Back to Biodiversity Explorer main pageGo to Iziko Museums of Cape Town home pageAbout Biodiversity Explorer - history, goals, etc.Send us your questions about southern African biodiversityPeople who have contributed content and images.Search Biodiversity Explorer

Food and drink biodiversity:

Fruit

Berries

Fragaria species (Strawberry)

Family: Rosaceae

Strawberry fruit are eaten raw or used in making juice, desserts, jam, syrup and wine. Fruit, leaves and roots are also used medicinally. The Modern Garden Strawberry Fragaria ananassa, which is the main species grown these days, arose in the gardens of Europe as a hybrid between two New World species that had been introduced to Europe by the Spanish colonists.

Rubus species (Bramble, Blackberry, Loganberry, Youngberry and Raspberry)

Family: Rosaceae

Since earliest times, people have collected berries from species of Rubus. They are eaten raw, cooked, or made into other products such as jam and juice. Berries have high levels of vitamins A, B1 and C. Dry leaves are used in herbal teas and both leaves and roots are used medicinally.

 

Vaccinium species (Cranberry and blueberry)

Family: Ericaceae

Cranberries and blueberries originate from North America where there are a large number of different Vaccinium species that are referred to by one of these names. Commercial planting still often involves using wild stock, but in addition hybrid cultivars have been developed.

 

Melons

Citrullus lanatus (Watermelon)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

The Watermelon is thought to have been domesticated in Africa at least 4000 years ago and is now grown worldwide, particularly in regions with long, hot summers. 

Cucumis melo (Muskmelon, including winter melon and spanspek)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

The wild Muskmelon has an indigenous distribution over the desert and savanna regions of Africa, Arabia, southwestern Asia and Australia, including in southern Africa, and was domesticated in Africa and southwestern Asia more than 4000 years ago. It now comes in a range of forms including those with netted rinds (e.g. spanspek / cantaloup) and those with smooth rinds (e.g. wintermelon). Melons are usually eaten fresh as an hors d'oeuvre at the beginning of the meal or as a dessert fruit at the end of the meal. 

Cucumis metuliferus (Jelly melon, African horned cucumber, Kiwano)

Indigenous to African woodlands and grasslands, prefering those regions with a hot climate. Within southern Africa, it occurs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa (Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal). It has become a weed in Queensland, Australia. The fruit is distinctive in having short horn-like processes widely spaced over its surface. It turns orange when ripe. Non-bitter varieties are commercially cultivated in South Africa and New Zealand. In the latter country  it has been named and trademarked as 'kiwano', in a similar manner to Kiwifruit.

 

Citrus

The genus Citrus is native to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaysia, the East Indies and the Philippines. The history of domestication has been hard to establish because archaeological evidence is lacking and it has been difficult to link names and descriptions in ancient accounts with the actual species we know today. Records of domestication go back to about 500 BC. 

Citrus  fruits are high in vitamin C, flavonoids, acids and volatile oils. They contain coumarins such as bergapten which make the skin sensitive to sunlight. Many citrus species and varieties are not cultivated for producing fresh edible fruit but are sour and used for other purposes. From a cullinary point of view, leaves are used for flavouring foods and the skin of fruit is used for making marmalade. Citrus is also used extensively for medicinal and toiletry products.

Citrus aurantium (Seville, Bergamot or Sour Orange)

Family: Rutaceae

Hybrid between Pummelo Citrus grandis and Mandarin Citrus reticulata.

Citrus aurantium orginated in China and seems to have entered the written record there by 300 BC. Because of its sour and bitter taste, Sour orange is not usually eaten raw but used for: (1) making marmalade and candied peel; (2) producing essential oils for use in soaps and perfume; (3) scenting tea using the flower buds; and (4) fruit extracts are used to flavour soft drinks and the aromatic oil is used in distilling certain liqueurs. Bergamot yields oil from the flowers which is used in perfumery (e.g. in Eau de Cologne), and which is the substance added to Earl Grey tea to give it that distinctive flavour.

