31 Jan 2006
Top Five Trees for Life Beyond Oil – #2 – Myrtus Ugni
This one slightly stretches the definition of being a tree I’m afraid, as it is really a shrub and not a tree at all, but so delicious, so easy to grow and so wonderful is it that this list would be incomplete without it. Also known as the Chilean Guava, ***Myrtus ugni*** has a uniquely delicious taste that is beyond compare. It tastes like a kind of peppery strawberry, but really trying to describe it is like trying to tell someone who never had a banana before what they are like. They are so irresistable, that at Future Forests, the excellent tree nursery in West Cork I used to buy trees from, watering the *Myrtus* was the most popular job among those working there during the fruiting season. I once took a load of students to Dominic Waldron’s permaculture site on the Cork/Kerry border, which had a *Myrtus* hedge (in fact, the one in the picture above left), and watched as the students (and myself) stripped it of berries.
It can grow up to 2 metres tall and can be grown as a clippable (somewhat like box but not so dense) ornamental shrub, or as a hedge. At Muckross House near Killarney in Ireland, one of the single most beautiful places in Europe, the formal hedge around the stately home contain some *myrtus*. Last time I went there, picknickers looked on bemused as my children munched their way around the hedge.
It is the berries that are the main reason to grow this plant. In Chile they are made into pies and jellies. In the UK, *Myrtus* was apparently Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, and growers in Cornwall attempted to grow them commercially, using her love of them as one of their selling points. A Cornish grower would take her up a punnett of them regularly on the train. For some reason they never took off (eat one and wonder why…). Bees are rather fond of their flowers too. *Myrtus* has glossy waxy leaves with a very particular scent when crushed.
When you walk around a town and look at the pointless plants that are planted to break up urban areas, you wonder why plants like this aren’t planted instead. It would give people a reason to spend more time in urban spaces, grazing their ways around the hedge. Plant an *ugni* maze, and people would never have a reason to escape, they could just hang out inside and nibble.
You will find more information about *Myrtus ugni* in Agroforestry News Vol 14 Number 1, and on the Plants for a Future website. They also have an article called The Woodland Edge Garden which mentions Myrtus. If you need a hedge, a low windbreak, a shrub, do consider planting this. Once you have tried the fruit you will wonder how you ever lived without it.