Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Barbados Cherry / Acerola:
Malpighia emarginata

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Botanical Overview

A member of the tropical and subtropical Barbados Cherry family (Malpighiaceae), the genus Malpighia contains at least 40 species of shrubs, trees and vines. Malpighia emarginata is known as Barbados Cherry or Acerola.


Form: A multi-trunked shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Up to 40 productive years, but a decline in productivity after 15-20 years is common.
Leaf retention: Evergreen but drought deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: Typically 8-12' high and wide but may attain 20' in its native environment.
Flowers: Five pink to red, crinkly, paddle-shaped petals with 10 yellow-tipped stamens.
Bloom: Mid spring into summer. This plant often blooms in response to rain. It may flower for several months with regular irrigation.
Self-fruitful: Yes. As with most fruit plants, a second plant improves pollination.
Years before fruiting: From seed, 3-4.
Fruit: Round, 1/2"-3/4" wide, slightly 3-lobed, bright red to purple, glossy skin, juicy, orange colored pulp, three inedible seeds. The flavor varies by plant and can be described as apple-like, ranging from sweet to tart. The vitamin C content is many times higher than an orange.
Months for fruit to ripen: 22 days. Harvest every one to three days, only when darkened to a purple hue so as to be fully ripe.
Storage after harvest: The 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. The trees produce moderate shade.
Stems: Brittle, easily broken. The wood is hard, heavy, and not flammable unless very dry.
Roots: Its shallow, short roots allow this plant to be easily uprooted in strong winds. It is subject to root rot in poorly draining soil.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees and butterflies. The fruit attract birds and small mammals. This plant is a host plant for caterpillars of several butterfly species.
Toxic / Danger: Stinging hairs are present on leaf stems and young leaves. Gloves and long sleeves are recommended when handling the plant. Eating large quantities of the fruit and seed may cause gastric upset in small children.
Origin: Southern Mexico and Central America.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-12. Young trees are hardy to 30°F, while mature trees can briefly withstand 28°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes, with delay in fruiting or loss of fruit crop.
Sun: Full sun. This plant grows spindly and fruits less in part shade.
Planting: Locate this plant in a full sun location in well draining soil, protected from strong winds. Growing Barbados Cherry in pairs next to one another improves pollination. It can be grown in a container.
Soil: Well drained, dry, moderate organic content, pH 6.6-7.5 (neutral). This plant is salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer mid winter and mid summer. Apply a citrus micronutrient solution mid winter. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers because they inhibit flowering.
Water after becoming established: Use bubbler irrigation or shallow watering every 10 days while fruiting; once a month otherwise.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line to protect roots from high temperatures and reduce evaporation. Keep the mulch at least 8" from the trunk.
First Year Care: Water weekly to establish a strong root system. Protect from frost. It should be staked to prevent being toppled by strong winds.
Prune: This plant tolerates heavy pruning, but flowers develop on old wood and pruning reduces flowers and fruit. It is best pruned lightly after the last crop of the year has been harvested.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings, with two leaves, planted in moist soil with bright, indirect light and misted daily root easily and can be transplanted after 2 months. Air layering is also successful. Dried seed is not viable and seed is not true to its parent.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit. Ripe fruit is eaten out of hand or cooked, strained to remove seeds, and used with added sugar to make juice, syrup, wine, or jelly.


Malpighia emarginata is sometimes confused with the wild species known as Malpighia glabra or Malpighia punicifolia.
Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when working with this plant.

Do you have additional information or a different experience for these plants that you would like to share? Email All contributions are welcome and appreciated.

By Eric Gaba (Sting - frSting) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-8054092.jpg

Barbados Cherry / Acerola: Malpighia - fruit

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Latest update: February, 2021