Barbados Cherry - A Mother's Day Gift That Lasts
From the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
by Daniel Culbert, Ockeechobee Extension County Agent
This article was originally produced on May 6, 1998 as a bi-monthly news column for the Vero Beach Press Journal. It has been updated since its original publication.
Jewelry, cut flowers and an evening out of the kitchen are traditional gifts for Mother’s day. But fine jewelry is expensive, cut flowers don’t last, and the dinner out on the town is just a fleeting moment of pleasure. Mothers like things that are pretty, and that are appreciated long after the gift is given. This year, consider a colorful addition to her landscape that is delicious, nutritious and easy to care for - Barbados Cherry. Information for today’s column come from the University of Florida Fact Sheet on this amazing tropical fruit.
The Barbados Cherry is also known as the Acerola, West Indian or Antilles Cherry. It is a different plant and unrelated to the Surinam Cherry or Florida Cherry Hedge that is more commonly planted in our area. To be sure of what they are talking about, horticulturalists often use the botanical name to avoid this confusion - so in this case, ask for it as Malpighia glabra.
This plant is native to the West Indies, Central and South America, and has been spread beyond its natural range to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It traveled from the Lesser Antilles to Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and it is believed to have first been brought to Florida during the late 1880's. During World War II, the USDA distributed seedling trees for growing in Victory Gardens and in school yards to increase the vitamin intake of children.
Barbados cherry received considerable attention in the 1950’s in Florida, Puerto Rico and Hawaii because of its extremely high vitamin C content. Approximately 100 acres were established in the late 1950’s in Florida but this has decreased to less than 25 acres. Acerola, a popular natural form of Vitamin C, is derived from the Barbados Cherry. Recent interest in this fruit has stimulated limited new commercial plantings. However, the Barbados Cherry will continue to be a popular fruit for the home garden.
The Barbados cherry is a large, densely branched shrub. If pruned it will form a central trunk and can grow as a small tree. It varies in shape from a low and spreading habit to a more upright and open habit with slender branches. Shiny light to deep evergreen leaves will vary in size from 1 to 3 inches and are rounded in shape. The small, attractive flowers range in color from pale pink to rose. They usually start to appear in April in our area and flowering will continue throughout the summer and sometimes into the fall.
Soft, juicy, thin-skinned Barbados Cherry fruit are light red to deep crimson when mature. The outer shape somewhat resembles a small apple, but inside the fruit are several very un-apple like seed. The fully mature fruit average about an inch in diameter. Barbados cherries are borne in leaf axils, singly or in clusters of 2 or 3. The shrub may have 3 to 5 crops per year, from May to November, with the largest crops appearing during the summer. In frost-free areas it is almost everbearing.
The fruit is rather tart but some selections are sub-acid to almost sweet. Inside, the flesh is yellow-orange and very high in vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The Vitamin C content of one fruit ranges from 1000 to 2000 mg per 100 grams of edible fully ripe fruit. More acid fruit has higher vitamin C content, and the amount of this compound is much higher in partially ripe fruit. Sometimes a single Barbados Cherry fruit can supply the daily adult requirement of vitamin C.
Barbados cherry seedlings are quite variable and fruit quality is usually not as superior as that of improved selections. Seek out the improved clones such as ‘Florida Sweet’ (introduced in 1956) and ‘B-17’ which has much larger fruit. Commercial producers may prefer to plant the more acid selections, with higher juice and vitamin C contents.
Growing Barbados Cherries
Fig. 1. Flowers of Barbados Cherry have a lacy appearance and can be pale to deep pink in color
Fig. 2. Barbados Cherry fruit are shaped like an apple, but sized like a cherry. Fruit are highly edible, rich in vitamin C, and contain several seeds
Fig. 3. The leaves of this plant are elongated and wavy. Sometimes thorn-like stems may grow from the branches which have many lenticels
Better selections of Barbados cherry are usually propagated by air layering or by hardwood cuttings. Sometimes grafted types are available in specialty nurseries. While this plant can be grown directly from seed, it will take several years to discover if the quality of the fruit will be desirable.
