Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora)
Surinam Cherry is native to South America; it is found from Guyana to southern Brazil and northern Uruguay. It was introduced to Bermuda as a garden tree because it produces an edible fruit. The leaves of the Surinam Cherry are thin, smooth edged, about 4 to 7 cm (1.5 to 2.5״) long and are shiny with a pointed tip. When the leaves are young they are reddish but turn dark green once they mature. The leaves and fruit have a ‘resin-like’ smell, as do the branches when cut. In Bermuda Surinam Cherry flowers profusely in March and April followed by fruit which appears from April to early June. The ribbed fruit are green when they appear and turn red as they ripen. Some trees flower and fruit again in the autumn. The fruit can be eaten straight from the tree and are locally used to make jam.
Cherries were listed by Governor Hamilton in his 1790 account of the produce grown in Bermuda, so they must have been introduced before this date (Collett, 1987). A mature Surinam Cherry tree is also listed in an inventory of trees taken at Orange Valley, Devonshire in 1840 (Collett, 1987).
Upon arrival in Bermuda, Surinam Cherry became naturalised and began reproducing and spreading from gardens into the surrounding forest. Surinam Cherry spread fairly slowly until 1900 when Starlings arrived in Bermuda. These birds eat the fruit and spread the seeds. The seed in the centre of the fruit is about 1.2 cm (0.5 ״) in diameter which stops the smaller native songbirds from swallowing it. When the island was denuded following the Cedar scale epidemic in the 1940s Surinam Cherry began to dominate tracts of cleared land. Its spread was further accelerated by the introduction of another large songbird, the Kiskadee, in 1957.
Britton noted in 1918 that Surinam Cherry trees were being cut down because they encouraged another invasive species, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Ceratitis capitata) which was an agricultural pest on the island at that time. Despite this early intervention, today Surinam Cherry is common in most terrestrial habitats, except where there is salt spray. It is still used in gardens, particularly for hedges.
In the wild, Surinam Cherry grows as a shrub forming dense thickets, but also as a small tree that can reach up to 6 metres (20 ft) tall with a 20 cm (8״) diameter trunk. Surinam Cherry has relatively deep roots so it can tolerate high winds and Bermuda’s sparse summer rain. In Blue Hole Park Surinam Cherry has created an almost monoculture forest. In this area shrubs are closely spaced with small trunks forming a dense thicket that excludes other plants. Surinam Cherry is closely related to the native White Stopper, which is also in the genus Eugenia. Ironically, as the Cherry has thrived the White Stopper has become rare as these species compete for growing space in the under story of the upland forest.
Britton, Nathaniel Lord. 1918. Flora of Bermuda. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
Collett, Jill. 1987. Bermuda Her Plants and Gardens 1609-1850. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. And the Bermuda National Trust.