Barbados Cherry, Acerola - Malpighia punicifolia, Malpighia glabra L.
'Florida Sweet'
Fig. 1
'Florida Sweet'

Showing the flesh
Fig. 2
Showing the flesh

Fig. 3

Underside of Leaf
Fig. 4
Underside of Leaf

Fig. 6
Flower close up

Fig. 7

Grown as a bush
Fig. 14
Mature fruit and leaves

Fruiting habit of the acerola
Fig. 15
Fruiting habit of the acerola

Acerolas. Prontas para ser colhidas
Fig. 16

Malpighia glabra
Fig. 20

Bowl of Barbados cherries
Fig. 21
Bowl of Barbados cherries

Trunk habit
Fig. 22
Trunk habit

Taken in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Fig. 23
Taken in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Scientific name
Malpighia punicifolia, Malpighia glabra L.
mal-PIG-ee-uh GLAY-bruh
Common names
West Indian cherry, native cherry, garden cherry, French cherry; in Spanish, acerola, cereza, cereza colorada, cereza de la sabana, or grosella; in French, cerisier, cerise de St. Domingue; in Portuguese, cerejeira; in Venezuela is semeruco, or cemeruco; in the Netherlands Antilles, shimarucu; in the Philippines, malpi (an abbreviation of the generic name) 2
Bunchosia parvifolia S.Watson; Malpighia biflora Poir.; M. dicipiens Sessé & Moc.; M. fallax Salisb.; M. glabra var. acuminata A. Juss.; M. glabra var. antillana Urb. & Nied.; M. glabra var. guatemalensis Nied.; M. glabra var. lancifolia Nied.; M. glabra var. typica Nied.; M. glabra var. undulata (A. Juss.) Nied.; M. lucida Pav. ex A. Juss.; M. lucida Pav. ex Moric.; M. myrtoides Moritz ex Nied.; M. neumanniana A. Juss.; M. nitida Mill.; M. oxycocca var. biflora (Poir.) Nied.; M. peruviana Moric.; M. punicifolia L.; M. semeruco A.Juss.; M. undulata A. Juss.; M. uniflora Tussac ; M. virgata Pav. 6
Native to the Lesser Antilles from St. Croix to Trinidad, also Curacao and Margarita and neighboring northern South America as far south as Brazil 2
USDA hardiness zones
Specimen; container or above-ground planter; border; hedge; near a deck or patio; screen 1
10-12 ft (3-3,7 m)
10-15 ft (3-4.6 m)
Rounded canopy of fairly delicate foliage 1
Plant habit
Typically multi-trunked or clumping stems 1
Growth rate
Relatively fast growing
Minutely hairy branches; short trunk to 4 in (10 cm) in diameter 2
Evergreen; simple, opposite, lanceolate; 2-4 in. (5.1-10.2 cm) 1
Small; pink; April to October
Round; bright red, fleshy; tart tasting; persists on the plant; 0.5-1 in. (1.3-2.5 cm) 1
May-Nov.; sparsely most of the year
USDA Nutrient Content pdf
Light requirement
Part sun or semi-shade
Soil tolerances
Slightly alkaline; clay; sand; acidic; loam 1
PH preference
Drought tolerance
Aerosol salt tolerance
Not salt-tolerant
Soil salt tolerance
Not salt-tolerant
Cold tolerance
Mature trees can survive brief exposure to 28º F (-2.22º C); young plants are killed by any drop below 30° F (-1.11º C )
Plant spacing
36-60 in. (91.4-152.4 cm)
Shallow root system
Invasive potential *
Not known to be invasive
Pest resistance
Pests include nematodes, whiteflies, scale, and plant bugs, which will attack and deform the fruit 1
Known hazard
People who pick Barbados cherries without gloves and long sleeves may suffer skin irritation from contact with the minute stinging hairs on the leaves and petioles 2

Reading Material

Barbados Cherries: a Mother's Day Gift that Lasts from the University of Florida Okeechobee Extension
Malpighia glabra Barbados Cherry from the University of Florida pdf
Barbados Cherry from Julia Morton's book Fruits of Warm Climate
Barbados Cherry from the University of Florida Palm Beach County Extension
Barbados Cherry from the California Rare Fruit Growers Inc.
Acerola Cherry from the Sub-Tropical Fruit Club of Qld, Inc.


