Origin and distribution
Pepino is an annual shrub and native of the Andean region of South America belonging to family Solanaceae. It is referred as melon pear, sweet Pepino, Pepino duke, king kiwi, toma, tree Pepino and mellow fruit. In the United States, the fruit is known to have been grown in San Diego before 1889 and Santa Barbara by 1897. Later on, more commercially viable cultivars were introduced in the USA from New Zealand and elsewhere in the end of 20th century.
Pepino is grown in Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Spain, Israel and highlands of Kenya. It was introduced in India at Horticultural Research Station, Ooty in Nilgiris during 1994 and from there it was introduced in Shimla hills in 2004 and performing well in the entire mid-Himalayan region. General description: Pepino plants are usually annual but some time behaves like biannual /perennial. Plants are erect, spineless, mini-shrub, commonly reach to a height of 90 cm (when stalked, up to 150 cm). It branches profusely and the glabrous branches possess rough warty excrescence. Leaves are lanceolate, tri-pentafoliate, dark green, apex acute, finely pubescent or silky.
Flowers are small, borne in clusters of 5-8 at terminal position, bisexual, corolla white with blue/purple shade, and deeply five lobed. Flowering starts in April-May months and fruit setting in July-August. Fruits ovoid/oval, egg shaped and apple like bottom, pale green with purple long stripes at the time of maturity. Fruits are 6-20 cm long, medium to large in size (150-700 g), flesh firm, yellowish and aromatic. The seeds are very small, dark brown and hard. On an average each plant produces 15-25 fruits per year.
Nutritional value and uses
The delicious fruits are highly juicy (with 95-98% juice recovery) and moderate sweet in nature. They possessed characteristic of pleasing aroma like melon fruit Ripe fruits can be consumed raw as a dessert fruit and fruit the salad. The fruits have muskmelon like flavour, highly juicy, aromatic and used for preparation of juice and squash. When fruits are fully ripe, it has a cucumber-like flavour which could be used as cooked vegetable. Pepino has some medicinal properties, it is good antiscorbutic, because of high Vitamin C (40-60 mg/100 g). Plants has an aesthetic value, it can be kept in corridor as pot plant.
Pepino cultivation can be done successfully in low and mid-hills of Himalayan region at an elevation of 500-1800 m with mean temperature range from 15-250C.It is said that it can be grown from sea level up to 3,000 m. It thrives on sandy loam to loam soil having pH 6-7. Propagation can be done from 5-6 cm long softwood stem cutting during the rainy season.
Cuttings should be placed in rooting medium having 1:1:1 soilsand- FYM for good rooting. Fifteen to twenty days after the plants are ready to shift in the main field, using 1×1 m spacing. To obtain good quality fruits, an application of well rotten compost manures @ of 10 t/ha and 60 kg N, 40 kg P and 40 kg K is suggested Young plants require sufficient moisture in the soil. Water stress at the time of flowering may cause flower dropping and arrest subsequent plant growth also. Therefore, at least 2- 3 irrigations at weekly interval during summer are essential for healthy plants.
Pepino is normally self-pollinated, but insect pollination can boost up the fruit set. Flowering continues throughout the year but fruit set during winter would not attain the proper size. Apart from low temperature affecting fruit set, high temperature leads to shrivelling of flower buds and loss of pollen viability. The plants are generally free from diseases, but infestation of thrips has noticed in Shimla, which can be controlled by metasystox @0.2%. Pepino takes 150-160 days between anthesis to fruit ripening in spring-summer season.
However, more time can be taken if cool weather is prolonged. Fruits are harvested when its colour changes from pale green to yellowish green with purple stripes on their surface. Fruit weigh 150-700 g and one plant produces 10-15 fruits. The fruits mature irregularly, hence many pickings are required. Fruits should be plucked with pedicel for market supply. Fruits can be stored for 15-20 days under ambient conditions.
Important cultivars viz. Valentia, Turia, El Camino, Kawi, Suma, Vista are available in other countries. We have distributed more than 10,000 rooted plants of pepino to farmers and research institutes in the WH region.
- National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources Regional Station Phagli, Shimla