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.
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. Easy to grow from seed. 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.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Put the soil in a pot. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Put the seeds on the soil.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the seeds.
- Place the pots in an area with warm temperatures in full sun or part shade. The seeds take 3-5 weeks to germinate.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.