The Barbados cherry is native to the Lesser Antilles from St. Croix to Trinidad, also Curacao and Margarita and neighboring northern South America as far south as Brazil. It has become naturalized in Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico after cultivation, and is commonly grown in dooryards in the Bahamas and Bermuda, and to some extent in Central and South America. 2

In a work by Julia F. Morton that was entitled ‘Fruits of warm climates’, it was stated that this fruit tree’s correct botanical name should be Malpighia punicifolia and not Malpighia glabra. Morton stated that latter botanical name refers to a wild relative of the Barbados cherry that bears smaller and pointed leaves, and produces smaller flowers and fruits. However, in Plant Resources of Southeast Asia (PROSEA), both names are synonymous and used to refer to the same plant.

The Barbados cherry is a minor fruiting species that produces a dependable crop in South Florida. The tre is compact, attractive and requires little care. It is well adapted to Florida growing conditions and fruits abundantly over many months. As a dooryard tree it has many advantages. Better selections are mild and faintly sweet. However, the grumichama and cherry of the Rio Grande both produce a superior cherrylike fruit. 7

Its evergreen leaves are elliptic, oblong, obovate, or narrowly oblanceolate, somewhat wavy, 3/4 to 2 3/4 in (2-7 cm) long, 3/8 to 1 5/8 in (9.5-40 mm) wide, obtuse or rounded at the apex, acute or cuneate at the base; bearing white, silky, irritating hairs when very young; hairless, dark green, and glossy when mature. 2

Leaf attachment
Fig. 5

The flowers, in sessile or short-peduncled cymes, have 5 pink or lavender, spoon-shaped, fringed petals. 2

Flower budFlower budsInflorescense close-up
Fig. 8 Fig. 9 Fig. 10
InflorescenseMalpighia glabraFruit ready to form
Fig. 11 Fig. 12 Fig. 13

The fruits, borne singly or in 2's or 3's in the leaf axils, are oblate to round, cherry-like but more or less obviously 3-lobed; 1/2 to 1 in (1.25-2.5 cm) wide; bright-red, with thin, glossy skin and orange-colored, very juicy, acid to subacid, pulp. The 3 small, rounded seeds each have 2 large and 1 small fluted wings, thus forming what are generally conceived to be 3 triangular, yellowish, leathery-coated, corrugated inedible "stones". 2
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. 4

Barbados CherriesFruit habitAcerola (Malpighia emarginata ou Malpighia glabra)
Fig. 17 Fig. 18 Fig. 19

Barbados cherry seedlings are quite variable and fruit quality is usually not as good as desired. A number of improved selections have been developed. Homeowners should look for improved clones such as `Florida Sweet' and `B-17'. The latter is an acid selection with much larger fruit.

In Florida, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Hawaii the fruiting season varies with the weather. There may be a spring crop ripening in May and then successive small crops off and on until December, but sometimes, if spring rains are lacking, there may be no fruits at all until December and then a heavy crop. 2

For home use, as dessert, the fruits are picked when fully ripe. For processing or preserving, they can be harvested when slightly immature, when they are turning from yellow to red. As there is continuous fruiting over long periods, picking is done every day, every other day, or every 3 days to avoid loss by falling. 2

In Florida, bees visit Barbados cherry flowers in great numbers and are the principal pollinators. 2

Barbados cherry is usually propagated by air layering (marcottage) or by hardwood cuttings. Air layering is best done during spring and summer while the plants are growing and requires 6 to 8 weeks for rooting. Leafy hardwood cuttings from healthy plants root within 2 months. Indolebutyric acid will help to induce rooting. It can also be propagated by side veneer or cleft grafts on young seedlings or on trees which produce inferior fruit. 5

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. 3

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. 4

The plant will tolerate heavy pruning, but requires time for recovery. In more tropical areas, plants do not seem overly affected by pruning. Can be kept as a small bush (e.g. 5 ft) and will produce well. 8

The major pest in Florida is the Caribbean fruit fly, Anastrepha suspensa, which seems to attack all but very sour fruits and the larvae are commonly found inside. 2
A serious pest of the Barbados cherry is the root-knot nematode which weakens the plant, causing it to drop leaves and display symptoms of malnutrition. Severe infestations inhibit growth and fruit production. This nematode is a more serious problem in sandy soils than in the alkaline, rockland soils. It is not a problem in marl or clay soils. Preventive measures include use of sterilized soil in propagation, fumigation of the planting site and heavy mulching around the tree. 5
Frequently, 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. Other insects which attack the tree include various scale insects, whiteflies, aphids and caterpillars. 5

