Legend has it that in times of war, people fled into mountainous areas to avoid being recruited into the army. It was fortunate that just as they ran out of food, they discovered a sweet, fresh fruit. The deserters eventually survived the wars on these fruits. They named the fruit “Deserters Food”; hence the homonym of the Chinese common name.
Rose Myrtle (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa) is a small tree native to southern China. It is easily found in the hills of South China and Hong Kong. Local people have given various common names to the tree. One stems from the fact that people often turn the fruit upside down to peel off the skin by holding the leaf stalks at the tip of the fruit.
There is a folk saying that “On 9 September, Rose Myrtle is sweeter than wine”. The ovate, delicious and juicy fruit of Rose Myrtle turns from green to purplish red during the maturing season from September to October. The fruits can be eaten directly, candied, or made into fruit wine or jam. Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty, as the story went, ordered his officials to transplant a hundred Rose Myrtle trees from the south to the capital Chang'an so that he could enjoy the candied fruit. Yet the transplanting failed, due to climatic and soil conditions.
As yummy as the fruit may be, one cannot eat too much of it as it will cause constipation. It is also easily confused with other fruits in the wild. If poisonous fruit is eaten by mistake then the consequences can be severe! In addition, Rose Myrtle fruits are important food for wild animals and birds. We should not compete with wildlife, now that we no longer need to face starvation on the run!
Multiple uses of the purplish red fruits
The juice of Rose Myrtle is purplish red and is a natural dye. In bygone days women, used it to make cosmetics or as cloth dye. Apart from the fruit, the pink, densely blooming flowers are also very charming. Twelve-stamened Melastoma (Melastoma dodecandrum), Bloodred Melastoma (Melastoma sanguineum) and Common Melastoma (Melastoma malabathricum) all have closely similar flowers and the same flowering period in spring and summer. The key to distinguishing them is to look at the stamen. The three Melastoma have two groups of stamens, with five longer ones and five shorter. Rose Myrtle belongs to Rhodomyrtus, which has dense and numerous stamens. Besides, Twelve-stamened Melastoma grows on the ground while Bloodred Melastoma typically has seven petals. The four species can be differentiated using these characteristics.