 

Citrus limon (Lemon)

Family: Rutaceae

Hybrid between Citron Citrus medica and Lime Citrus aurantifolia.

The place and date of origin of the Lemon is uncertain but it probably came from China. Lemon is used for making lemonade, it is used in drinks, and for flavouring a wide variety of foods. The essential oil from Lemon is known as cedro oil, and is used as a flavouring in the food industry and is also used in soaps, detergents and perfumes.

 

Citrus paradisii (Grapefruit)

Family: Rutaceae

Hybrid between Pummelo Citrus maxima and Sweet Orange Citrus sinensis.

This hybrid species is thought to have originated on the island of Barbados in about 1750. Further varieties of Grapefruit were developed mainly in Florida and Texas, USA. Grapefruit are usually eaten by cutting them in half and scooping out the flesh, often with a little sugar added to relieve the bitterness. They are also used in juices and fruit salads.

 

Citrus reticulata (Mandarin, Satsuma and Tangerine, Naartjie)

Family: Rutaceae

The Mandarin was probably domesticated in tropical Southeast Asia. By 500 BC it was known in China and by 300 BC it was being grown commercially in central China. By 400 AD, grafting methods were being used to clone favourable varieties. It was introduced to Japan at an early stage, and it was here that the Satsuma variety was developed. Despite its popularity in Asia, it was only in the 1800's that Citrus reticulata was established in Europe, North Africa, West Indies, North and South America, and Australia.

Citrus reticulata (Naartjie)

Citrus sinensis (Edible, Sweet,  Valencia, Navel Orange)

Family: Rutaceae

Hybrid between Pummelo Citrus maxima and Mandarin Citrus reticulata.

Although originating from the same parent species as Citrus aurantium, the actual parents were different varieties to those of Citrus aurantium. There are clear records of Citrus sinensis in China only by the 1100's and in India by the 1300's. By the 1400's it had spread to the Mediterranean. From the mid 1600's onwards, European colonists spread it around the world's tropical regions.  The Navel variety originated in Bahia, Brazil in the 1800's. 

 

Tropical and subtropical fruits

Ananas comosus (Pineapple)

Family: Bromeliaceae

The pineapple originates from South America and is a cultigen species produced in prehistorical times by South American Indians through hybridisation of two wild species and selection for beneficial traits of fruit size and quality. Pineapples are cultivated as clones with the Cayenne clone being the most popular. They contain protein-digesting enzymes called bromelains, so that if you add fresh pineapple to jelly, it will not set, and pineapple added to marinades will help tenderise the meat.

Annona cherimola (Cherimola, Custard apple)

Family: Annonaceae

The Cherimola is a small tree with scaly-looking fruits that are about 10-12 cm in diameter. It is indigenous to the subtropical highlands of Peru and Ecuador and is widely cultivated in Central America as well as subtropical and tropical regions elsewhere. The flesh of the fruit is eaten raw or used ice cream, milkshakes, jams, jellies and yoghurt. As the fruits do not last long once picked, they are mainly sold on local markets. Although Cherimola has been grown in southern Africa, it is rarely encountered in this region.

 

Annona muricata (Soursop, Guanábana)

Family: Annonaceae

The Soursop is a tree of up to 8 m high bearing large thorny-surfaced 'custard apple' fruit, weighing up to 3 kg each. The flesh in these fruits can be eaten raw, but more commonly is used in fruit juices and softdrinks. It is also used in ice creams, sorbets and jellies. Soursop is indigenous to the tropical lowlands of Central America and is now cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions. It is rarely encountered as a cultivated tree in southern Africa.

