THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Department of Fruit Crops FC-37*
R.L. Philips and Gene Joyner **
Scientific name: Coccoloba uvifera L.
Origin: Coastal areas of South Florida, the Bahamas, the West Indies, coasts of Central America and northern South America.
Distribution: Southern Florida and many warm areas of tropical America and the West Indies.
Trees. An evergreen which varies from a low shrub along coastal areas to a spreading tree up to 35 feet high in more favorable growing conditions. The smooth, thin bark is light brown with irregular light blotches.
Leaves. Large, simple, leathery, stiff and roundish, from 4 to 8 inches wide. Young leaves are silky bronze to wine red, becoming dark green with prominent veins which are reddish in some selections.
Flowers. Small, whitish and fragrant, produced in abundance on long pendulous racemes in late spring or early summer.
Fruit. Globose to pear-shaped about 3/4 inch in diameter. Velvety, light to dark purple skin, some almost white. Produced in large clusters resembling grapes. Edible pulp which varies from acid to sweet and insipid, surrounds a single, large, pointed seed which may account for 2/3 of the fruit volume. Fruit normally ripens unevenly in individual racemes and readily drops from the tree. Most fruit matures during the summer, but in some years some fruit may mature in late fall because of late bloom.
Fruitfulness. Fruit is produced only on female trees but a male tree must be present for pollination. Assurance of a productive female tree with good quality fruit requires vegetative propagation. A large tree generally produces several thousand fruit per season, more than enough for individual use.
There are no cultivars, but nurserymen have made selections for ornamental use, particularly from male plants having leaves with attractive red veins. Selections should also be made from heavy bearing female seedling trees which produce large, good quality fruit.
Propagation is normally by seeds which germinate readily. However, there is no control over the sex of seedlings and they do not produce fruit for 4 to 8 years. Superior selections can be propagated by air layers, rooted cuttings, or veneer grafts on seedling rootstocks. Plants propagated vegetatively may produce crops the second year after planting.
CLIMATE AND SOILS
Seagrape should be planted only the warmer areas of southern Florida. Young trees are quite tender to cold and are injured at temperatures below 32 degrees F. Mature trees are much hardier and have recovered from temperatures as low as 22 degrees F for short periods. Seagrape is tolerant to salt air and therefore, can grow well along the seashore.
Seagrape is widely tolerant to most soils, provided they are well drained. It grows well in sandy soil but usually grows faster and larger in more fertile soils. Minor element deficiencies may appear in calcareous soils.
A complete fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 should be applied 2 or 3 times a year in soils of low fertility and once or twice a year in more fertile soils. Fertilize at a rate of 1 or 2 pounds of fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. Deficiencies of trace elements, particularly iron, manganese, and magnesium often develop in calcareous soils. These may be corrected with 1 or 2 applications of these elements per year.
Seagrape is generally quite drought tolerant but some irrigation during the blooming period is advisable for optimum growth and fruitfulness. Generally, an established plant in the home landscape requires very little supplemental irrigation except during periods of prolonged drought.
SPACING AND PRUNING
Proper spacing will depend upon growing conditions and how seagrape is to be utilized. Specimen trees may grow as high as 35 feet with an equal spread and should be given adequate space for growth. They should be pruned sparingly, only to remove unwanted or weak branches and dead wood. Occasionally, seagrape is closely planted in a clipped hedge or large screen. Hedges would require frequent hedging or topping while screens require pruning less often. Pruning should not be done before possible cold weather since this would cause the plants to be more susceptible to frost injury.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Few insect pests or diseases seriously affect seagrape and few, if any, control measures are required. Ripe fruit is often eaten by birds and animals, and leaf spots caused by various fungi occasionally occur on the foliage during periods of heavy rains but do no serious damage.
Seagrape is widely used as a landscape plant in coastal areas because of its high tolerance to salt and wind. It may be used as a specimen tree, screen or hedge, depending upon training and growing conditions. The fruit is utilized for making excellent quality jellies, jams, or wine, or it may be eaten out of hand as a fresh fruit.
*This document was published as Fact Sheet FC-37, Fruit Crops Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, reviewed 2/91. For more information, contact your county Florida Cooperative Extension Service Office.
**R.L. Phillips, Former Extension Horticulturist, Fruit Crops Department, and Gene Joyner, Adjunct Extension Agent, Institutue of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville.