Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lucumo of Peru, a gift from the Andes

Its mother was born in the fields that surround the Peruvian city of Trujillo and they, my lucumos, flew in form of seed all South America over the ebullient forests of the Amazon, soon they crossed the immense Atlantic Ocean and they arrived after many flight hours at Europe.

Ripe fruit of lucumo de palo.

They made a shutdown in Seville but they could not see the wonderful blinding light of Andalusia, because jealously they were kept in the suitcase from my good Peruvian friend Luis, who brought them to me like an alive gift, a small piece of his loved Peru. "What you want that I bring you of my country? ", it had asked me before starting off in honeymoon trip. "Seeds of trees", I had answered him. 

From Seville they continued its long trip and they flew towards the east, towards the sun, towards the old Mediterranean Sea, where a small island of white rocks and an intensely blue luminous sky hoped to them loving to adopt them and to be its new overseas mother.

Flower of lucumo de seda.

The Lucumo of Peru, of scientific name Pouteria lucuma, Lucuma obovata or Achras lucuma, is a subtropical fruit tree of Andean valleys, especially abundant in Peru, where it grows between the 1000 and the 3000 msl. Also it lives on natural way in Ecuador, Colombia, north of Chile and Bolivia. It belongs to the Sapotaceae family and still is not practically known in the rest of the world. It is being cultivated with more or less success in Costa Rica, Mexico and Hawaii. Also its culture in Florida and California has been tried, but the obtained fruits have been of bad quality and some trees have died by the frosts. The first results of their experimental sowing in Australia and New Zealand seem promising. Given to its good adaptation to climates of Mediterranean type free of frosts its culture it could be successful in South Africa and in the coastal zones of the Mediterranean. Its name comes from the quechua word lucma or rucma. Two varieties are known: lucumo de palo and lucumo de seda. The differences between both are little and they are limited the form of the fruits, the texture of the pulp and the leaves. 

Leaves of Lucumo de Seda. Its great similarity with the leaves of the laurel is very showy.

Lucumo of Peru is an evergreen tree that can reach up to 20 meters of height in optimal conditions of growth, although generally does not surpass the 8 or 9 meters. The leaves measure between 12 and 25 centimeters in length. They are lanceolate and whole and they are arranged in alternating form on the stem. In some cultivars have uneven margins. The new buds and the chalices of the flowers are pubescent, covered by a smooth brown pilosity.

Beam of the leaves of the two varieties of lucumo. The leaves of lucumo of soothe are extended, finished in end and wider in their distal half, whereas those of lúcumo of wood they are more rounded and wider in his average part. Both have between 10 and 14 oblique veins ready to each side of the central axis of the leave.

Underside of the two previous leaves of a green color paler than the beam. 

Flowers and buds of lucumo de seda.

The seeds that Luis gave me germinated without problems to the few weeks. I feared that the cold of the Majorcan winter could kill the small trees just born, but turned out to be more resistant to the low temperatures and the frosts that the orange and lemon trees of my garden. Also it worried me that the calcareous soil of Majorca could burn them the roots, but again it surprised me its perfect adaptation to the Majorcan earth. They have spent 26 years already and they have become very leafy trees of more than 4 meters of height with a trunk of 15 centimeters of diameter, graft from the 50-70 centimeters of height. 

Flowers already fecundated of lucumo de palo.

By own experience I have verified that, against which they assure some North American agriculturists, lucumo of Peru resists temperatures perfectly inferiors to +5ºC, even short frosts of until -3ºC. As example we have the month of February of 2012 that has been exceptional in Majorca by the heavy snowfalls that have been repeated throughout two weeks. In my garden it has been gotten to accumulate a snow layer of up to 8 centimeters that have stayed during three days followed, covering the lucumos with a thick white mantle. Throughout these two weeks of continuous snowfalls every night the temperatures have lowered below 0ºC and the lucumos have passed the hard test without presenting no apparent damage. They are magnificent. 

Also I have verified its excellent resistance to the high temperatures of the torrid Majorcan summer, supporting perfectly 40ºC of some days of August. Nor has hurt wind loaded with fine dry sand from the Sahara Desert, called Sirocco (Xaloc in Mallorcan) blowing several times a year bringing the high temperatures of northern Africa to the Mediterranean.

Although in its wild state grows over the 1000 msl, in my garden lives wonderfully to only 80 msl. Also in Peru and Chile it is cultivated concerning the sea without no problem. Like the citruses, to lucumo it likes to live to total sun, being supported well a partial shade in its first years.

Three flowers of lucumo de seda. I recommend to extend the photos with a double click to appreciate better the details.

The flowers are numerous and grow in the armpits of the leaves in groups from two to three. They are quite small, hermaphrodites, actinomorphic and tubular with five petals of green color or clearly yellowish, welded by its base. The androecium is formed by several stamens welded to corola by the expensive intern of the petals. Frequently between stamens it can have one or two additional whirls reduced to staminodes without no anther in its end. The gynoecium is formed by unique compound pistil and an ovary generally with 4 or 5 locules, although it can have from one to fourteen, each with a unique axillary ovum.

Detail of the reproductive organs of two flowers of lucumo de seda.

My lucumos took between 12 and 15 years in blooming for the first time and a pair of years more in bearing its first fruits. It surprised much its time of flowering at the beginning of the summer, agreeing with the driest station of Majorca. Although the drought resists very well, the lack of summer rains harms much the production of fruits, because the tree suffers much indeed at the moment that more water needs. Both weekly irrigations with dripping are not sufficient and 90% of the flowers fall right after the pollination or when it begins to fatten the ovary of the new fruits.

Fruit of lucumo de seda beginning the growth of the ovary just after the fecundation of the flower.

Ripe fruit of lucumo de palo.

In Andean valleys the lucumo blooms and fructifies the year throughout. In Majorca it blooms at the beginning of summer and the fruits mature in autumn. The fruit is a berry. In the variety lucumo de seda the fruits have a cleared ovate form with an acute apex. In the variety lucumo de palo the fruits are flattened, basal compressed with the blunt apex. The skin or exocarp is fine and delicate and changes of green dark to green clearly and later to yellow as the fruit is maturing. The Indians of Peru hope to that the fruits fall to the ground, moment in which still they are not possible to be eaten then its pulp is very hard and contains very bitter latex. In order to accelerate its maturation they bury in straw, litter or stored grain until they soften. Then the pulp dismisses an pleasant sweet aroma and they already can be consumed.

Pulp and seeds of the previous fruit. 

The pulp or mesocarp has an intense yellow color with a very sweet flavor and a very pleasant aroma. In the variety lucumo de seda the pulp is mealy of very smooth consistency. In the variety lucumo de palo the pulp has a lasts and signs consistency. In both cases the pulp represents 60% of the gross weight of the fruit.

Endocarp is membrane very fine of yellow color that surrounds several seeds of dark brown color with a lasts cuticle very shining, whose number can oscillate between one and five, although generally are two. Frequently the seeds begin to germinate within the fruit, as it is seen in the previous photo.

In the Andes the fruits of lucumo weigh between 150 and 250 grams, arriving to surpass a kilo in some cultivars. In my garden the weight of the fruits is something smaller, between 50 and 150 grams, perhaps by the drought of the Majorcan summer.

Lucumo de seda at beginning of october.

In the Andean countries the pulp is very appreciated from the antiquity by the natives, although usually it is not consumed in fresh given its mealy consistency. Have been archaeological rest of ceramics in the indigenous cemeteries of the coast of Peru with representations of this fruit. Personally I like to directly eat the very mature fruits to bites without peeling, but in the Andes they prefer to consume the pulp in the form of ice creams, beaten of milk, cakes, pies, desserts, infantile foods, fillings of cakes, added yogourt, etc... In Peru the pulp is dehydrated and reduced to dust and soon it is added like additive to all type of cooking preparations.

Lucumo of Peru is a fruit with a great future. It is foreseeable that in the next decades it is gaining new markets and new consumers anywhere in the world. It would be interesting to foment its culture between the Andean farmers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Naranjita of Quito: a fruit with future

The Naranjita of Quito, Solanum quitoense, is a shrub of Solanaceae family that grows wild in the subtropical forests of the plateaus of the Andes mountain range between 1200 and 2500 msnm in shaded and fresh places near water streams with temperatures between 17 and 20ºC. It is especially abundant in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Also one is in wild form in the forests of Venezuela, Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama and it has been feral from cultivated units in some islands of Polynesia and Asian countries like Borneo and China. 

