Barbados Cherry

by Gene Joyner, Extension Agent I
IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service

If you want a nice, low-growing tropical fruit tree that's quite colorful in fruit, plant Barbados cherries. The Barbados cherry or acerola, Malpighia glabra, (also known as M. punicifolia), is native to the West Indies, and it's a favorite in landscapes for specimen plants or for hedges.

Barbados cherries have deep green shiny leaves varying in size and shape, but usually at least two inches or more in length. Plants grow well over a wide range of soil conditions, but do prefer acid soils for best growth and production. Barbados cherry grows to a height of about 18 feet and about the same spread, but can be kept very small and still produce plenty of delicious cherries.

Attractive tiny pink flowers are produced throughout the year, generally from early spring through late fall, and the fruits mature about four to six weeks after flowering. Fruits generally are an inch or more across, bright red with three large-lobed seeds in the center. The flesh is usually yellow-range in color and contains a very high content of vitamin C, and it is raised commercially for vitamin C.

Generally plants grow rapidly, often three to four feet a year, and for this reason they make good screens or hedges. Best growth is obtained in full sun, but they will grow in light shade, too, although fruiting may be less in the shade.

Most Barbados cherries have few problems with cold weather, and they will tolerate about 30°F before suffering damage. Fruits are often attacked by bugs and, of course, birds. Nematodes may be a problem on sandy soils, and heavy mulching is recommended to help discourage these pests. .

Most Barbados cherries are easily rooted from cuttings, or they can be airlayered and these methods are used most by nurseries. Seed-propagated acerolas generally have slow poor growth and may have sour inferior fruit. There are a number of named varieties of this West Indian cherry, such as 'Florida Sweet' or 'B-17', and the types of Barbados cherries with larger fruit often have sweeter fruit as compared to the small-fruited types.

The amount of vitamin C in the fruit is highest on the smaller-size fruits that are more acid. For eating out-of-hand, though, many people prefer the sweeter clones even though they have less vitamin C. Most varieties of acerola contain at least the minimum adult daily requirement of vitamin C, so if you don't like taking vitamin tablets, simply eat a Barbados cherry every day to get your vitamin C.

Fertilize trees with a general-purpose fertilizer every three to four months to help promote good growth and fruit production. Most Barbados cherries can take small amounts of salt spray, but are not considered highly salt-tolerant for oceanfront plantings. During periods of drought, Barbados cherries will benefit from heavy mulching, since they have very shallow roots which easily dry out. Weekly irrigations are suggested during the spring dry season to help promote heavier fruiting.


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