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Morton, J. 1987. Ketembilla. p. 311–315. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Dovyalis hebecarpa Warb.

Aberia gardneri Clos.

Roumea hebecarpa Gard.

Somewhat better-known than the kei apple, q.v., the ketembilla, Dovyalis hebecarpa Warb. (syns. Aberia gardneri Clos.; Roumea hebecarpa Gard.), is often called Ceylon gooseberry; sometimes ketambilla, or kitembilla; and it is known as aberia in Cuba and Central America.

Ripe fruits of the ketembilla
Fig. 84: Ripe fruits of the ketembilla are furry-skinned, extremely acid and slightly bitter.

ormerly grown for jelly-making, the too-vigorous, productive ketembilla is no longer planted in southern Florida.
Fig. 85: Formerly grown for jelly-making, the too-vigorous, productive ketembilla or Ceylon gooseberry (Dotyalis hebecarpa) is no longer planted in southern Florida.


The shrub or small tree reaches no more than 15-20 ft (4.5-6 m) in height but its long, slender, arching, wide-spreading branches may cover 30 ft (9 m) of ground. Sharp spines to 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long, are plentiful on the trunk and lower branches. The alternate leaves are elliptical to ovate, pointed, 2 3/4 to 4 in (7-10 cm) long, wavy-margined, gray-green, finely velvety, with pinkish, woolly petioles, and thin in texture. Male, female and hermaphrodite flowers are borne on separate trees. They are petalless, greenish-yellow, nearly 1/2 in (1.25 cm) wide and clustered in the leaf axils. The fruit, borne in great abundance, is globose, 1/2 to 1 in (1.25-2.5 cm) wide. Its thin, bitter skin turns from somewhat orange to dark purple on ripening and is coated with short, grayish-green, velvety hairs, unpleasant in the mouth. The pulp is very juicy, extremely acid, purple-red, enclosing 9 to 12 hairy seeds about 1/4 in (6 mm) long.

Origin and Distribution

The ketembilla is native to Ceylon. It was introduced into the United States by Dr. David Fairchild and was one of the few fruits he admitted he never liked very much. The first fruiting specimens in the western hemisphere were apparently those growing in southern Florida. P.J. Wester carried seeds to the northern islands of the Philippines where it began fruiting in 1916. From Florida, also, the plant was introduced into the Atkins Garden of Harvard University at Cienfuegos, Cuba. Seeds from the Garden were shipped to the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association in 1920, and to the Lancetilla Experimental Garden at Tela, Honduras, in 1927. Seeds from Florida were supplied to the Mayaguez and Trujillo Experimental Stations in Puerto Rico where the plants were 16 ft (5 in) high by 1929 and 1930. Plants were distributed widely throughout the Hawaiian Islands and use of the fruits was officially encouraged.

Florida pioneers grew the species and utilized the fruits until the plants took up too much space. When South Florida began to develop rapidly after World War II, most people had no room for such an aggressive plant. One enthusiast maintained a small commercial plot in West Palm Beach for juice production.

In 1935, horticulturists in Israel imported seeds from Ceylon and plants grew and fruited well in a variety of locations. Commercial exploitation was anticipated but was suspended during World War II because of the shortage of sugar for preserving.


In the Philippines, the ketembilla flourishes from sea-level to 2,600 ft (800 m). In Malaya, it is found from near-sea-level up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It has never survived at Singapore. Fruiting is not consistent at Tela, Honduras. However, it does do well planted at appropriate elevations in either dry or moist climates.


In Florida, the plant grows entirely too vigorously on sand or limestone, but a rich soil is best for maximum fruit production and plenty of water is desirable during fruit development.


In Israel, fruit ripens from winter to spring. In Florida, there are two crops a year–spring and fall, but the fruits may be infested with the larvae of the Caribbean fruit fly, Anastrepha suspensa, and unusable.

Food Uses

In Florida, in the past, the ketembilla was used primarily for jelly. Recipes developed in Hawaii include juice, spiced jelly, ketembilla-papaya jam, ketembilla-guava jelly, and ketembilla-apple butter. In Israel, the fruit is valued mainly as a source of jelly for export

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*

Moisture 81.9-83.6 g
Protein 0.174-0.206 g
Fat 0.64-1.02 g
Crude Fiber 1.7-1.9 g
Ash 0.61-0.63 g
Calcium 12.6-13.3 mg
Phosphorus 24.5-26.8 mg
Iron 0.91-1.41 mg
Carotene 0.125-0.356 mg
Thiamine 0.017 mg
Riboflavin 0.033-0.042 mg
Niacin 0.261-0.316 mg
Ascorbic Acid 91.7-102.5 mg
(Slightly unripe fruits are high in pectin.)

