Synsepalum dulcificum or “The Miracle berry” is a really neat little African shrub that produces fruit (berries), which when eaten, block or modify your sour taste bud receptors. This little bit of magic chemistry makes any biological-acid taste not sour, but instead sweet. If you manage to get your hands on a Miracle Berry, chew the pulp, plant the seed, and then immediately explore the world of taste without the hindrance of sour. Common things people eat are lemons or limes but I encourage you to really explore the limits. Things like beer and wine taste different, as do pickles, vinegar, rhubarb etc.
Growing Synsepalum dulcificum from seed
There are 3 primary things that you need to keep in mind when growing the Miracle berry from seed:
1) The plant requires very low acidity (3-4pH)
2) The seed viability is short (after you expose it to air and it starts to dry, it allegedly will not last more than day or two; and
3) They are SUPER slow growing…if you scroll down you can see a side by side comparison to another plant I sprouted at the same time (soursop)
I have grown my 2 miracle berries from seed…IN CANADA!
I planted my seeds at the end of August 2017 and saw first signs of growth around 4 weeks later on Sept 25, 2017.
Care & Cultivation: Tips for growing Miracle Fruit
pH DOWN! Synsepalum dulcificum needs acidic root conditions
Synsepalum dulcificum is reportedly very difficult to germinate from seed. Of the two seeds I had, both germinated and I attribute that to keeping my soil pH VERY low (~4pH). How do you get your pH that low? Well…and this is a funny one (but it’s worked for me), I add old kombucha that I’ve been brewing for about a month to tap water and then I’ll add fertilizer before I water the plants. Kombucha, which has a pH of about 2.5-3, adjusts the pH of my tap water (which is 7.5pH) to about 4. Normally I only need about 1/4 kombucha to 3/4 tap water.
pH Update: as of spring 2018, I use a product called “pH Down” it’s phosphoric acid (extremely corrosive), but 30 drops in 1/2 a gallon (2L) brings the pH of my tap water from 7.5 to 4pH. If you don’t want to use phosphoric acid, another good alternative is citric acid and I’ve heard some people just use vinegar (acetic acid). Whatever you use, make sure you buy a pH meter and test the water before you fertilize (this will likely cost you about $100 for a digital pH meter).
Why do some fruiting plants like the Miracle Berry need low pH?
It comes down to nutrient availability. At a low pH micronutrients like iron are abundantly available; meanwhile, micronutrients like magnesium are not at all available. The details are a bit complex, but the takeaway is this: fruiting plants like the miracle berry and blueberries which thrive in acidic soil, need those conditions to produce fruit and do well because they have access to more iron at a low pH. If you want to know the grueling details of pH and it’s relationship to plant growth, read this post I wrote on tap-water pH adjusting. One piece of advice: you can’t really battle the chemistry of it…so rather than ignore pH, set yourself up for success when growing your Miracle Berry and just lower your pH. 🙂
PS – most plants need a pH of 5.8pH…so don’t go acidifying all your plant water down to 3.5pH…overly acidic conditions like this can actually kill many plants.
High Humidity? Miracle Berry Climate
A bunch of care sheets about growing Synsepalum dulcificum say that the plant requires high humidity; however, from my experience, they don’t. The plants originate in “West Africa” (which has high variation in climate depending exactly which area you’re referring to). One site reports that they specifically come from Ghana, and again depending on the area of Ghana, the climate can range greatly. A good percentage of Ghana (and West Africa) is actually quite dry for at least half the year (shocking, I know).
Analysis of Synsepalum dulcificum’s climate – “West Africa”
Regardless of all the speculation, you can take it from the horses mouth (that’s me your horse *neighhh*) that Miracle berries DO NOT NEED HIGH HUMIDITY! My climate here in Canada sucks…today (April 8, 2019) it’s 17% humidity. My plant looks great. The Miracle Berry plant is also reportedly quite drought tolerant (not surprising either if you’re a plant adapted to seasonally dry winters), but you should ensure that when you’re acclimating newly potted plants that the roots are kept evenly moist (no skipping waterings). For best results in a dry climate, keep the soil acidic and moist, which means you should be watering as it approaches dryness.
Miracle Berry Substrate / Potting Mix
I use my standard “magic mix” tropical plant substrate. It’s mostly peatmoss and orchid bark with a bunch of inorganic additives (perlite, pumice, lava rock) to open it up, give it structure, allow for air flow, and prevent soggy/stagnant root conditions. You can read more about my soil recipe here.
It’s reported that Synsepalum dulcificum can grow in full sun; however, it’s a tropical shrub and will likely do better in partial shade or full sun that has been knocked by a sheer cloth. Mine are growing directly in front of a south-facing window and they get direct sun from sunrise to sunset. The only caveat is that I believe my windows have a protective UV tint on them and therefore the amount of light coming through is likely only 30-40% of what full sun is.
I’m getting bored of telling you about my plants, how about I just show you…
Miracle Berry Seedling Photos
The following photos are the timeline of my Miracle berry growth from seed. The most recent photos are shown first and as you scroll down, the plants get younger. You may notice two sets of seedlings: the short ones are the miracle berry seedlings, and the taller ones are sour sop seedlings that I planted at the same time.