OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
Common names: Miracle Berry, Miracle Fruit, Sweet Berry
Scientific name: Synsepalum dulcificum
Explanation of scientific name:
- from the Greek syn meaning with
or together and the Latin sepalum
meaning sepal (the leaf-like portion of a flower). The 5 sepals of this
plant’s flowers are united above the middle.
dulcificum - from the Latin dulcis meaning sweet or pleasant and ficum meaning fig-like or sweet
truly unusual plant, the Miracle Berry Plant (Synsepalum
dulcificum) can be an interesting addition to a houseplant collection.
sunny windowsill is all you need to grow this plant that will amaze your
friends. The amazing part is what will happen to you when you chew one of the
plant’s ¾ to 1 inch long attractive, red fruits. Once the fleshy, tasteless
pulp coats your tongue, everything you eat for the next few hours or so will
taste sweet. Bite into a lemon or a lime and the distinctive flavors of these
fruits will be enjoyed, but their sourness will not pucker your mouth. Even a
sip of straight vinegar will taste sweet. The basis for this reaction is the
presence of miraculin in the fruit of this species. This taste modifying protein
does not actually taste sweet, but apparently it binds to receptors of the taste
buds, temporarily changing their function. While the taste modifying
capabilities of the fruits have been known for over a century, miraculin was
only isolated in the early 1970’s. The exact mechanism of action has yet to be
elucidated, but is the subject of research, especially for its potential use as
an “artificial sweetener”.
to West Africa, the Miracle Berry is also known as Miracle Fruit and Sweet
Berry. It grows as a small shrub with an appearance similar to an azalea. Its
fruits develop from small white flowers. Intolerant
of freezing weather, Miracle Berries cannot be planted outdoors in NJ.
As potted plants they prefer an acid soil, and will thrive if moved
outdoors for the summer.
While it would be foolish of me to advocate the consumption of a plant part that has not been completely studied, I grow the plant and I have tasted its fruits. They really do work. So, even if you only grow the plant for its appearance, it can serve as a conversation piece. Several mail order nurseries sell the Miracle Berry Plant. It also propagates readily from cuttings.
A Miracle Berry plant, with ripe fruit, growing in one of Union County College's greenhouses.