Gorgeous flower of Naranjita of Quito in September. The floral structure is typical of all the Solanaceae with five white petals, five yellow stamens and a pistil.

In Central America it is called Naranjita or Naranjilla of Quito, Lulo (in Quechua language), Obando, Morella of Quito, Coconilla and Nuquí. Two varieties are known: Solanum quitoense var. septentrionale, with thorns, that it prefers to live in heights superiors to the 2000 msnm. and it is the wild ancestral form and Solanum quitoense var. quitoense, without thorns, that grow better in heights inferiors to the 2000 msnm and are a mutation selected through culture that lacks the dominant gene that codifies the thorns. The naranjitas of Quito are consumed in fresh as table fruit or is destined to the preparation of juices, jams, ice creams and desserts. This fruit is exported to Europe, Japan and the United States.

Three plants of Lulo in August cultivated in the Mediterranean island of Majorca next to a wall oriented towards the west. They belong to the variety septentrionale with thorns.

In Mediterranean climates the plants of Lulo rarely survive the winter cold, but they are possible to be cultivated as if they were tomato plants, having to spend the first winter in flowerpot within a greenhouse or in house near a window. In the middle of the second spring they are possible to be seeded in earth in the outside. If one provides dung or compost and abundant irrigations at the beginning of the summer they begin to bloom and they give a good harvest of fruits that are maturing gradually until entered good the autumn. When arrives the winter the Naranjita of Quito usually dies, since it does not support to temperatures inferiors to 10ºC. If the winter is very smooth and the plant is protected of the north wind and the frosts sometimes survive the main stem and branches more thicknesses, than they return to appear with the increase of the temperatures of the spring. 

Great Solanum quitoense leaves that can get to measure more than 50 centimeters. The gorgeous dwelled veins draw attention. The surface of the leaves is covered with a fine woolly hairiness like velvet. 

In Central America the Lulo usually is cultivated under the tops of the trees, since it is essentially an underbrush plant and needs permanent shade with precipitations superiors to 1500 liters m2 annual. The natives directly seed it in the forest in the dark of the underbrush, but the plants only give to good harvests the two or three first years. When they have consumed the little nutrients of the sylvan ground and begins to diminish the production of fruits, the farmers leave the plantation and look for a new zone of the forest where to seed.

Intense dwelled color of the new buds, the petioles, the veins and the face inferior of the leaves. The frightful thorns that protect all the parts of the plant, especially the petioles, the later part of rachis and the veins of the leaves draw attention.

In spite of being an underbrush shrub also it can live to total sun, but the high solar radiation accelerates much its photosynthetic metabolism and shortens its productive life to only one or two harvests of fruits. Consequently it is preferable to throughout cultivate it in dark conditions, obtaining thus fruits during all the year throughout four or five years.

First flower of one of previous Naranjitas of Quito in the middle of the month of June. As much the flowers as the new leaves are covered with a smooth wooliness that to the tact seems velvet. 

Same previous flower in detail.

Lateral vision of a flower of Lulo with its abundant smooth hairiness like the velvet.

Woolly chalice of the previous flower.

Solanum quitoense reproduces easily by seeds that take of 3 to 6 weeks in germinating. Also it is possible to be reproduced by stakes of about 30 centimeters, clearing the leaves to avoid the transpiration  and seeding them in inclined position in sand dealt with fungicides, because they are very susceptible to being attacked by fungi. Another method more and more used by the nurserymen and the great plantations is the in vitro reproduction of vegetal tissues from meristem. With this method the most productive varieties, more resistant, healthier and with fruits of better quality can be propagated vegetative without danger of contamination by esporas of fungi, obtaining themselves thousands of identical clones to the plant mother.

Still green fruit of Lulo or Naranjita of Quito covered with rigid hairs that nail in the skin as needles and can bring about cutaneous irritations and urticaria in the sensible people. For the harvesting protective gloves are used and the hairs retire with a brush or a rag.

 Two naranjitas of Quito with stinging hairs already retired, imported from Colombia and acquired in the section of tropical fruits of a department store of Palma de Mallorca.

Yellowish green pulp of both previous fruits divided in four compartment. Each naranjita can get to contain up to thousand seeds. The pulp is acid, refreshing and very rich in vitamin C, mineral and antioxidants. It is possible to be eaten to teaspoons as if it was a flan. In Central America it is very appreciated the fresh  juice slightly diluted with a little water with added sugar.

