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Growing Acerola / Barbados Cherry: Malpighia emarginata

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Overview
Acerola is the most well-known member of the tropical and subtropical Malpighiaceae family. The genus Malpighia contains at least 40 species of shrubs, trees and vines.

Description
Form: A multi-trunked shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Up to 40 productive years, but decline in productivity after 15-20 years is common.
Leaf retention: Drought deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: Typically 7-10' high and wide but may attain 20' in its native environment.
Flowers: Five pink to red paddle-shaped petals.
Bloom: Often in response to rain. May flower for seven months with regular irrigation.
Self-fruitful: Usually yes. Depends on cultivar.
Years before fruiting: 3.
Fruit: Round, 1/2"-3/4" wide, slightly 3-lobed, bright red to purple, glossy skin, juicy, orange-colored pulp, three inedible seeds. Vitamin C content 15 times higher than an orange.
Months for fruit to ripen: 30 days. Harvest every one to three days, only when darkened to purple hue so as to be fully ripe.
Storage after harvest: Fruit should be used within one day at room temperature and within one week refrigerated.
Leaves: Green, lance-shaped, glossy, smooth wavy margins. Young leaves and leaf stems have small stinging hairs that cause skin irritation. Moderate shade.
Stems: Brittle, easily broken. Wood is hard, heavy, not flammable.
Roots: Shallow, short, little tolerance for high winds which can uproot plant. Subject to root rot in poorly draining soil.
Cultivars of Note:
'B-17': Tart flavor.
'Fairchild' / 'Dwarf Barbados Cherry': Grows 2-3' high with weeping branches. Small fruit 1/2" diameter.
'Florida Sweet': Apple-like, semi-sweet flavor.
'Manoa Sweet': Sweet flavor.
Wildlife: Attracts butterflies, birds. Host plant for caterpillars of several butterfly species.
Toxic / Danger: Stinging hairs on leaf stems and young leaves may require gloves and long sleeves. Eating large quantities of fruit and seed may cause gastric upset in small children.
Origin: Southern Mexico and Central America.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 10-12. Young trees hardy to 32°F. Older trees hardy to 28°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun. Grows spindly and fruits less in part shade.
Water after becoming established: Every 10 days while fruiting, once or twice a month otherwise.
Soil: Well drained, dry, moderate organic content, pH 6.6-7.5 (neutral). Plant is slightly salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Monthly with compost.
Mulch: Use compost to protect roots from high temperatures and reduce evaporation.
Spacing: 4' as a hedge.
Planting: Can be grown in a container.
First Year Care: Protect from frost.
Prune: Tolerates heavy pruning. Flowers develop on old wood. Can be kept as a 5' high shrub.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed, cuttings. Seed germination is no more than 50%.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, hedge. Ripe fruit is eaten out of hand or cooked, strained to remove seeds, and used with added sugar to make syrup or jelly.

Comments
Capable of providing fruit six months or more.



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