*Analyses made in Honduras.

Other Uses

In the West Indies and Central America, honeybees are seen to work the blossoms eagerly from July to December.

Abyssinian gooseberry
Fig. 86: The Abyssinian gooseberry (Dovyalis abyssinica), more attractive in color and of more pleasing flavor than the ketembilla, is still too astringent to be popular.

Dovyalis hybrid
Fig. 87: An apparent chance cross between the ketembilla and the Abyssinian gooseberry, known only as "Dovyalis hybrid", was briefly promoted in southern Florida. The fruits are large but astringent.

Related Species

The Abyssinian gooseberry, D. abyssinica Warb. (syns. D. engleri Gilg; Aberia abyssinica Clos.) is a bushy, more or less thorny, shrub or tree to 30 ft (9 in) high, with alternate leaves, ovate-lanceolate to oblong, 1 to 3 1/2 in (2.5-9 cm) long, 3/4 to 1 1/2 in (2-4 cm) wide; glabrous or slightly hairy, light-green, glossy, wavy, and sometimes finely toothed. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. They are small, greenish-white, and emerge at the leaf axils, the male clustered, the female singly. The fruits are oblate, 1/2 to 1 in (1.25-2.5 cm) wide, with thin, tender, apricot-colored skin and concolorous, apricot-flavored, juicy, melting, astringent, acid pulp containing several flat seeds.

This species is native and common in forests of East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda) at elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 ft (1,800-2,400 m). Seeds were obtained by the United States Department of Agriculture from the Atkins Garden in Cuba in 1935 (S.P.I. #112086) and planted at the then Plant Introduction Station in Miami. Three seedlings were supplied to the University of Florida's experiment station in Homestead, two of which died and the survivor was a male. Two plants remaining at the United States Department of Agriculture showed considerable hardiness with only minor injury in cold spells just below freezing. Some die-back was attributed to infestation by scale insects or root damage by nematodes. These plants had female flowers but never bore fruit until there occurred accidental pollination by a ketembilla 50 to 60 ft (15-18 m) distant. A heavy crop of fruits was borne in 1951. A dozen seedlings were sent to Homestead. A scion from one of the 2 female plants was grafted onto the male plant at the Homestead station and bore fruit less than a year later. The attractive fruits caused considerable interest, grafted plants were sold by nurseries and someone proceeded to invent the frivolous term, "Florida apricot".

The seedlings from the 1951 crop planted at Homestead fruited in October 1953. Both foliage and fruit suggest that hybridization had taken place between the ketembilla and the Abyssinian gooseberry. One of the seedlings bore perfect flowers in small clusters.

The hybrid fruit is oblate, 3/4 to 1 3/8 in (2-3.5 cm) across, with a velvety skin, brownish-orange or burnt-orange, dappled with many flecks of yellow. The flesh is burnt-orange or orange-yellow, juicy, very sour, more or less acrid, the flavor modifying somewhat when the fruit becomes extra-ripe and dark-red in color. There are 3 to 9 flat, pointed, nearly white seeds to 5/16 in (8 mm) long, mostly underdeveloped and not very noticeable when the fruit is eaten. Plants reproduced by cuttings or air-layers (though producing strong, spiny shoots) were soon being offered by local nurserymen as "Dovyahs hybrid", no other name having been adopted. In 1960, 1 proposed "ketcot" as concisely representing its 2 parents and Dr. George H. Lawrence, then Director of the Bailey Hortorium wanted to record this in Hortus as soon as it became popularized, which it never was.

The hybrid proved to be remarkably hardy, more stalwart and vigorous than either parent, forming massive, formidable mounds to 15 ft (4.5 m) high, the branches weighed down with excessive crops. One practical disadvantage is that the green, 6-pointed calyx, 3/8 in (1 cm) wide, remains on the plant as the fruit is picked, leaving a cavity in the base of the fruit. It is, therefore, not marketable as a fresh fruit but can be used to make sirup, jam or other preserves.

I was informed in 1962 that a hybrid of D. abyssinica and the ketembilla had originated in the Kitchen Door Nursery, North Miami. It was given the name "Kandy" after a village in Ceylon, and had survived several winters in Winter Haven.

Despite productivity and hardiness and the promotion of less-spiny, less rampant plants grafted on ketembilla, few homeowners have welcomed the "Dovyahs hybrid" and its position has remained static over the past 25 years.