Plant of the Month December 2011

Click on image for larger view

Scientific Name: Ugni molinae Turcz.  
Author: Porphir Kiril Nicolai Stepanowitsch Turczaninow 1796-1863  
Common Name: murta, murtillo, murtilla, ugni, uñi, Chilean Guava
Plant Family: MYRTACEAE tribe Myrteae  

A 1.5 m. shrub is located just outside the front entrance to the Visitor Centre of the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah. This taxon is listed in our South American and Gondwanan themes. Seldom seen in cultivation in New South Wales, the ‘murta’ or ‘murtillo’ is well known in southern Chile and south-western Argentina where its edible fruits are sometimes used to make jam and sweets and to flavour the liqueur, Murtado.

Our accession 863518 came to us in 1986 as seed from the Botany Department of the University of Southern Chile, Valdivia and the collection was made at Cascadas by D. Contreras.

During the RBGDT’s scientific expedition of January – February 2011 to investigate the genus Lomatia in the south of Chile in and south-western Argentina, locally collected, preserved fruits of ‘murta’ were served to Dr Peter Weston, his Ph D student, Melita Milner [nee Baum], Dr Rob Kooyman, Rob Smith and Jan Allen. ‘Firm blackcurrants, with a slight eucalypt flavour’, best describes the 7 mm diameter red-black berries.

Requiring almost constant rainfall, and therefore high humidity, and benefiting from 40-80 percent shade and fertile soil, this taxon thrives at Mount Tomah.

This plant is being developed as a horticultural crop in Tasmania and is being called:
“Tazziberry - A small bright red fruit that grows wild in Chile, the tazziberry is the size of a blueberry and has a taste described as a mix of pineapple, strawberry and apple. The berries are used for cooking, liqueur making and in smoked sausages. They are being tested for use in cheeses and icecream.”
http:/www.brandtasmania.com/show.php?ACT=Public&menu_code=600.300.500#t

Antioxidant polyphenols in murta leaves are under scientific investigation. This plant has long been used by the Mapuche people of South America for its medicinal benefits.

The hypothesis ‘…that the Myrteae originated in Gondwana and migrated to South America, with ancestors of several currently widespread genera originating in the south of the continent and moving northward.’ is investigated by Lucus et al. in
Suprageneric Phylogenetics of Myrteae, the Generically Richest Tribe in Myrtaceae (Myrtales)
Eve J. Lucas, Stephen A. Harris, Fiorella F. Mazine, Stephen R. Belsham, Eimear M. Nic Lughadha, Annika Telford, Peter E. Gasson and Mark W. Chase

TAXON 56 (4) * November 2007: 1105-1128

Jan Allen
Garden Information Officer