Few diseases have been reported. However, in Florida, there are cases of anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, and leafspotting by the fungus, Cercospora bunchosiae, is a serious malady in Florida, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. 2
Cercospora leaf spot is the only disease problem on Barbados cherry of much concern in Florida where its occurrence is associated with high humidity. The spots are roughly circular, slightly sunken, dark brown lesions with gray centers and are surrounded by a yellow halo. The lesions occur on both leaf surfaces and are typically larger on young leaves than on mature ones. 5

Food Uses
Barbados cherries are eaten out-of-hand, mainly by children. For dessert use, they are delicious merely stewed with whatever amount of sugar is desired to modify the acidity of the particular type available. The fresh juice will prevent darkening of bananas sliced for fruit cups or salads. It can be used for gelatin desserts, punch or sherbet, and has been added as an ascorbic acid supplement to other fruit juices. The fruits may be made into sirup or, with added pectin, excellent jelly, jam, and other preserves. 2
Wine made from Barbados cherries in Hawaii was found to retain 60% of the ascorbic acid. 2
Acerolas contain plenty of Vitamin A, some B and plenty of minerals. Most fruits and vegetables lose their Vitamin C when cooked, but research reveals that this does not happen with Acerolas, so you can make jellies and cordials for the winter. Frozen Acerola Juice was found to retain 85% of its original Vitamin C after eight months of freezing. 9

Medicinal Uses **
The fruits are considered beneficial to patients with liver ailments, diarrhea and dysentery, as well as those with coughs or colds. The juice may be gargled to relieve sore throat. 2

Other Uses
The wood is surprisingly hard and heavy. Trials have demonstrated that it refuses to ignite even when treated with flammable fluid unless perfectly dry. 2

The multitrunks rise sinuously up through the crown creating a sculptured specimen well-suited for placing near a patio, deck or entry way to attract attention. It looks great lighted at night from below the tree. 1

Further Reading
Acerola from the Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia
Eugenias, South American Berries from the Sub-tropical Fruit Club of Qld Inc

List of Growers and Vendors


1 Gilman, Edward F. "Malpighia glabra Barbados Cherry." This document is FPS-390, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date October 1999. Revised May 2007. Reviewed Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
2 Morton, J. "Barbados Cherry." Fruits of warm climates, p. 204-207. 1987. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
3 Culbert, Dan. "Barbados Cherry - A Mother's Gift That Lasts." Okeechobee News Articles. 10 May 1998. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
4 Joyner, Gene. "Barbados Cherry." Palm Beach County Extension Service. N.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
5 Phillips, R.L. "Barbados  Cherry." This document is FC28, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date Apr. 1994. Reviewed Nov. 2005. (Archived). Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
6 "Malpighia glabra L. synonyms." The Plant List (2010). Version 1. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
7 Boning, Charles R. Florida's Best Fruiting Plants- Native and Exotic Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. Pineapple Press, Inc. sarasota, Florida. Print.
8 "Barbados Cherry." 1969-1989. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
9 Spear, Marjorie. "Acerola." Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. July. 1987. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.


Fig. 1,2,17 Maguire, Ian. Malpighia glabra L., Barbados cherry cv. Florida Sweet. 2002.  From the Tropical Fruit Photography Picture Archive. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
Fig. 3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,13,22 Kwan. Malpighia glabra [Acerola, Barbados Cherry]. 2009. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
Fig. 7,14,21 Malpighia glabra. N.d. Top Tropicals Tropical Plant Catalog. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.
Fig. 12,20 Cerlin Ng. Malpighia glabra. 2015. Under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 15 Chaves, Rafael. Acerola. 2006. Under (CC BY-NC 2.0). Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 16 Teix, Nori. Acerolas. Prontas para ser colhidas. Under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 18 Andréatl. Português: Malpighia glabra. 2011. Under (CC BY-SA 3.0). Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 19 Paulo. Acerola (Malpighia emarginata ou Malpighia glabra). 2013. Under (CC BY-NC 2.0). Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 23 Manske, Magnus. Taken in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. 2010. Under (CC BY-SA 3.0). Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas
** Information provided is not intended to be used as a guide for treatment of medical conditions.

Published 20 Jan. 2015 LR. Last update 26 Mar. 2017 LR
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