Growing the Miracle Berry from Seed – Care & Culture of Synsepalum dulcificum Tips for Growing Synsepalum dulcificum Indoors

In Houseplants & Tropicals
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Synsepalum dulcificum or “the miracle berry” is a really neat little West-African shrub that produces fruit, which when eaten, blocks or modifies your sour taste bud receptors and alters your taste of things which are sour. This little bit of magic chemistry makes any biological-acid taste sweet instead of sour.

If you manage to get your hands on a Miracle Berry, chew the pulp, plant the seed, and then immediately explore the altered world of taste. Common things people eat include: citrus like lemons or limes but I encourage you to really explore the limits. Try other things like beer, wine, pickles, vinegar, salt & vinegar chips, rhubarb, onions, radishes, spicy foods etc.

Thankfully, the miracle berry is relatively easy to grow indoors as a houseplant but it does require some specialized modifications for success. In this post, I’ll share with you how I grew my two plants from seeds to flowering miracle plants, including care and considerations for how you can grow them in your home.

 

Tips for Growing Synsepalum dulcificum From Seed

3 primary things to know about growing the Miracle berry from seed:
1) The plant requires very low acidity (3.5-4.5pH)
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 initially slow growing. Note though: they will fruit in about 2 years (if conditions are good), but because they are small plants, it’s a bit excruciating waiting for plants to mature.


I have grown my 2 miracle berries from seed…IN CANADA!

Planted at the end of August 2017, my seeds germinated around 4 weeks later on Sept 25, 2017. Two years later in fall, 2019, one of my plants flowered for the first time and is currently producing its first berry. I’ve created this post to help others succeed with this unique plant.


 

Grow Miracle Fruit Indoors – with High Acidity

pH DOWN! Synsepalum dulcificum needs acidic root conditions

Synsepalum dulcificum is reportedly very difficult to germinate from seed often having a germination rate of under 10%. Of the two seeds I had, both germinated (100% germination) 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 started acidifying my potting mix by adding kombucha that had been over fermented which essentially results in vinegar. The kombucha vinegar had a pH of about 2.5-3 (too low on its own), so I’d adjust the pH of my tap water (7.9pH) to about 4. First, I’d add fertilizer, then 1/4 kombucha, topping it up with 3/4 tap water; however after a few months of brewing and using my own kombucha, I opted for something less laborious.

pH Update #1: Spring of 2018 through to fall 2019, I used a product called “pH Down” (which is phosphoric acid) to lower the pH. It required about 30 drops in 1/2 a gallon (2L) to bring the pH of my tap water from 7.5 to 4pH. I ended up getting a bad bottle of ‘pH Down’ and it caused significant problems across my entire collection of plants and I have since stopped using phosphoric acid.

pH Update #2: Fall 2019, I started using organic acids to lower my pH (my own ‘pH Down’ recipe of: acetic, citric, maleic, fulvic, humic, and carbonic acid). Since I switched back to using organic acids, the Miracle Berry jumped forward in size – nearly doubling height this winter. It’s possible this is unrelated…and just due to the plants reaching maturity.

Photo showing a 2x size jump after using organic acids to lower pH

pH Tip: When it comes to pH, don’t guess. If you’re using an acid to lower your pH, buy a pH meter and test the pH each time before you fertilize. A pH meter will likely cost you about ~$100 for a digital one, but messing with water chemistry can go very poorly and you can kill your plants if you over do it. In the past, I have cooked a bunch of roots on some of my plants back at the start because I over acidified the water – please learn from my mistakes and get a pH meter (or even just litmus paper).

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 & manganese) and macronutrients (like ammonical nitrogen) are abundantly available; meanwhile, micronutrients like calcium and magnesium are less 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 adapted to those conditions to survive. Trying to grow them in alkaline conditions (high pH, low iron, etc) will make the leaves yellow, brown, and eventually kill the plant.

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. But just know this: you can’t really challenge the chemistry of it…so rather than ignoring pH, set yourself (and your Miracle Berry) up for success and just lower your pH.

