Cyphomandra betacea

Common Name: tree tomato 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Solanaceae
Native Range: Peru, Brazil
Zone: 10 to 11
Height: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 8.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Pinkish-white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Fragrant, Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

Winter hardy to UDSA Zones 10-11 where this plant is best grown in organically rich, fertile, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Taller growth occurs in full sun. Performs well in soils with a coarse texture. Best grown in climates where temperatures do not dip below 45 degrees F. Plants are commercially grown only in frost-free climates. For home landscapes, some light frost is usually considered acceptable (leaves drop and small branches will be killed, but new growth appears in spring). Frost will kill seedlings in the first year. Avoid overly moist soils. Plants do not require staking, but are shallow-rooted and need protection from strong winds. Best performance in humid climates. Easy to grow from seed. Plants go semi-dormant in winter. Locate plants under eaves on the south side of the house near the northern edge of its growing range. Plants are typically short-lived (4-6 years).

Noteworthy Characteristics

Cyphomandra betacea, commonly known as tamarillo or tree tomato, is a semi-woody, shallow-rooted, sub-tropical evergreen shrub with a treelike form that typically grows rapidly to 10-15’ tall (rarely in an ideal climate to 25’ tall) and features large edible tomato-like fruit on plants clothed with large ovate green leaves. It is native to South America (probably between 5,000-10,000’ in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile) with cultivation and naturalization occurring in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Central American and some Caribbean islands. This plant is widely grown now in New Zealand as a commercial crop. It is a member of the nightshade family (same family as tomato and eggplant).

Large, heart-shaped, softly hairy, pinnately-veined, oval leaves (to 4-10” long and 4-6” wide) are pointed at the apex. Fragrant, pinkish-white flowers (to 3/4” long) are borne in loose clusters in spring. Each flower has 5 lobes, 5 yellow stamens and a greenish-purple calyx. Flowers are self-pollinating. Flowers are followed by edible, egg-shaped fruits (to 2-4” long and 2” wide) which mature from gray-green to yellow and finally dull red, sometimes with faint dark longitudinal stripes. Fruits are borne singly or in clusters of 3-12. Fruits resemble tomatoes when cut open, but have much thicker skins than those of tomatoes. Bruised plant foliage will emit a distinct odor similar to the odors produced by other nightshade family members. Plants are typically short lived (4-6 years).

Houseplants, no matter how healthy, will not fruit indoors.

Genus name comes from the Greek words kypnos meaning a tumour and andros meaning male in reference to a thickening on the connective tissue of the anther.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word betaceus meaning resembling beets.

This plant was originally given the common name of tree tomato because of the resemblance of its ripe fruit to the fruit of some garden tomatoes (Lycopersicon). In the 1960s, growers in New Zealand (a major commercial exporter of tree tomato fruit) reached agreement to give all future tree tomatoes commercially grown in New Zealand the new common name of tamarillo in order to distinguish this fruit as being exotic and unique plus to clearly differentiate it from the more common tomatoes grown world-wide in home gardens.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Watch for slugs, snails and whitefly. Aphids may appear. Fruit flies may attack the fruit in some areas. Nematodes. Powdery mildew can be a significant disease problem. Susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and potato virus. For more information see: Problems Common to Many Indoor Plants

Uses

Cultivated for fruits in some tropical to subtropical areas. Fruits can be added raw to salads. Use in sauces, jams, compotes or chutneys. Bold foliage plant. Ornamental curiosity. Remove the bitter skin by scooping out the fruit or blanching the fruit in boiling water and then slipping off the skin. May be grown from seed as an ornamental annual.