The Naranjita of Quito is a fruit with a promising future. It has a great potential market in Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada with a foreseeable increase of the exports towards these countries. It would be interesting to foment the culture of this shrub between the Andean farmers. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sibthorpia africana: a Balearic endemism

Sibthorpia africana is a very inconspicuous little plant, insignificant, humble, shy, very fuzzy, who like to live rooted on the moss and lichens that filled the cool, moist rock crevices oriented north. Hates direct sun and to avoid it, as if its shyness prevented it from lean, when its panel-growth stems reach the edge of the cleft stick to the limestone rocks and moss, assuming the appearance of a green carpet. Thus only the rays of biased sunrise and sunset, or the northeast and southwest, staying in the shade during the hottest hours of the day. 

Sibthorpia africana flowering stalk of early May the moss growing on a rocky crevice that fills the Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca at 110 meters. The stems can reach 40 centimeters in length.

Sibthorpia africana late October in its preferred habitat, the crack of a rock facing north.

In this image Sibthorpia africana heliofobia is so obvious that no leaf dares to stand outside the crack.  

The botanist who named it suffered a slip and called African, but not be, because in reality it is a strictly Balearic endemism living in all the islands except in Formentera. Interestingly the only plant of this genus living in Africa is Sibthorpia europaea.

First flower of Sibthorpia africana in late April. The flowers of this Scrophulariaceae are usually solitary. Exceptionally we can find two flowers on the same stem.

The genus Sibthorpia has only five species worldwide, distributed in temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Africa and America. They are perennials and creeping stems which tend to root where its nodes touch the ground, thus facilitating their survival and expansion into adjacent cracks.

Another flower in early May. The Sibthorpia africana live from sea level to 1300 meters. It blooms in April, May and June.

 Most flowers of Sibthorpia africana are pentamerous with five petals of a lively lemon yellow, rarely white, five stamens and a pistil. Exceptionally, they can submit up to eight petals.

Lateral view of a flower which shows the abundant hairiness of the calyx and underside of leaves. The hairs can be no excretory the longest and glandular with a tiny gland at the end the shorter. In no case exceed two millimeters in length.

The leaves are kidney-shaped with serrated edge and very hairy, especially on the underside. Each leaf has between 5 and 14 teeth broad, acute to obtuse and densely hairy petiole longer than the limb.

As the moss which grows on, Sibthorpia africana survives the long, hot and dry Balearic summer months entering in aestivation, with most of dried leaves, waiting patiently the first rains of autumn.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fingers blood

Yes, folks, like fingers of blood emerging from the earth, so are the beautiful spring buds of Paeonia cambessedesii a Paeoniaceae endemic to Mallorca, Menorca and Cabrera, whose mother came from Europe, its grandmother from Anatolia and two great-grandmothers from the plateaus of Central Asia.

In February, with the increase in daylight hours, the rhizome of the Paeonia cambessedesii stalks emerges forcefully with a very bright intense garnet color that look like bloody fingers of a hand emerging from the earth, like a buried person while still alive. Its striking color is due to its rich in anthocyanins, whose dark color absorbs sunlight and prevents the freezing of the buds by formidable frosts of Balearic winter. I recommend enlarge photos with a double click to appreciate its beauty.

The luminous pink of its petals breaks the green and gray monotony of the Balearic mountains.

Contemplating as much beauty one imagines how they had to be the springs of the plateaus of Majorca and Menorca mountains several millenia ago with immense carpets of endemic peonias illuminating the landscape and herds of Myotragus balearicus antelopes grazing the coriaceous leaves of the thorny cleared shrubs of the tops of the Serra de Tramuntana and smooth hills of Menorca, calls nun bearings. Impressive only broken silence by the murmur of the wind playing with the capricious forms of calcareous rocks and the branches of the disks, olive trees, junipers and oaks and by the quack of some hawk pilgrim, a crow or a black vulture completed the wonderful scene of that one paradise. My spirit becomes sad before the painful present reality. That one paradise of dream never will return to be what was. It is had lost for always. 

The bloody buds of February unfold in March and they are transformed into leaves and cocoons. The stems reach the 60 centimeters of height. The underside of the leaves remains dyeing of red, like the petiole, the rachis and the main veins of the limb of leaves, whereas the anverse acquires an intense bluish green color with metalised brightness.