Don’t do this for other types of plants. Most plants need a pH of ~5.8-6.5pH, so don’t go acidifying all your plant’s water down to 4pH. Overly acidic conditions like this can and will eventually kill most other types of plants.

 

Synsepalum dulcificum Care & Cultivation

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, right?).

Analysis of Synsepalum dulcificum’s climate – “West Africa”
Image comparing West African Climates where the miracle berry is native to

Regardless of all the speculation, you can take it from the horses mouth (I’m your horse *neighhh*) that Miracle berries DO NOT NEED HIGH HUMIDITY! My climate here in Alberta, Canada sucks. Today (April 8, 2019) the humidity is 17%. It’s frequently below 40% and it’s rarely over 50%, but my plants look fine and have grown very well—so I feel hydration, nutrition, and adequate light are key for success with this plant.

The Miracle Berry plant is also reportedly quite drought tolerant (not surprising either if you’re a plant adapted to an annual dry season), but you should ensure that when you’re acclimating newly-potted plants that the roots are kept evenly moist (no skipped waterings).

If you’re growing in a dry climate, keep the soil acidic and moist at all times. This means you should be watering as the potting mix approaches dryness but avoiding continuously-wet or muddy conditions.

Miracle Berry Substrate / Potting Mix

You want a potting mix that is both moisture retentive but also porous and airy – it’s a bit confusing to use two contradictory concepts like that in the same sentence, so let me explain. First, something as simple as 50% peatmoss to 50% perlite will work but your climate (airflow, humidity, brightness and temperature) will alter the rate at which your potting mix dries out.

Ideally, you’ll want a potting mix that needs watering every 5-10 days. So, if you only have to water the plant every 2+ weeks, then it’s too compact and you should add more perlite or consider a smaller pot OR try using terracotta instead of a plastic pot. If you have to water every 3 days, then it’s not water-retentive enough and you should add more peatmoss (or select a larger pot).

For my plants, I have a “magic mix” tropical plant substrate that I use for pretty much every type of tropical. An open but water-retentive potting mix like this will prevent soggy and stagnant root conditions which will rot and/or kill the roots and plant. You’ll need to adjust the ratios of your “magic mix” recipe to find out what works for your conditions.

Fertilizer & Nutrients

I provide 2 fertilizers:

  • Organic (3-5 times per year, 1/4 teaspoon sprinkled over the potting media or mixed into the potting mix on when the plants are repotted)
    This is a blend of rock-dust, bloodmeal, and bat guano and it breaks down over many weeks.
  • Synthetic (1/4 strength at every watering, 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water + pH Down)
    Typically I’ll use my MSU Orchid Fertilizer (or whatever I have available, but I’m not picky about which type I use – sometimes it’s 12-8-8, others 20-20-20, etc). The goal is to keep a consistent flow of nitrogen going through the pot in addition to the organic fertilizers.

 

Light!

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 filtered by a sheer cloth. My two are growing directly in front of a South-facing window and they appear to “get direct sun” from sunrise to sunset; however, my Canadian windows are triple-pane (to keep winter out) and they reflect a lot of light. Therefore, the amount of light making it to the plants is likely less than 50% full sun.

 

Growth Cycles & Flowering Synsepalum dulcificum

The Miracle Berry plant follows a seasonal growth pattern. I have found they tend to have stem growth and “reach, stretch and branch” in the fall and winter, and then they bush up with leaves during the spring and summer. In the fall and winter the main stalk and branches can increase the plant’s height by over 50-100% but they tend to look a bit spindly for a few months following as the leaves need to fill in. Foliage is actively produce year-round, however more leaves are produced in the spring and summer from the branches that grew in the previous season.

This growth cycle seems to mirror their natural climate and the wet/dry seasons of West Africa. Our indoor winter conditions somewhat emulate the dry season (dry & bright) and our summers (warm/wet/humid/dim) emulate the rainy season. So you’ll probably find that the plant adheres to distinct growth cycles, starting with germination in fall/winter around Sept-Jan (around the “dryer season”), followed by foliage in summer (wetter season), then branching & flowering in future winters (dry season). Fruits should develop from early spring to summer and be dropping near the end of growth season restarting the cycle again.