 

Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwifruit)

Family: Actinidiaceae

Kiwifruit only came under cultivation in the 20th Century. It is indigenous to China but New Zealand is the country that pioneered its cultivation.  The fruit contains high Vitamin C levels, evidently exceeding those of any citrus fruit. It also contains a proteolytic enzyme that has meat tenderizer type properties. Fruit can survive for long periods after picking, which makes them ideal for the export market. A number of additional species of Actinidia are coming on to the market (see under Actinidia).

Actinidia deliciosa (Kiwifruit)

Carica papaya (Pawpaw, Papaya)

Family: Caricaceae

The Pawpaw originates from Mexico and Central America and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is eaten raw as a fruit and contains high levels of Vitamins A and C and a phytochemical called beta-cryptoxanthin that promotes health. It also contains papain, which is an antibacterial protease enzyme that has meat tenderising properties and is used for clarifying beer.

Cocos nucifera (Coconut)

Family: Arecaceae

Coconut Palms are native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean region and grow at the top of beaches, at the limit of wave action. They are now grown in large plantations and are used for producing many products, such as coconut oil (from the white coconut endosperm), wine (toddy) and spirit (arrack). The white endosperm of the coconut is used in cooking and confectionery.

 

Litchi chinensis (Litchi, Lychee)

Family: Sapindaceae

Indigenous from China to Cambodia.  

Mangifera indica (Mango)

Family: Anacardiaceae

The Mango is indigenous to Burma and NE India and its cultivation extends back to about 2000 BC. 

 

Musa acuminata (Banana)

Family: Musaceae

All edible bananas orginate in whole or in part from Musa acuminata which is native to the Malay Peninsula and adjacent regions. In prehistoric times, people selected plants with seedless fruits and since then they have been propagated vegetatively from suckers. Although there are huge commercial operations exporting bananas from tropical regions to rich countries in temperate regions, the majority of bananas are grown by small farmers in tropical countries for local consumption.

Passiflora edulis (Purple granadilla, Passion fruit)

Family: Passifloraceae

 

Phoenix dactylifera (Date)

Family: Arecaceae

 

Psidium guajava (Guava)

Family: Myrtaceae

 

Tropical fruit rarely eaten in southern Africa include:  Averrhoa carambola (Starfruit, Carambola); Casimiroa edulis (White sapote, Mexican apple).

Deciduous fruits

Malus domestica (Apple)

Family: Rosaceae

Wild apples were eaten by people from the earliest of times. The domestic apples we eat nowadays are a hybrid mixture of 4 different wild species from the cool temperate regions of Europe, the Near East and central Asia. New apple varieties are propagated by grafting, rather than from seed or from cuttings.

Prunus persica (Peach & Nectarine)

Family: Rosaceae

Prunus armeniaca (Apricot)

Family: Rosaceae

Prunus domestica (Plum)

Family: Rosaceae

Prunus avium (Cherry)

Family: Rosaceae

 

Pyrus communis (Pear)

Family: Rosaceae

Vitis vinifera (Grape)

Family: Vitaceae

 

Wild indigenous fruits collected in southern Africa

Acanthosicyos horridus (Nara)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

 

Acanthosicyos naudiniana (Gemsbok cucumber)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

 

Adansonia digitata (Baobab, Monkey bread)

Family: Malvaceae

Fruit can be eaten fresh or dried. Contains citric and tartaric acid, which gives it a tart taste.

 

Ancylobotrys capensis (Wild apricot)

Family: Apocynaceae

 

 

Annona senegalensis (Wild custard apple)

Family: Annonaceae

 

 

Azanza garckeana (Snot apple)

Family: Malvaceae

 

Berchemia discolor (Brown ivory)

Family: Rhamnaceae

 

Bridelia mollis (Velvet sweetberry)

Family: Euphorbiaceae

 

Carissa macrocarpa (Big num-num)

Family: Apocynaceae

 

Carpobrotus edulis (Sour fig)

Family: Aizoaceae

A creeping succulent species that is endemic to South Africa, growing in sandy soils of the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape. The fresh fruits are eaten by  cutting off the base and sucking out the sweet-sour pulp inside. They are also used in making jams and preserves (konfyt in Afrikaans). Fruits contain some vitamins, minerals and protein but not at high levels. They are collected mainly from wild-growing plants but cultivation does occur on a small scale.

