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What is Cyphomandra?

Todd M.
Todd M.

Cyphomandra is a former genus of flowering plants native to the Americas that belonged to the Solanaceae family. This genus used to account for about 35 different species of nightshades and flowering plants. Botanists re-categorized Cyphomandra as a clade, or subbranch, within the Solanum genus in the 1990s in order to provide better clarity for how these particular plants are related. Most species of the Cyphomandra clade are shrubs or small trees, and the best known plant within the clade is the Tomarillo. A handful of other Cyphomandra species, including Solanum sibundoyense and Solanum cajanumense, produce fruit or are used by indigenous populations as food and clothing dye.

Tomarillos (Solanum betaceum) are small trees that produce edible fruit that has become highly valued in certain regional cuisines, especially in South America, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. Also known as a Tomato Tree, a Tomarillo is typically cultivated from cuttings and grows best in soil with abundant mulch and plenty of water. This species of Cyphomandra can grow as high as 20 feet (about six meters) when it reaches maturity and begins producing fruit after two years. Tomarillo fruit is frequently described as tasting like a cross between a kiwi fruit and a tomato.

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Man mowing the grass

The Solanum sibundoyense is a small fruit tree that is native to Columbia, where it is known by the Spanish names Tomate Silverste and Tomate Salvaje. This Cyphomandra species reaches a height of 13 to 26 feet (4-8 meters) at maturity and is most commonly found in a habitat known as a cloud forest. A cloud forest is a forest that grows on mountainsides that are almost constantly surrounded by a think layer of mist, limiting the ability of larger trees to dominate an area. Due to the unusual conditions of its native habitat, this plant is rarely cultivated outside of Colombia. Solanum sibundoyense provides a sweet, slightly sour tasting fruit that is larger than other fruits produced by trees within the Cyphomandra clade.

Solanum cajanumense is another small fruit tree that belongs to the Cyphomandra clade that is native to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The tree rarely grows to more than 13 feet (4 meters) and has dense foliage covered by fine hairs. The yellow fruit has dark stripes that fade as it ripens. The fruit of the Solanum cajanumense has a much stronger taste than the fruit of most Cyphomandra species, and the rind of the fruit is frequently used as a type of natural dye amongst the native population.

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