Barbados cherry is fairly tender to cold, especially when young. In our area, choose the warmest site in your Florida Yard. Mature plants can withstand temperatures down to 28 degrees F. for short periods without damage. Young trees should be protected from cold below 30 degrees F.
Acerola grows well in a wide variety of soils, provided they are well drained and are not infested with nematodes. Choose sites with good water drainage, as this plant does not like wet feet. Salt tolerance for this plant is moderate - it will not do well if planted in ocean-front breezes or irrigated with brackish water. New plants are best set out in spring, just before the rainy season. Specimen trees in home plantings should be allowed at least 15 feet of growing room.
A complete fertilizer such as those used on citrus and other fruit trees should be used. Avoid over-fertilizing since this can result in excessive vegetative growth and fewer fruit. An adequate supply of water is beneficial in promoting good growth and maximum yields of large fruit. It is especially important during blooming and fruit development.
Recent hurricanes had pushed my Barbados cherry over. Staking, watering and fertilization brought it back into production. It was 12-15 feet tall going into the storm. The height was reduced to a more manageable 8 foot height after the storms . (This is the same plant pictured above, right).
Pruning can be useful in shaping trees and thinning growth. More bushy selections produce numerous branches and form thick growth. These can be thinned to promote heavier yields. In early fall, after the plants have reduced fruit production, is a good time to prune. Pruning should not extend into late fall.
Barbados Cherries are relatively pest free. The most serious pest effecting this plant are root-knot nematodes. There are no effective nematicides available to home gardeners, so the best defense against these microscopic root feeding worms is to choose healthy plants from reliable nurseries. Mulch also helps, especially in sandy soils. Mulching conserves soil moisture, controls weeds and lessens nematode damage. The mulch may be straw, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, sawdust or similar material.
Occasionally, aphids and scale insects may build up on the Barbados cherry plant. These can be effectively managed with the use of insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils. The fruit is attacked by plant bugs which sting the fruit, giving it a dimpled appearance. This may result in off flavors and reduced fruit size. There is no practical control for this pest.
Cercospora leaf spot is the only disease problem on Barbados cherry of much concern. It occurs with high humidity. The circular, slightly sunken, dark brown spots occur on leaf surfaces and are larger on young leaves. Keep the leaves from getting wet from irrigation water. Call your Extension office if you need help with pest diagnosis or management suggestions.
Harvesting and Using the Fruit
Barbados cherry will produce fruit the second year after planting and will be in good production in the third or fourth. Fruit should be picked frequently, even if not used, since it does not store on the tree.
Ripe fruit must be carefully handled to avoid bruising and should be used as soon as possible or frozen for future use. Half-ripe fruit usually will hold up well for several days under refrigeration. Barbados cherry can be eaten fresh and is excellent for juice by itself or in a mixture. It can also be made into jelly, jam, preserves, puree, pie, sherbet and wine.
Gilman, E. Malpighia glabra. (FPS-390) Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service. 11/99 http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/MALGLAA.PDF
Maguire. Ian Malpighia glabra L., Barbados cherry cv. Florida Sweet (Tropical Fruit Photography Archives). Homestead: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 09/01/02 http://tfphotos.ifas.ufl.edu/090102.htm
Phillips, R.L. & Crane, J. Barbados Cherry (FC28) Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 11/05 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG041
Dave's Garden Website entry for Barbados Cherry: http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/57614/
Morton, J. 1987. Barbados Cherry. p. 204–207. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/barbados_cherry.html
Wikpedia entry for Acerola: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/barbados_cherry.html
Barbados Cherry Page
Culbert, Dan. "Barbados Cherry - A Mother's Gift That Lasts." okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu. Okeechobee News Articles. 10 May 1998. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
Fig. 1,3,4 Culbert, Dan. Barbados Cherry. N.d. okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 2 Maguire, Ian. Malpighia glabra L., Barbados cherry cv. Florida Sweet. 2002. From the Tropical Fruit Photography Picture Archive. trec.ifas.ufl.edu. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Published 28 Jan. 2014 LR. Last update 26 Mar. 2017 LR