Surinam Cherry: Only Ripe Need Apply

by Green Deane

in Alcohol, Beverage, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Jam/Jelly, Plants, Recipes, Trees/Shrubs

The shrub’s fruit ripen over several weeks

Surinam Cherries: You’ll love ‘em or hate ‘em

The Surinam cherry is not a cherry nor is it exclusively from Surinam. It’s also not from Florida but it’s called the Florida Cherry because it’s naturalized throughout the state and real sweet cherries don’t grow well there.

Eugenia axillaris, a second and darker species that grows locally

I will freely admit these little red pumpkins are an acquired taste because most folks are expecting some kind of cherry taste and they don’t have that. No matter how ripe, there is a resinous quality. To be blunt, you either like them or you definitely do not. More so, they must be picked when absolutely ripe or they are a very unpleasant edible experience.  What is absolutely ripe? There is orange red, the color of cars, and here is blue red, the color of old-time fire trucks and blood. Surinam cherries are edible when they are a deep blood-red. Let me repeat that: A deep blood-red. An orange red one won’t harm you but you’ll wish you didn’t eat it. And I know you will push the envelope and try one that is not deep, blue-blood red. Don’t blame me. I warned you. You won’t die or throw up or the like but your mouth will disown you and the next time you will pick a very ripe one. The only one in the picture above that near ripe is the red one on the lower right, and perhaps the one on the lower left, and only if they drop into your hand. When fully ripe they are very sweet and juicy.

Surinam Cherry is closely realted to the Simpson Stopper with similar blossoms

The plant is native of Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana, southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay where it grows in wild thickets  on the banks of the Pilcomayo River. It got to North America the hard way. Portuguese voyagers carried the seed from Brazil to India then to Italy and the rest of southern Europe and then to Florida.  It is cultivated and naturalized in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, along the Atlantic coast of Central America; the West Indies, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Florida. It is grown in Hawaii, Samoa, India, Ceylon, Africa, China, Philippines, the Mediterranean coast of Africa, Israel and the European Riviera. If you’re in a warm area, that is, you don’t hit 30F too often, there is probably one near you.

Make sure they are deep red, otherwise the taste is very offensive

It was introduced as an ornamental and edible fruit before 1931 in Florida. By 1961 it was widely planted in central and south Florida, especially for hedges. A decade later was seen escaping cultivation and invading hammocks in south-central and south Florida. In 1982 it became a target of eradication in southern Florida.  It is now reported in 20 wildlife areas as well, and threatening rare scrub habitat. Thus, by eating the fruit and destroying the seeds you are helping the environment. EAT THE WEEDS!  In fact this very day I saw it along a bike trail and did by civic duty and ate as many  ripe ones as I could find.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, 1663-1736

In the mediterranean area it fruits in May. In Florida, depending upon the winter, the fruit begins to ripen around St. Valentine’s day and should be available by the Ides of March and in full fruit by April Fools Day. There are two prime varieties, the common blood-red and the rarer dark-crimson to black, which is sweeter and less resinous. In Florida, the Surinam cherry is one of the most common hedge plants and over runs many back yards.  In Florida and the Bahamas, there is a spring crop and a second crop, September through November. Some times a third and fourth crop, depending on weather.

Besides being blood-red, the fruit should drop effortlessly into your hand when you touch it. If it doesn’t want to let go, let it be. Collecting should be done twice a day and often the best ones are the ones you have to fight the ants for.  The “cherries” are an addition to fruit cups, salads and ice cream. They can be made pies, preserves such as jelly, jams, syrup, relish or pickles. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar, wine, and a liquor. The fruit is extremely high in vitamin C and A. Don’t eat the seeds. One probably wouldn’t kill you but if you think the unripe fruit tastes bad the seed is distaste on steroids. The fruit, I have been told but do not know, can be made into a fine wine.

