Wild Camu-Camu of Peru

Take a deeper look at tropical forests around the world.

| February 2018

  • flooded camu-camu plants
    Harvesting the fruits of camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) in Sahua cocha, Department of Loreto, Peru. The tops of the flooded camu-camu plants are visible in the background; the floodwaters were about two meters deep at the time of the photograph.
    Courtesy of New York Botanical Garden and Yale University Press
  • “Managing the Wild,” by Charles M. Peters
    “Managing the Wild,” by Charles M. Peters, invites readers with him all over the world. Read of his travels and the sustainability projects he has discovered.
    Courtesy of New York Botanical Garden and Yale University Press

  • flooded camu-camu plants
  • “Managing the Wild,” by Charles M. Peters

Managing the Wild: Stories of People and Plants and Tropical Forests (Yale University Press), by Charles M. Peters, invites readers to follow him through his travels of tropical forests. Take a closer look at the growth and propagation that occurs in the tropical forests. Meet some of the community that maintain the forests. The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, Camu-Camu: Fruits, Floods, and Vitamin C. 

Sahua cocha and IIAP field station at Jenaro Herrera (S 4 degrees 54’21”, W 73 degrees 40’07”), fourteen hours up the Ucayali River from Iquitos, Peru, 1984–1987, 2011

I was on the lookout for interesting fruits from the moment I arrived at Iquitos, and the first one that caught my eye was a small red-and-green marble to golf ball–sized fruit called camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia). I saw it everywhere. Street vendors pushed carts loaded with baskets of camu-camu around town, women in the central market piled up plastic bags filled with the fruit for sale, delicious camu-camu juice drinks were available all over the place, and camu-camu sherbet was one of the first flavors listed on the signs outside the local ice-cream parlors. This was clearly one of the most popular native fruits in town. My first question was, I wonder where all these fruits come from?

I went around town and asked the street vendors, juice makers, market women, and ice-cream scoopers where they got their camu-camu fruit. What I really wanted to know was whether it was cultivated locally or “wild harvested” from the forest; I was hoping the latter. My informants all told me that they bought the fruit from sellers at the port, and that it came from someplace “upriver.” I started hanging around the port, and soon saw several chaucheros (dockworkers) climbing up the slippery bank from the river with huge bamboo baskets on their backs filled with camu-camu fruit. Once they had reached the top and put down their baskets, I began interviewing them. All the chaucheros told me the same thing: “The best camu-camu comes from the oxbow lakes outside Jenaro Herrera, about fourteen hours from Iquitos up the Ucayali River.”

I had come to Peru to participate in a three-year study of the ecology and management of native fruit trees. As luck would have it, the local research institute (Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana) with which I was collaborating had a small field station outside Jenaro Herrera. And it did take fourteen hours-and an overnight ride on a riverboat packed with swinging ham-mocks, motorcycles, innumerable sacks filled with rice, tubers, and electronic equipment, lots of children and babies, and a few water buffaloes — to get there. The station was located five kilometers from the town of Jenaro Herrera up a dirt road. About a dozen of us, mostly students and a few researchers, lived at the station, and I had a comfortable, palm — thatched hut with bathroom, running water, and even electricity for two or three hours most evenings. I also had the use of a wooden longboat named Myrciaria that had been made by a local boat builder and an incredibly knowledge-able and pleasant field assistant named Umberto Pacaya, who was a skilled boat driver, knew where to find all of the native fruits, and never once got lost in the forest. It was a great place to work.

On my first field excursion, I went to explore the two big oxbow lakes, Supay cocha and Sahau cocha, outside Jenaro Herrera, where the camu-camu was growing. The bank of each of the lakes had a 20–30-meter-wide strip packed with camu-camu shrubs. When the water level in the lake was up, it was hard to paddle through the canopy of the camu-camal (dense aggregations of camu-camu); when the water level was down, we had to crawl, climb, and pick our way through the tangle of stems with care. As soon as the water level in the lake had dropped enough to uncover the entire camu-camu population, we started laying out our inventory plots.

3/8/2018 8:43:29 AM

I've enjoyed the tangy pink camu-camu drink for many years during annual trips to Requena, a little farther up the Ucayali River. One of many delightful and unique foods of this region of Peru.



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