Do grapes go on trees? Normally the answer would be no, they grow on vines. The exception is the jabuticaba tree.
Scientifically speaking, there is no difference between a tree, a vine, and a shrub. All of them have one thing in common, which is the woody stem that is perennial - meaning it remains living from season to season, rather than dying off like the shoot of a flower.
Although there is no scientific distinction between them, customarily we think of a tree as having a perennial stem (what we call a trunk) that is at least 4 to 5 feet above the ground and at least 3 inches in diameter, along with a crown of foliage of some sort atop (e.g. leaves or needles) that reaches a mature height of at least 13 feet. For measurements less than these, we typically refer to it as a shrub.
For vines, we think of them as having a stem which is not self supporting, often living on the surface of the ground or relying on the surface it rests upon.
Granted the exact measurements may differ slightly depending on who you ask, but generally speaking these are universal opinions as to what the difference between a vine versus a tree versus a shrub. Though from a scientific perspective, all are considered the same thing without differentiation between them.
What is it?
Regardless of your definition of a vine, you almost certainly would not call the Brazilian grape tree a vine. As you see in the photo above, it is clearly what we think of as being a tree - a trunk that is self supporting, tall, and thick.
This Plinia cauliflora plant is most often referred to as a Brazilian grape tree by speakers of English and the jabuticaba tree by Portuguese speakers, which is Brazil's official language. It's an anomaly in the plant kingdom. With virtually every other plant, the blossoming flowers which eventually turn into fruits or berries are found on the plant's appendages. With the grape tree, the fruit grows on the trunk/stem.
How do you pronounce jabuticaba? Ja-bootie-caba is the most frequent English pronunciation.
Where does it grow? Where to buy it?
Outside of the Brazil states of Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo, you are unlikely to see this very unique tree.
If you want to cultivate, where do you go to buy a Brazilian grape tree? Not your local nursery, as they certainly won't have it and most likely won't even know what it is!
Trying to buy one from Brazil and importing it would be near impossible - or at least a huge headache - given the hoops one needs to jump through with customs in order to legally import live plants, fruits, or vegetables from other countries into the United States (as well as most European countries).
Your best bet to buy one is finding a horticultural enthusiast group within the U.S. (or whichever country you live) and have them help you locate a person in your same country that can provide a starter seedling. You may also come across a mail order specialty nursery online in your country which can sell you one directly.
In the U.S. people have been known to grow the jabuticaba in Southern California (Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego), southern Florida (Key West, Boca Raton, Miami), Texas (Austin, Houston, San Antonio) and Hawaii. It can reach a height of up to 35 feet or so in its native homeland but in these colder climates, many report their trees only growing 7 to 15 feet tall. Regardless, even though the cooler temperatures lead to smaller trees, they still fulfill the necessary requirements to stay alive and produce delicious fruit.
Are they edible? What do they taste like?
The fruit from the Brazilian grape tree is edible, but what does it taste like? The inside consists of a white gelatinous or creamy pulp, with a flavor that has been described as being quite similar to muscadine grapes. Inside the pulp you will also find seeds, from one to four of them. The skin of the jabuticaba is also edible too, which has been described as being more green and herbal tasting. Since the skin has a high tannin content, it probably should only be consumed in moderation. For that reason, even though the peel extract has a much higher amount of antioxidants, we certainly would question the safety of consuming it on a regular basis. High amounts of tannin are generally not beneficial for one's health.
Are the grapes/fruits nutritious?
How much antioxidants does it have? If you're basing it on the entire fruit, not a whole lot. An ORAC value of 1,511 is higher than white grapes at (1,018), but lower than black grapes (1,746) and red grapes (1,788). To put this in perspective, almost all common varieties of apples score higher than Brazilian grape tree fruit. Most of the antioxidants are in its outer skin, which is rich in anthocyanins. If you look at just the ORAC values for the jabuticaba skin/peel extract it is quite high.
Antioxidants aside, other health benefits have been suggested for this grape, as it has been recommended for asthma suffers, diarrhea relief, and being beneficial for hair loss. However none of these claims are clinically validated, therefore it is not meant to prevent, treat, or cure any disease.
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't: Leite-Legatti AV, Batista AG, Dragano NRV et al. Jaboticaba peel: Antioxidant compounds, antiproliferative and antimutagenic activities. Food Research International. Volume 49, Issue 1, Pages 596-603. Nov 2012