The scientific name is Eugenia uniflora (yoo-JEE-nee-uh yoo-nif-FLOR-uh.) Eugenia is named for Prince Eugene of Savoy, 1663-1736, a patron of botany and horticulture. He was a great general and spent most of his life fighting in wars, constantly. Apparently it agreed with him. When he died in his sleep at age 72 he was, at the time, the richest man in the world… if it wasn’t for a fruit would we ever hear of him? Uniflora is from Latin unus, one or single and folium, to bloom, read one leaved.

That said, there are in other warm areas several edible Eugenias and at least one more naturalized in Florida, but it isn’t that tasty. The other edible species include: Eugenia aggregata, Eugenia cabelludo, Eugenia dombeyi, Eugenia klotzschiana, Eugenia reinwardtiana, Eugenia Smithii, Eugenia stipitata, Eugenia uvalha, Eugenia victoriana and Eugenia axillaris, the other one found in Florida.

Surinam Cherry Chiffon Pie

Surinam Cherry Chiffon Pie

by Rowena

The original recipe calls for surinam cherry juice, but  this was made with some fruit pulp. Rinse the cherries and remove stems and flowery ends. Using quick pulses, process a few times then pick the seeds out. The flecks of cherry throughout the pie makes for a pretty presentation when cut and served.

1 pie crust, 9-10 inch diameter, baked and cooled
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder
¼ cup cold water
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup surinam cherry pulp (about 1½ cup fruit)
1 cup whipping cream, sweetened with powdered sugar and whipped to soft peaks

Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup water. Beat the yolks together with HALF of the sugar and add the fruit pulp. Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Add the softened gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool and set aside.

Whip the egg whites until frothy then gradually add the remaining amount of sugar, beating until peaks begin to hold their shape. Fold beaten whites into cherry mixture and fill pie shell. Chill until firm. Top with prepared whipped topping just before serving. Serves 8-10.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Evergreen, multi-branched shrub or small tree to 30 feet, can be busy, usually shrub size in Florida; young stems often with red hairs and dark red new foliage. Leaves opposite, simple, short petiole, oval to lance shaped,  Flowers white, fragrant, half in across, with many stamens; occurring solitary or in clusters. Fruit  fleshy, juicy, red berry to inch and a half wide, looks like a little red pumpkin, 1-3 seeds

TIME OF YEAR: February to April, September to November in Florida.

ENVIRONMENT: Naturalized in urban areas, a border plant backyard escapee, vacant lots, untended area. In native central America range  it is a thicket tree.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  Ripe berries raw or cooked. One unripe berry can taint the rest. Learn to identify the ripe ones.  If you slice ripe ones open, take out the seeds, and the fruit sit in a refrigerator for a couple of hours they lost much of the resinous tang.  In Brazil they ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes a distilled liquor.


Research shows native concoctions of the tree do help in the control of Paracoccidioidomycosis (PCM), a yeasty disease endemic in Latin America, where up to 10 million may be infected.  The smelly leaves can be use as an insect repellant.

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{ 114 comments… read them below or add one }

carl adams September 16, 2015 at 11:06

i found that 9 out of ten all had a lil bity worm at least worm larvey in them why knever knew why anyone tell me please


Andrew September 12, 2015 at 06:37

Growing up in Miami, I found these trees/shrubs all over the place. I disagree that the blood red one’s are the best. I thought it was too sweet. I preferred the more tart orange-red ripeness the best. I’m living in Austin, TX now and don’t see these trees anymore. Makes feel like taking a vacation back home and picking them off the tree


Kathy Robinson August 28, 2015 at 18:09

I grew up with this particular fruit. I am a Florida native and like Sandy from the Orlando areas. My grandmother had one in her front yard. We kids would always pick the bush before the fruit gets ripe, we loved them. I guess you can say eaten green is also an acquired taste. My grandmother would always say “stop eating those cherries before there ripe or you gonna get the bloody flush”, whatever that means. She really didn’t want us kids eat the fruit before there ripen. We also ate persimmon before it was ripe, just feel the tightening of the tongue.