As all the Paeoniaceae the Balearic paeonia is very poisonous. Its present strangeness in the nature not must then to the depredation of the ewes and the feral goats, but to the bad custom of people to take so beautiful the whole plants when seeing them to take them to its house and to seed them in flowerpots, which always ends up killing them or to take the flowers and to put it in a vase, which prevents the formation of the seeds of the following generation.

Young Paeonia cambessedesii of four years with its first flower of six petals at the beginning of April. 

Magnificent flower of adult Paeonia cambessedesii at the end of March. Each bud finishes in a unique flower in its end.

Same previous flower with its eight petals of an intense almost transparent pink color. The flowers measure between 6 and 12 centimeters of diameter and usually take between 5 and 10 petals, although generally the majority of flowers takes eight. The color goes from pink a very pale one to pink a purple one.

Another flower of Paenia cambessedesii at the end of March. The beauty of the petals with its texture of transparent paper of soothes and the graticule of its darker veins is impressive.

As I said you at the first the mother of the Paeonia cambessedesii arrived from Europe during the Messiniense period of Delayed Miocene. Years ago prestigious botanists realised a genetic study of all European and Asian paeonias. After analyzing the results and of comparing the variations in the different genetic markers they concluded that all the paeonias of the Mediterranean come from an Asian ancestral hybrid that formed several million years ago by the hibridization between two paeonias of the plateaus of central Asia. Thence this antediluvian hybrid was colonizing territories of all Asia and Japan, arriving until Near East. Soon it continued its expansion by all the coastal countries of the Mediterranean and all Europe. In each new conquered territory it was been differentiate in different species by successive adaptive mutations.

When one of its descendants arrived at the Tyrrhenian region in the heat of Messinian period colonized one after another one the then mountains of Corsica and Sardinia and thence jumped to Menorca and Majorca. After the later ascent of the level of the sea, the Balearics mountains became islands and tyrrhenian paeonia was isolated and underwent diverse adaptive mutations until transforming into our gorgeous Paeonia cambessedesii that at present only lives in Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera. In spite of having hundreds of species of paeonia in Europe and Asia, all of them have same both Asian ancestors.

The reproductive organs are formed by numerous stamens with purple filaments and yellow anthers loaded of pollen. In center they are between 3 and 9 feminine carpels, also purple, with the circinate stigmata receiving of pollen in its ends. Each stigma is united to its ovary through a heavy style. 

The reproductive system of the Paeonia cambessedesii has a feminine phase and a masculine one. During the first day they mature the feminine stigmata that wait for the visit of the pollenizer insects with their impregnated bodies of the pollen of other flowers. If the stigmata are not fertilized the first day they follow one or two more receptive days. Meanwhile the masculine anthers of stamens remain closed to avoid the autopollination. When the plant detects that their ovaries already have been fertilized, the stamens mature and the masculine anthers open so that the insects impregnate with pollen and they take it to other flowers. 

Two flowers of Paeonia cambessedesii of a gorgeous very pale pink color. We can see a pollenizer insect impregnating itself of pollen, which means that the reproductive system of the flowers is in masculine phase and their ovaries already have been fertilized.

Already fertilized ovaries initiating the maturation of seeds.

 At the end of August the seeds already are mature and the fruits open to disperse them.

Fruits already completely opened with the showy seeds of a shining black jet color.

A curious detail of the content of fruits are the aborted seeds that do not mature within the ovaries have not been fertilized, being reduced to a soft red bodies of flat faces.

In this picture they look great the aborted seeds attached to the inner wall of the ovary by a small nutritional stalk exactly like the black fertilized seeds.

Detail of the viable seeds of black color and the aborted seeds of red color.

The seeds of Paeonia cambessedesii must support several winters with strong frozen to surpass the internal lethargy that prevents its germination. A way to accelerate the process consists of stratifying the seeds in vegetal dampened earth within a closed package and to soon introduce them in a refrigerator during three or four months. The wide-awake cold to the embryo of its winter lethargy. At the beginning of the spring are seeded the seeds in their definitive place and usually germinate without problems to the few weeks. If they do not germinate in the first spring they do it in the following one. 

Small Paeonia cambessedesii just been born with its intense garnet color that it prevents that they congeal it to the frosts. Its childhood will last four or five long years and one spring it will give its first flower, the most beautiful of the Balearics mountains.