Myrobalan belongs to the Rosaceae family, the Prunoide or Drupaceae subfamily, the genus Prunus and the species Cerasifera. It is a tree characterized by rapid growth, up to 6 m high, consisting of an erect trunk, sometimes twisted, which can branch from the base, with a brownish bark, smooth in young plants and deformed in the adults. The leaves are deciduous, simple, oval, toothed on the edges and of variable color according to the cultivars; They appear after flowering. The flowers bloom in March-April, they are small with white or pink petals, alone or grouped in small clusters; pollination is entomophilous, carried out by bees or other pollinating insects. The fruit is a plum-like drupe, which has a diameter of 2-3 cm, with a red or yellow color and an essentially bitter taste; in France, it is grown for its fruit.
Hybrids and similar species
the myrobalan it has been crossed with various species belonging to the genus Prunus, the most important hybrid being the biricoccolo or susincocco, obtained from a cross made with the apricot tree. It is a plant reaching 5 m in height. The flowers are small, pinkish white, and are given off before the leaves; flowering occurs at the same time as myrobalan and after the apricot. This hybrid, unlike myrobalan, is self-sterile, so it needs pollinators. The fruits are round or elliptical drupes and similar in size to those of myrobalan. The skin is slightly hairy, the pulp clings to the bone, it is soft, succulent, with a sweet, slightly acidic and aromatic flavor. The stone is long, flat and 30 to 40% smaller than that of the apricot.
A species close to myrobalan is blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), which is a fairly vigorous shrub, up to 3-4 m high, with a dense branching crown. The branches are thorny and the small dark green leaves fall after the flowers, which bloom from February to March. The fruit is a drupe, similar in size to myrobalan, characterized by an astringent taste due to the presence of tannins; once fully ripe, the fruits become sweet and take on a purplish color. Blackthorn drupes, rather than being eaten fresh, are used for the production of jams, brandies and herbal uses.
Climate and terrain
These species adapt very well to temperate climates, they have good resistance to low winter temperatures, so they can be exposed to full sun and excellent to drought, thanks to their well-developed roots. These plants grow well in lowland, mountainous, and windy environments; in the latter case, it is good practice to tie young specimens to strong stakes. As for the soil, the myrobalan is extremely adaptable, indeed it is able to grow in wet, clayey, heavy, asphyxiated, stony and calcareous soils, however it prefers fresh, deep and well-drained soils. The myrobalan originates from the Balkan Peninsula and is also called rusticano thanks to its adaptability, while the blackthorn grows spontaneously in our country.
The myrobalan cultivars present in Italy are grown for ornamental purposes and are distinguished from each other mainly by the color of the leaves, green or red, and the flowers, white or pale pink.
Among the varieties with purplish-red leaves and pink flowers, we note Pissardii, Nigra and Thundercloud; By combining cultivars with light or dark green leaves with those just mentioned, a nice color contrast is created in gardens. As for the biricoccolo, the varieties of fruit, yellow with a red blush, intended for fresh consumption locally are the Grossa Precoce, which ripens from mid-June to mid-July in the north and in the first fortnight of June in the center, and the prune. The cresammola, grown in the region of Vesuvius, has a smaller drupe than the previous one and is harvested in the second half of June.