Martha Carpenter May 25, 2015 at 09:53

I just came in with a few cherries I picked off the bushes we’ve had in our back yard for years in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas (McAllen) I have tasted a few in the past and now know why they tasted pretty bad as I wanted to know if they were poisonous. No, just not really ripe! I’ll try some now that fall off in my hand but will probably save the rest for the squirrels that have shown up in our area in the last few years. Don’t laugh but they’re new enough on the scene that we’re still enchanted with their antics and spoil them with bird seed. The only problem here is the competition with our native Green Jays and White Wing Doves.


david atchisona May 14, 2015 at 21:59

I ate these as a kid growing up in Hialeah, Florida, along with mangos, avocado, kumquats, loquats, oranges, and grape fruit. All over the neighborhood, we would ride our bikes around just eating fruits out of peoples’ yards and our own yards.


Ted Barnwell April 8, 2015 at 09:06

What do I need to do to make my Surinam Cherry bush produce fruit ?


Green Deane April 8, 2015 at 09:20

How old is it, where is it located?


Dennis March 15, 2015 at 15:54

I have three trees in the yard in Santa Monica CA,it fruits two times a year,in spring and september


Lourdes March 11, 2015 at 14:08

Thank you for the information. This is helpful and informative. The only other person able to give us information about the Surinam cherries was an old friend form Puerto Rico that is over 90 years old. She assured us they were not poisonous.


Jim Crosson February 3, 2015 at 19:05

While on vacation over 15 years ago in Southern California, I tried my first Surinam Cherry at a nursery South of San Diego. I popped the seeds in my shirt pocket. Back in Chandler AZ. I got one to grow. Thinking is might not like the Arizona sun, I planted it under a covering to my front door. For many years I have had 50 or so cherries each year. A couple of years ago, it broke through the covering and has now grown about 3-4 feet in the full Arizona sun. That upper section now yields hundreds of cherries, the bottom still gives about 50 or so.


Michael S. Scott October 28, 2014 at 17:35

In Belize on Hidden Falls Farm, we have over 20 medium size Surinam cherry plant some 8 ft tall. And planting more.
We make the most delicious jam using little sugar and no pectin.
We either seal in jars or put in back of the shelf in refrigerator.
Only jam we like better is Ground Cherry.
Must not eat the seeds.


Gretchen June 12, 2014 at 18:13

in reply to Sandy, #75 Surinam cherry; I live in Clermont, very close to her and have a “black” cherry. I would love to share with her if nobody has yet. Is there anyway you can forward my e-mail to her?

Absolutely love your website. A friend, Lisa, in Bay Lake, FL has been telling me about you for….quite a while. I just began reading your work today and regret not heeding her suggestions earlier. She wants to have you out to her property to see what weeds she can harvest. Do you do this and how much do?

Thank you for responding,


Jessie Harvey May 27, 2014 at 13:33

I have picked 2 or 3 quarts of cherries as they ripened and put them in the freezer. I am looking for a surinam cherry jelly recipe using fruit pectin. Anyone have a good one? Thanks!


beth roberson May 22, 2014 at 14:48

i live in western belize and have about 30 surinam cherries, range between 3 yrs-10 yrs age. they are no pest here and agree the birds seem not to be interested (unlike the mulberries, which birds devour). wash, pull whatever stems etc on them, and freeze. try cooking them in your steel cut oats. we remove the pits as we eat them, but may get one of those cherry de-pitters as someone suggested its use on frozen ones. i also like them cooked stovetop in cast iron pan – butter, sliced apple, surinam cherries, cinnamon, honey and cacao nibs. top with cream. yum.

thanks for the useful information on your site.


G E MARTIN May 3, 2014 at 14:56

Plentiful here in Bermuda right now…. Hedges along the road are laden with fruit and falling in the road. Most people have them as hedges somewhere in their yard. I have been picking them daily from the tree in my yard. Have made a batch of jam. Want to try some recipes I found – Cherry chiffon pie, Cherry and walnut bread, Cherry flaming and liqueur. What a shame that more people here don’t pick and eat or use them in their recipes. I do…love them…and nutritious!


