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.
The best part about the miracle berry is that it’s relatively easy to grow indoors as a houseplant! It does take some specialized modifications for guaranteed success, but in this post, I’ll tell you how I managed to grow 2 seeds all the way up to little shrubs.
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) and you will be amazed at the size difference considering I planted the seeds on the exact same day.
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. I really have to say though, if a guy like me can grow a miracle berry indoors in Canada… then everyone, everywhere should also be able to grow a miracle fruit plant.
Care & Cultivation: Tips for growing Miracle Fruit Indoors
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 #1: as of spring 2018, I started using a product called “pH Down” it’s phosphoric acid, but about 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 have had success just using vinegar (acetic acid).
pH Update #2: as of fall 2019, I have stopped using phosphoric acid and instead opted for a mix of citric and malic acid (I even occasionally add a bit of vinegar) – but I always check the pH of the water so that it’s around 3.5-5pH. Why did I switch? I started to run into issues across my collection while phosphoric acid. I don’t know if it was related to a specific brand I was using, or if it was some other problem; however, nearly 30% of my plants started to get some form of: curled leaves, yellow necrotic spots, and/or slowed vigor. The miracle berries specifically had no visible signs of problems, but when I started watering with citric and maleic acid, they shot up about an additional 30% in height within just a few weeks. I still feel you’re better to use phosphoric acid than nothing at all for Miracle berries…but you may find better results with the more organic type acids (acetic, maleic, fulvic, humic, citric, etc).
Whatever acid you use, promise me one thing: please buy a pH meter and test the water before you fertilize. A pH meter will likely cost you about $100 for a digital one, but it’s really easy to overdo the acid (maybe) kill your plant. I have had bottles of pH Down that are very strong and only 15 drops in a 1/2 gallon do the trick…if I had not tested the water, 30 drops would have made the water about 2.5pH and that would definitely have killed the roots of my plant.
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 challenge the chemistry of it…so rather than ignoring pH, set yourself (and your Miracle Berry) up for success 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 Alberta, 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 an annual dry season), 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 but avoiding continuously wet or muddy conditions.
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 that 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. My two are growing directly in front of a south-facing window and they do get direct sun from sunrise to sunset. The only caveat is that my Canadian windows are extra thick (to keep winter out) and therefore the amount of light coming through is likely <50% of what full sun is.
There’s not a lot more to tell you about how to care for this plant but I’ve got a bunch of photos of my plants…
Photos of Miracle Berry Seedlings Grown Indoors
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.
View this post on Instagram
Miracle Berry Update! It’s alive lol. #Synsepalumdulcificum #miracleberry I added some vinegar & eggshells to my last watering and it’s main growths shot up a good 2 inches. One of my favourite plants for its uniqueness and awesomely-glossy leaves. • • • #houseplants #tropicalplants #plantsofafrica #houseplanthoarder #grow #plantsplantsplants #plantsofinstagram #plantpeople #plantsmakepeoplehappy #plantpeeps #leaves #plantcollection #rareplants
Sept 23, 2019 – Fall Growth Spurt
I also started using citric, malic, humic, and fulvic acid on my plants instead of phosphoric acid.