Want to spend twenty bucks on a highly touted bottle of odd-tasting health-promoting antioxidant juice? Then Noni Juice is your oyster. Probably based in limited truth and enhanced by volcanoes of hype, the ancient Polynesians had a thing for Noni. Hawaii is the epicenter for Noni Juice now, and the tree (Morinda citrifolia) is grown in other tropical climates, a lot in the Caribbean, and a little in Florida. We tried one at PBSC but Jack Frost murdered it. The Caribbean name for the tree, “Duppy Apple,” refers to the similarity between the lumpy white fruit and a lumpy white ghost, a duppy.
The possibility that Noni is good for you is not far-fetched, although I have no idea of any underlying science. In the Caribbean the species serves for alleged analgesic properties, like an aspirin. And that rings plausible. Noni belongs to the drug-laden Coffee Family, the Rubiaceae, from which one drug, caffeine, makes me feel painless at 6 am every day. Fact is, the Rubiaceae is a hotspot of alkaloids and bioactivity.
Is Noni a Florida native? No, but we have our own close relative, Morinda royoc, which is similar, except for being more of a vine than a tree, and being smaller in all dimensions. Although not sold in bottles with a Polynesian motif, Morinda royoc has its own place in traditional medicines to the point of having local populations abused by collectors. Uses for Morinda royoc extend from lumbago to scurvy. (Today’s vocabulary lesson: antiscorbutic.) Echoing Noni, pain relief receives prominent mention. Morinda royoc extracts are sort of a mild “revitalizing” stimulant, in a coffee-ish sort of fashion.
This plant has oodles of so-called common names, none of which I’ve ever heard anybody apply seriously: cheese shrub (they say from the odor of the fermenting fruits), mouse pineapple (the fruit resembles a mini-pineapple), Redgal, Indian Mulberry, and an anatomically descriptive handle we’ll modify for polite blogging as “Low Budget Viagra Shrub.”
You don’t see Cheese Shrub often. It is sort of an unpretentious clambering semi-shrub-semi-vine in coastal hammocks, often on dunes immediately overlooking the sea. The vine is related to, resembles, and hangs around literally with Snowberry (Chiococca alba). The leaves are opposite, often a little yellowish, and provided usefully (for identification) with a stipule between the bases. The star-shaped white flowers are clustered in the constellation that will become the bumpy mouse pineapple, which eventually matures orange. The fruit is a natural sea-dispersal pod—tough, thick, padded, and with built-in hollow floats.
We have a tissue culture lab at PBSC, and a protocol for micropropagation has been published, so with much patience and optimism we’re going to dry to grow our own little Redgal, whatever that means.