Michelle, Cocoa FL USA April 28, 2014 at 11:00

My kids like these, including my two year old. Unfortunately, the two year old accidently swallowed a pit this morning…should I be taking her to the doc?


Green Deane April 29, 2014 at 10:59

I just read this. How is she? Generally the tree is not toxic but kids are small and the seeds are not usually eaten. Though a young digestive system might not make much headway over a seed. What was the outcome?


Michelle, Cocoa FL USA April 29, 2014 at 11:35

I gave her a bowl of oatmeal just afterwards…she’s fine so far. She goes over to the tree and just starts munching…generally she spits out the seeds, but one got away! She even likes the tart ones…and the grapefruit that grow here also.

I had no idea what these were when we first moved here a few years ago. We did a web search and found your site…we really enjoy your work! I made the pie suggested above and it turned out great…YUM! Thanks so much. Maybe sometime I’ll take the (older) kids when you do a foraging class (if kids are ok that is).
Take care and thanks for responding :-) Michelle


Green Deane April 29, 2014 at 15:55

Thanks for letting me know. Our knowledge has been expanded.


DottieS April 28, 2014 at 09:18

I have a small tree of these planted by a bird sometime ago. The tree is sprawling but pretty and has a nice crop of cherries this year. I discovered these as a hedge in South Florida. I now live in West Central Florida and am enjoying this plant so much, I am going to try and grow some plants from seed.

PS: I like the taste of the orangey ones too.


Ralph Stricklin April 17, 2014 at 10:05

My surinam cherry bush is fruiting for the first time but most of the fruit is splitting open while still green. What can I do to stop this?


Green Deane April 17, 2014 at 10:21

That might be a result of overwatering, you a lawn system or nature or both.


Ralph Stricklin April 19, 2014 at 11:04

My plant is in a 3 gal nursery pot. I noticed it wilting in the summer heat so I started watering every day when it started blooming in January. I water in the morning, so when it rains in the p.m. or night it gets a lot. Next year I hope to have it in the ground. Thanks for your help.


Douglas Boudreau April 16, 2014 at 13:46

I’ve been eating those cherries since my youth of growing up in Tampa and the surrounding area. I developed a taste for them when I was very young and continue to enjoy them whenever/wherever I see them. Thanks, I wish I could afford your classes and get transportation to it. Doug of Z-hills


Tassel Daley April 14, 2014 at 19:52

Thanks for sharing this information. I have several plants in my condo. Today I went and picked a bag full. I am now going to take out the seeds wash them and freeze some.


Sandra March 29, 2014 at 14:29

My girlfriend and I were feasting on the ripe cherry’s and discovered tiny white worms in some of them. This was discovered after we ate them.

I do not know if the worms are harmful but to what I’ve read on the internet the worms are larva’s to a small fruit fly. Does any one know anything more? I also understand that these larva’s cannot survive in the human intestinal track. None of this information has been confirmed.

Also a I have a very severe puncture wound on my right hand and I applied some of the smashed fruit on the wound and woke up feeling the pain was greatly reduced.


Green Deane March 29, 2014 at 15:00

We eat a lot of larval remains in much of our food. Our reaction to them is a learned response. They are edible and nutritious. As for the fruit on a wound, it is astringent and that often helps wounds.


Sandy March 25, 2014 at 13:33

A truly delightful piece albeit read after I’d had a ‘not so ripe’ few. Thanks


donna jeanne February 24, 2014 at 00:56

Have you ever heard of the surinam cherries altering sence of smell towards the smoky smell? If so for how long? Thank you for your time. I also enjoy them.


Green Deane February 25, 2014 at 19:30

Haven’t heard of said.


Sandy February 22, 2014 at 19:54

I remembered as a child, growing up in Orlando, a neighbor had the Surinam cherries as a hedge and I discovered how wonderful they tasted. I ran across a row of trees in Eustis, Fl and picked some of the fruit for seeds. I was so delighted to discover them again. One seed grew into a 3′ bush and is full of blooms right now, can’t wait to taste them again. I live in Howey In The Hills, Fl . I would love to see the black ones. got any seeds? Enjoy the Website.


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