How long does it take Synsepalum dulcificum to mature and flower?

It takes about 2-3 years for a plant to grow from a seed to a fruiting size plant which will typically be over 1.5 feet tall. My plants started flowering almost exactly 2 years after the seeds germinated.

Flowering

Plants that are mature will produce flower buds from the previous year’s branches and leaf-clusters. Notes from a newly-discovered related species, Synsepalum chimanimani (which grows on the opposite East side of Africa) says that those plants begin flowering at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. As I noted above, this aligns with my experience for Synsepalum dulcificum as well. Flowers are produced mid-winter with prolific buds showing at the end of December, followed by peak flowering in late winter to early spring (around February/March).

Miracle Fruit Buds, Flower, and Early Fruit
(Yes, there are Mealybugs in there too)

 

How to Pollinate Miracle Fruit Flowers

Given the enclosed form of the flower, pollination is often via self-fertilization. This is good because it means pollination our home-grown plants is super simple—we basically just have to shake the flower around.

To pollinate a miracle berry flower: wait until you see the stigma protrude from the bud and then take an electronic toothbrush or electronic hair clippers and put the device against the branch (between the flower and the main stalk). Turn it on and vibrate the crap out of the branch and flowers. The vibrating causes the pollen to jumble around and sell-pollinate the flower. I think this more-or-less emulates what aggressive rain would do – “shake the branches” causing pollen to be dispersed with each raindrop (and this is likely why the flowers and fruits are produced under the leaves). You probably want to repeat this vibration/pollination daily for the following 2-3 days as the flower opens to ensure pollination has been completed at the correct time (when pollen is actively being produced and the stigma is receptive).

Fruiting the Miracle Berry

From what I have read, fruits take about 90 days to mature after being pollinated; however, based on my flowering time and when the berries had matured from the mother plant…I’m thinking it takes more like 6-8 months to mature after pollination?

I am still waiting to find out the exact timeline based on my plant, but at the current rate of my berries forming, 90 days seems optimistic. It’s been 4 weeks (30 days) since pollination and the berry is still only slightly larger than the flower bud—it is also possible that my first flower was not pollinated but the old flower still remains on the plant.

Fruit drop: It’s also reported that at around 40-60 days the plant can prematurely drop fruits—I suspect this is more related to poor nutrient availability (too high of pH, lack of nitrogen and possibly lack of iron??) than with the nature of the plant itself. Many photos of plants online show abundant fruit clusters, so I will see if my plants exhibit this phenomenon and if it does, I will first increase iron by adding one of those “food grade” iron fish to the potting media and/or one of the many aquarium gravels for planted tanks which are high in iron & manganese. Of course, if I have issues with fruit drop, I’ll update this post with that insight and resolution.

 

That pretty much covers absolutely everything I know about growing miracle berries. I’ve saved the photos of my plants until the end of the post, so if you want to see my plants, just keep scrolling…

 

Photos of Miracle Berry Seedlings Grown Indoors

This is a photo timeline of my Miracle berries (from most recent down to the oldest). You may notice two sets of seedlings in a few photos: the short ones are the miracle berry seedlings, and the taller ones are sour sop seedlings that I planted at the same time—it gives you an idea of the difference of growth speed.

Miracle Berry Selfie for Size Comparison – Mar 2020

Added an LED & got a humidifier for Xmas – Jan 2020
Profile of Miracle Berry – Dec 2019
Miracle berry flower a few weeks after pollination – Dec, 2019
Miracle berry flower – Nov 2019

Sept 23, 2019 – 2-Years after planting the seeds (Fall Growth Spurt)
I’ve started using my own blend of pH Down now instead of phosphoric acid.

July 2019 – after repot

Freshly repotted in May, 2019
April 2019 – 1.8 – year old Miracle Berry From Seed Photo

Fall 2018 – Synsepalum dulcificum seedling after 1.3 years

Summer 2018 – 1 year old Synsepalum dulcificum seedling
Summer 2018 – 1 year old Synsepalum dulcificum