 

Ceratonia siliqua (Carob)

Family: Fabaceae

 

Chrysanthemoides monilifera (Bietou, Bushtick)

Family: Asteraceae

 

Citrillus lanatus (Tsamma)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Cocos nucifera (Coconut)

Family: Arecaceae

 

Cordyla africana (Wild mango)

Family: Fabaceae

 

Cryptocarya wyliei (Red quince)

Family: Lauraceae

 

Cucumis anguria (Gherkin)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Cucumis metuliferus (Jelly melon)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Cucurbita pepo (Pumpkin)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Diospyros mespiliformis (Jackal-berry)

Family: Ebenaceae

 

Dovyalis caffra (Kei-apple)

Family: Flacourtiaceae

 

Englerophytum magalismontanum (Transvaal milkplum)

Family: Sapotaceae

 

Ficus sycamorus (Sycamore fig)

Family: Moraceae

 

Flacourtia indica (Governor's plum)

Family: Flacourtiaceae

 

Garcinia livingstonei (African mangosteen)

Family: Clusiaceae

 

Grewia flava (Velvet raisin bush)

Family: Malvaceae

 

Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum)

Family: Anacardiaceae

 

Hexalobus monopetalus (Shakama plum)

Family: Annonaceae

 

Hydnora africana (Jakkalskos)

Family: Hydnoraceae

 

Lagenaria siceraria (Calabash, Bottle gourd)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Lannea edulis (Wild grape)

Family: Anacardiaceae

 

Luffa cylindrica (Sponge gourd)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Manilkara mochisia (Lowveld milkberry)

Family: Sapotaceae

 

Mimusops zeyheri (Transvaal red milkwood)

Family: Sapotaceae

 

Monanthotaxis caffra (Dwaba berry)

Family: Annonaceae

 

Nylandtia spinosa (Skilpadbessie)

Family: Polygalaceae

 

Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly pear)

Family: Cactaceae

 

Pappea capensis (Jacket-plum)

Family: Sapindaceae

 

Parinari curatellifolia (Mobola plum)

Family: Chrysobalanaceae

 

Phoenix reclinata (Wild date palm)

Family: Arecaceae

 

Physalis peruviana (Cape gooseberry)

Family: Solanaceae

 

Pollichia campestris (Teesuikerkaroo)

Family: Caryophyllaceae

 

Rhoicissus tomentosa (Wild grape)

Family: Vitaceae

 

Romulea rosea (Frutangs)

Family: Iridaceae

 

Rubus rigidus (Wild bramble)

Family: Rosaceae

 

Rhus undulata (Taaibos)

Family: Anacardiaceae

 

Salacia kraussii (Ibontsi)

Family: Celastraceae

 

Schinziophyton rautanenii (Mongongo)

Family: Euphorbiaceae

 

Sclerocarya birrea (Marula)

Family: Anacardiaceae

 

Sechium edule (Chayote)

Family: Cucurbitaceae

 

Solanum retroflexum (Umsoba)

Family: Solanaceae

 

Strychnos spinosa (Green monkey apple)

Family: Loganaceae

 

Syzygium cordatum (Water berry)

Family: Myrtaceae

 

Uapaca kirkiana (Mahobohobo)

Family: Euphorbiaceae

 

Vangueria infausta (Wild medlar)

Family: Rubiaceae

 

Ximenia americana (Blue sourplum)

Family: Olacaceae

 

Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo-thorn)

Family: Rhamnaceae

 

Publications

  • van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.  

Links

  • NewCrop. A very useful site that provides abundant information on crop plants. Highly recommended.

  • The Fruit Pages - everything you want to know about fruit. Useful for frugivores. 

Text by Hamish G. Robertson

 

Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search