Barbados Cherry – A Cherry Or An Entirely Different Species?

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia emarginata) is a tropical shrub or small tree grown often as an ornamental plant for its edible cherry-like fruits. But what the Barbados cherry is, and where does it come from? Well, here’s a post that will tell you all about these intriguing little trees before you decide to have one in your garden.

The fruits of barbados cherry are famous for their high vitamin C concentration. Believe me or not, these cherries contain one of the highest concentrations of that nutrient among all plant-derived fruits. The plant is even used in the production of commercial Vitamin C supplements.

The evergreen plant is native to West Indies and southern Texas, all the way to the northern end of South America, and belongs to the family Malpighiaceae. It thrives in many tropical and subtropical regions that help it produce those favorite fruits. Let’s learn more about this tree!

Common NamesBarbados Cherry, West Indian Cherry, Acerola, Wild Crepe Myrtle
Botanical NameMalpighia Emarginata
Plant TypeA Perennial Fruit Tree
Size (Fully Grown)About 12 Feet (About 3,7 Meters) Tall
Sun ExposurePartial Shade
Soil TypeOne That Drains Well But Retains Moisture And Is Rich In Nutrients
Soil pHFrom 5.5 To 6.5
Flower ColorPink
U.S. Hardiness Zones9, 10 And 11
Native AreaWest Indies, Southern Texas To South America

Different Barbados Cherry Varieties

The taste of its fruit often categorizes barbados cherry. You’ll find sour varieties with a higher ascorbic acid content, which are more suited for juices and purees. But home growers usually prefer the sweeter varieties since they’re more appealing for raw consumption. Let’s get familiar with those popular cultivars.

Sweet Cultivars

  1. Manoa Sweet

The variety is developed from B-17 seedlings; Manoa sweet is a high-yielding variety that grows upright to a height of about 15 feet (nearly 4,6 meters) in little time. The fruits turn orange-red and are sweet when they are completely ripe.

2. Queen

It’s an upright tree that spreads quite a bit and produces sweet fruits. Compared to other cultivars, you can limit the spread by training it into a single trunk.

3. Tropical Ruby

The tree has similar growing habits as that of Manoa Sweet and produces fruits with almost the same flavor. If you don’t prune it, it can easily reach a height of even 15 feet (about 4,6 meters).

Sour Cultivars

  1. Florida Sweet

It’s a common variety grown in California and produces large, plentiful fruits with thick skin and a juicy flavor like apples.

2. Red Jumbo

Red Jumbo has a dense and low growth that produces large, cherry-red fruits. It’s a compact tree, perfect for small gardens.

Other Quite Famous Varieties Include:

  1. B-17
  2. Dwarf
  3. F. Haley
  4. Maunawili
  5. C.F. Rehnborg
  6. J.H. Beaumont

Where Is Barbados Cherry Originally From?

With barbados cherry, a single region can’t be pinpointed as the origin because the tree/shrub has a relatively diversified history. It’s native to the West Indies, so it’s also often called West Indian cherry. That’s not all. It has also been growing in southern Texas, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, South America, and Central America for a very long time.

Rise In Popularity

Historians suggest that the tree was brought to Florida from Cuba and appeared in the 1887 to 1888 Royal Palm Nursery catalog. In 1917, the seeds were handed to the US Department of Agriculture by H.M. Curran, an American forester.

The department later distributed Barbados cherry seedlings to homeowners to make them a part of their Victory Gardens after WWII. This was the time when the plant saw a significant rise in cultivation.
After studies found the high concentrations of Vitamin C in the fruit, many regions started growing it commercially, including Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The fruit appeared under the name of acerola in markets.

The Downfall Of Commercial Production

Commercial production slowed down as cheaper synthetic alternative sources of ascorbic acid grew popular. Nowadays, cultivation is more common in home gardens than on a commercial scale, though Puerto Rico uses it as an ingredient for packaged baby foods.

What Does A Barbados Cherry And Tree Look Like?

The beautiful evergreen tree or shrub is a popular ornamental plant in home gardens. Unlike most other trees, it only grows to a height of around 12 feet (about 3,7 meters). Sometimes the tree can grow as tall as 20 feet (about 6,1 meters), but it depends on the variety you are growing and the conditions it receives.

Growth Habit

The tree grows upright, with a short trunk, bushy foliage, and it produces flowers throughout the summer. You can prune it to maintain the desired shape and “train” a single trunk to continue growing upright or, if you want to, many trunks extending alongside.

