The caleta grape (Coccoloba uvífera) is also known as the playera grape, hicaco, kino americana or kino de Jamaicaú. It is a woody tree that is native to the northern and southern coasts of Cuba, belonging to the Polygonaceae family.
It can reach a height of 14 metres and with a sturdy trunk that can reach up to 70 cm in diameter. The branches are thick and smooth. The leaves are large and circular with pink veins that turn red with age. The leaf blades are orbicular and broad, heart-shaped; the petioles are short. The white calyx-shaped flowers are numerous and come in dense clusters of up to 12 cm long. The calyx and corolla become fleshy, the fruit is globular and purple, it is 2 cm in diameter, with a thin flesh. The hanging fleshy clusters resemble the grape clusters of the genus Vitis sp.
It reproduces asexually or through cuttings. Caleta grapes are dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants, so cross-pollination is necessary. The seeds germinate easily, producing fruit after a period of 4-8 years.
It is a tropical plant, typical of hot and humid climates, but can withstand long periods of drought. It prefers sandy, saline and well-drained soil. It is often used to prevent erosion and is extremely tolerant of salt. It can be threatened by termites attacking its trunk and by fungi attacking its leaves.
Caleta grapes are widely distributed along the rocky Cuban coasts, in coastal dunes and on hills that are near rivers. Particularly on the Guanahacabibes peninsula in Pinar del Río and on the beaches of Baracoa and El Salado in Havana. During the economic crisis of the 1990s, the community harvested these fruits on the beaches east of Havana. It is also distributed in the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Florida, Bermuda and tropical mainland America.
The fruits of the caleta grape as well as the flowers, seed, leaves, bark and roots are used by the local population as a food or medicinal resource.
The fruit is fleshy, sweet and juicy and has a strong aroma. It is often used to make jams and sweets, but can also be fermented into a wine-like drink. The fruit has an anti-laxative effect, is refreshing and can even help to combat fevers. Its flowers have a high nectar content, which produces an excellent quality honey that has a spicy flavour. The seeds are used to treat problems with menstruation and water retention.
The leaves are consumed as a decoction to treat sores and, particularly in the province of Havana, is considered curative for hoarse throats and asthma. The bark contains a red juice that has a bitter taste, it is used as an anti-diarrhoeic; consuming an infusion of the roots also solves intestinal problems.
It is often used as an ornamental plant due to the intense scent of its flowers and its tolerance of poor soils. The wood is also widely used for its qualities: it is strong, durable and of good quality, with narrow, reddish coloured fibres.