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Growing Barbados Cherry / Acerola: Malpighia

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Overview

A member of the tropical and subtropical Malpighiaceae family, the genus Malpighia contains at least 40 species of shrubs, trees and vines. Barbados Cherry (Acerola) is sold under three species names: Malpighia emarginata, Malpighia glabra, and M. punicifolia, a synonym of M. glabra.

Description

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, 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. The flavor varies by plant and is described as apple-like and ranging from sweet to tart. The vitamin C content is up to 15 times higher than an orange.
Months for fruit to ripen: 30 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: Shallow, short, easily uprooted in strong winds. This plant is subject to root rot in poorly draining soil.
Cultivars of Note:
'Dwarf Barbados Cherry': A small shrub with blueberry-sized fruit.
'Florida Sweet': Semi-sweet flavor.
'B17': More juice, tart flavor, higher vitamin C content.
'Manoa Sweet': Sweet flavor.
Wildlife: Attracts butterflies and birds. 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.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-12. Young trees are hardy to 32°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).
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: This plant tolerates heavy pruning, but flowers develop on old wood and pruning reduces flowers and fruit. It can be maintained as a 5' high shrub with careful pruning.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed and cuttings. Using cuttings of desirable cultivars is the preferred method.
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

Nurseries and scientists disagree about which name to use for the Barbados Cherry. Botanically, the name Malpighia emarginata seems intended for the cultivated varieties and M. glabra for wild varieties. However, nurseries prefer to use the name M. glabra, possibly because it is easier to remember. The dwarf variety of Barbados Cherry is sometimes called M. punicifolia by nurseries, and it may really be a subspecies of M. glabra (or M. emarginata).


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Latest update: December, 2018

Barbados Cherry / Acerola: Malpighia - fruit

Barbados Cherry / Acerola: Malpighia - fruit