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Acerola Cherry | A Tropical and Delicious Delicacy


Acerola Cherry | A Tropical and Delicious Delicacy

By Marcelo P. B. Silva – Own work, Public Domain,

Malpighia emarginata, also commonly known as acerola cherry, Barbados cherry and West Indian cherry, is a small fruiting, evergreen tree (or shrub) originating from the Yucatán in Mexico. It has since been introduced throughout central and south America, the United States (Florida & Texas), the east & west Indies, and worldwide in sub-tropical and tropical regions such as Africa, Asia and Australia.

Acerola cherry is a member of the Malpighiaceae family and can grow to a height and spread of 10 to 20 feet. The plant features spreading branches attached to a short and stout stem. Acerola cherry shrubs are heat and drought tolerant (but will not fruit properly in those conditions). It is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones: 10-12. The plant features red and pink stemmed flowers in spring which produce a set of three small, red, oblong fruit 3 years after planting. To improve pollination, they should be grown in pairs. Of note, the leaves produce small stinging hairs which can irritate your skin so protective clothing is recommended when handling them. Acerola cherry shrubs are also host plants for several species of butterflies and pollinators enjoy the nectar rich blossoms. Small mammals and birds will also benefit from the ripe, juicy fruit. The fruit can, however, be sour in taste if not grown properly. Acerola cherry fruit can be eaten raw or made into juice, wine, jams, jellies or marmalades and are highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants.

Acerola cherry prefer full sun and average, slightly sandy, well-draining soil. The roots are short and shallow so they will need shelter from high winds and wet soil (they can tolerate salt). If given the proper growing conditions, acerolas can be productive for up to 20 years. They can withstand a very brief period of temperatures as low as 30°F and should be heavily mulched to protect the roots (do not mulch to close to the trunk) from water evaporation and high temperatures.  Starter plants will need to be watered weekly until the root system is established and staked to prevent strong winds from toppling it over. Acerolas benefit from organic fertilizing twice a year (winter and summer). Once the plant has become established, it should be shallow watered once a month. Heavy pruning should only be done after the last crop of the season. Ascerolas have one main pest problem: the acerola weevil (Anthonomus macromalus) which will happily munch on the leaves and delicious fruit if not controlled.

Ascerolas can be propagated by cuttings with air layering or traditional means of rooting (moist soil, lighting). Typically, they can be planted outdoors in 2 months. Ascerolas can also be grown in containers or as an ornamental hedge.

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