Roots

The plant has a comparatively shallow root system. A heavy wind can easily blow it over. But, if you have a fallen barbados cherry in your garden, don’t freak out! Just set it upright and give it some time to recover; eventually, it will be as good as new.

Leaves

The tree produces dark to light green leaves that are ovate-lanceolate and turn glossy when they are mature. Upon maturity, each leaf is 0,8 to 3,1 inches (about 2 to 8 cm) long and 0,4 to 1,6 inches (about 1 to 4 cm) wide. The margins are covered by tiny, sharp hair that can irritate your skin when you touch it.

Flowers

The tree produces abundant pink blooms that have a diameter of 0,8 inches (about 2 cm). Those bisexual flowers grow in a bunch of three to five and appear from leaf axils.

Fruits

The orange-red fruits are a drupe and have approximately the same size as a cherry. But unlike cherries, they have three lobes and have a delicate, slightly sour, apple-like flavor. They’re high in Vitamin C and take up to 25 days to grow to maturity once they appear after pollination. There are three seeds in each fruit, huddled up in the form of a compact triangle.

Two Happy Barbados Cherries
© bonnontawat – stock.adobe.com

In What Conditions Does Barbados Cherry Grow Best In?

This lovely tree grows well in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. Described below is some useful information on how to help barbados cherry thrive in your garden.

Temperature

It’s a subtropical to tropical plant that does not tolerate cold weather. While the young plants will die if exposed to temperatures lower than 30°F (about -1°C), mature ones are a bit more forgiving.

They’ll tolerate short periods of temperatures as low as 28°F (about -2°C), but no lower than that. Other than that, mature trees can also tolerate drought but will not produce any fruits until a good watering or rainfall.

Soil And Sun

A location with plenty of bright indirect sunlight is best for the young plants to develop. Avoid setting the tree in a place that gets direct sunlight. It prefers well-draining, slightly acidic soil. But, it won’t mind sitting in the neutral ground either.

It would be best to amend the garden bed with lots of organic matter before planting it. Most gardeners prefer to buy small plants from the nursery rather than growing them from seeds since germination can take several months.

Water And Fertilizing

Young Barbados cherries need regular watering, at least once a week. Once the plants are established, they’re quite drought-tolerant and can go days without a drink. But, they won’t bear any fruit throughout this dry period. Only once you have resumed regular watering will you find any fruits on the branches.

Apply citrus fertilizer only once the plants start growing. You can also apply an 8-3-9 fertilizer, but citrus fertilizers work best. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package about the amount and timing and avoid overdosing.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Barbados Cherries?

Other than a rich source of Vitamin C, Barbados cherries are also rich in Vitamin A, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. It boosts immunity and helps fight the symptoms of common cold, diarrhea, and skin blemishes.

Leaving aside all the plus points, are there any side-effects you should look out for? Is it safe for everyone, or are there certain conditions in which its use or overuse should be avoided? Let’s take a look.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

It’s safe to eat the cherries in moderate amounts if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. But, since there isn’t much research on whether it’s overdose is safe or not, better stick to the safe side and avoid consuming high amounts of this plant in any form.

Children

Barbados cherries are healthy for children and safe if consumed in moderate amounts. Allergies associated with these fruits are rare in children but may occur. If you see any swelling on the lips, mouth, throat, or tongue, consult a doctor.

People With Allergies

Rarely, allergies from the consumption of Barbados cherries can occur in adults. If you’re allergic to berries, cherries, and other tropical fruits, you may also be allergic to Barbados cherries.

People With Diabetes

Research has shown that consuming these cherries may lower your blood sugar levels, making it an excellent plant for diabetics.

People With Blood-Iron Disorders

People suffering from thalassemia, hemochromatosis, and similar disorders should avoid consuming these cherries in large amounts. The high Vitamin C content in the fruits may heighten iron absorption, which could worsen the condition.

People With Kidney Stones

Overdose of Barbados cherries in any form can increase the chances of developing kidney stones. Those who have a history of kidney stones should only consume it in moderate amounts.

Pets

Unlike the cherry tree, which is toxic to your pets, the Barbados cherry tree is safe. You’ll even find acerola-based Vitamin C supplements for your cats and dogs to boost their health.

Featured image credit – © Imago Photo – stock.adobe.com

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