The Barbados cherry belongs to the Malpighiaceae family. It has several names, a wide variety of species, and many uses.
The scientific name is Malpighea glabra. Common names include Barbados cherry, wild crape myrtle, acerola, manzanita, wild cherry, and Jamaican cherry. Manzana means “apple” in Spanish. The fruit of the manzanita resembles a tiny apple or a tiny cherry.
This native plant is found in the West Indies and southern Texas through Mexico to northern South America. In the Coastal Loop and South Texas (Zones 9 and 10), the Barbados cherry thrives in tropical or subtropical conditions.
This evergreen perennial has many uses. It can be a tree, shrub, hedge or ground cover. It usually grows to about 4 feet. Their ripeness depends on the use and the chosen variety.
For example, if it leaves a single trunk, it can grow into a small tree about 9 feet tall. With less pruning, the Barbados cherry grows into a bushy shrub. Planting several in a row creates a hedge. To use the Barbados cherry as a ground cover, you can mass plant it and shear to 3 inches.
Dwarf Malpighea Glabra ‘Nana’ makes a great container plant, flowering garden perennial or massive ground cover. The Malpighea Glabra L reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet.
As a landscape addition, this perennial offers interest in form, foliage, flowers and fragrance. The arching branches create a soft, rounded appearance. The leaves are dark and shiny. Sometimes the bark is covered with skin-irritating hairs or thorns.
Small, 0.5 cm white to pale pink flowers can be seen from March to December. These fragrant flowers resemble the flowers of crape myrtle.
Flowers are more numerous in warm seasons. It thrives in a variety of moist soils. The flowers are self-pollinating and fruit will follow in three to four weeks. Flowers and fruits can be present on the bush at the same time.
The red, thin-skinned fruit grows in clusters of three or four. In some varieties, a yellow colored flesh indicates ripeness. Ripe fruit is sweeter than early fruit.
As native habitats decrease, an important use of the Barbados cherry is to provide wildlife. A Barbados cherry is a source of berries, shelter, nectar, and nesting sites. This versatile plant provides sleep and breakfast for birds, bees, raccoons, deer and butterflies.
Mowed lawns and non-native vegetation are less suited to the survival of native fauna than native plants. Planting one or more Texas Natives provides a sanctuary for wildlife right in your yard.
The Barbados cherry provides food for many different Texan pollinators. Four native butterflies that rely on this perennial for their larval host are the White-spotted Skipper, Florida Duskywing, Brown-banded Skipper, and Cassius Blue.
The Barbados cherry is known as a superfruit. It is one of the richest natural sources of ascorbic acid, with 50 to 100 times more vitamin C than a lemon or orange. Three berries a day provide the required dose of vitamin C.
The literature notes that the health benefits have not been fully tested. Dietary supplements or fruit products made from this plant require further research.
Malpighea emarginata or Malpighea punicifolia are fresh fruit varieties for human consumption. Acidic varieties are grown for juices, purees, alcoholic beverages, syrups and sauces. The sweet varieties are grown for consumption and are perishable in a few hours.
In the Victoria Educational Gardens, these plants are in the Secret Garden, Birding Area and behind the gazebo next to the water tank. These varieties bear small fruits and are intended exclusively for the birds. Come this summer and see them and many other wonderful plants.
The Gardeners’ Dirt was written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational initiative of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Submit your questions to Advocate, PO Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column on VictoriaAdvocate.com.