The chupa chupa is a large tree part of the Bombacaceae family. Chupa chupa is a semi-deciduous tree known for its edible fruit and very large size, up to a height of 45 m. Chupa chupa grows in the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, mainly in Brazil but also in Ecuador, Colombia or Peru. The sweet fruits have an orange or yellow color and soft juicy flesh, with 2 to 5 seeds. They can be consumed raw or processed into juice.
While all fruits are edible, not all of them have the same quality. Some trees produce fruits that are too fibrous or have an insipid taste. There was no real effort so far to select better cultivars that yield quality fruits. While it enjoys wet soils, it can't survive flooding.
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The chupa chupa fruit is very popular in the native range of the tree. Chupa chupa is harvested from the wild and consumed on the spot or sold in local markets and stores. In Peru and Ecuador it is so important that it has become a cultivated food crop. Due to its adaptability, chupa chupa can be used to create woodland gardens and rebuild local forests.
The chupa chupa is an erect tree that grows very fast and can reach a normal height of 12 m in cultivation and 40 to 45 m in the wild. The hard branches of chupa chupa tree are layered in tiers of 5, the tree is rich in yellow latex with a gum-link consistency and can be buttressed. The leaves are partially deciduous and are grouped in rosettes close to the tips of branches. They have long petioles and a heart shape; with a broad appearance and almost equal length and width between 15 and 30 cm. Flowers have a width of about 2.5 cm and consist of 5 petals, 5 very visible stamens and a pistil. They can be pale yellow or rose, located on short stalks in large groups on the trunk and the lower branches.
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Chupa chupa fruits can be ovoid, spherical or elliptic; their apex has a rounded knob while the calyx on the base consists of 2 to 5 lobes with a velvet or leather aspect. The large chupa chupa fruits can have a weight of up to 800 g, with a length of 10 to 14.5 cm and a width of about 8 cm. Their edible flesh is sweet, soft and juicy. It usually has a pleasant taste and includes between 2 and 5 large seeds, which send fibers through the pulp.
The species is the most abundant in the area of the mouth of the Javari River. It inhabits the rainforests with low elevations of the Amazon, especially in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Many chupa chupa trees can be found in the wild in the Western Amazon, like the Cauca and Magdalena Valleys of Colombia and southwestern Venezuela. The Colombian seaside town of Tumaco is known for the great production of chupa chupa fruits. It can be found in markets through the Amazon region, for example in Tefe, Esperanca, Sao Paulo de Olivenca, Tabetinga, Benjamin Constant and Atalaia do Norte in Brazil, Antioquia, Buenaventura and Bogota, Colombia; or Puerto Viejo in Ecuador.
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William Whitman was the first to introduce the chupa chupa tree to the USA in 1964, after planting some seeds from Iquitos, Peru on his garden in Bal Harbour, Florida. He also gave seeds and seedlings to others who were willing to experiment with the species. B.C. Bowker obtained the first fruits in Miami in 1973. Whitman and several others also succeeded later in growing ripe fruits.
The chupa chupa is knows for the high content of fiber and carotenes. Vegetal fibers are considered very important by nutritionists because they relive constipation and regulate digestion. Including the chupa chupa fruit in your diet will improve bowel movements. Both the pulp and the seeds of chupa chupa are rich in antioxidant compounds. These counter the destructive effects of free radicals that cause cancer and other serious diseases. They provide an overall boost to the immune system, increasing resistance to respiratory problems and all types of infections. Chupa chupa provides a good cocktail of vitamins and minerals, in particular vitamin C.
The chupa chupa fruit is traditionally consumed raw, out of hand. It is also possible to prepare them as juice but some fruits have a flesh that is too fibrous for processing.
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The chupa chupa pulp has a yellow or orange color and has a fibrous texture and a sweet taste. It has been compared to a pumpkin that is sweeter than normal; some people also claim it resembles an apricot or a mango. The chupa chupa fruit has many fans, who say that it tastes like a combination of peaches, mangoes and strawberries. However, it tastes bland and unappealing for others.
The chupa chupa grows in tropical and subtropical rainforests. Its range starts at sea level and extends up to elevations of 2000 m in Ecuador. It can be cultivated in Florida but the young trees must be shielded during the winter. Chupa chupa tree can easily be killed by frost and needs wet locations in full sun for best results.
In the wild, chupa chupa can be found from coastal areas to high altitudes in rainforests with fertile soil. It can survive seasonal flooding but it also grows in areas that are never inundated.
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The chupa chupa can be cultivated easily on the slopes of the Andean Mountains. However, it only reaches maximum dimensions in the wild, in the wet rainforests of South America. If topsoil and fertilizer are added, it also tolerates the dry oolitic limestone soils typical to the coastal ridges of South Florida.
The most common method of propagation chupa chupa is from seed. However, in order to select superior trees, it is better to multiply them through vegetative means. Budding is not an option but side-veneer grafting is easy. Seeds collected from the ripe fruits should be immediately placed in separate containers in a partially shaded location. It will sprout in 20 to 30 days, with a high germination rate.
The chupa chupa fruits are rich in fibers and vegetal proteins. They also provide vitamins like ascorbic acid and some B-complex vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, as well as essential minerals like iron, calcium or phosphorous.
The chupa chupa bloom is between the months of August and November in Brazil, while fruits become ripe between February and May. In Florida, the fruits can only be harvested in November, even if the flowers emerge during the winter. Chupa chupa fruits never fall to the ground and will rot on the tree if not collected. They should be harvested when the edge of the calyx has a light color, with a knife or cutting pole.