From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Malpighia punicifolia L.
Malpighia glabra Millsp.
Pollination and Fruit Set
Pests and Diseases
The Barbados cherry, a
member of the Malpighiaceae, is an interesting example of a fruit that
rose, like Cinderella, from relative obscurity about 40 years ago. It
was at that time the subject of much taxonomic confusion, having been
described and discussed previously under the binomial Malpighia glabra
L., which properly belongs to a wild relative inhabiting the West
Indies, tropical America and the lowlands of Mexico to southern Texas,
and having smaller, pointed leaves, smaller flowers in peduncled
umbels, styles nearly equal, and smaller fruits. M. Punicifolia L. (M. glabra
Millsp. NOT Linn.) has been generally approved as the correct botanical
name for the Barbados cherry, which is also called 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. The name in
Venezuela is semeruco, or cemeruco; in the Netherlands Antilles,
shimarucu; in the Philippines, malpi (an abbreviation of the generic
Plate XXV: BARBADOS CHERRY, Malpighia punicifolia
Barbados cherry is a large, bushy shrub or small tree attaining up to
20 ft (6 m) in height and an equal breadth; with more or less erect or
spreading and drooping, minutely hairy branches, and a short trunk to 4
in (10 cm) in diameter. 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.
The flowers, in sessile or short-peduncled cymes, have 5 pink or
lavender, spoon-shaped, fringed petals. 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".
Origin and Distribution
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
The plant is thought to have been first brought
to Florida from Cuba by Pliny Reasoner because it appeared in the
catalog of the Royal Palm Nursery for 1887-1888. It was carried abroad
rather early for it is known to have borne fruit for the first time in
the Philippines in 1916. In 1917, H.M. Curran brought seeds from
Curacao to the United States Department of Agriculture. (S.P.I.
#44458). The plant was casually grown in southern and central Florida
until after World War II when it became more commonly planted. In
Puerto Rico, just prior to that war, the Federal Soil Conservation
Department planted Barbados cherry trees to control erosion on terraces
at the Rio Piedras Experiment Station. During the war, 312 seedlings
from the trees with the largest and most agreeably-flavored fruits were
distributed to families to raise in their Victory Gardens. Later,
several thousand trees were provided for planting in school yards to
increase the vitamin intake of children, who are naturally partial to
An explosion of interest occurred as a result of
some food analyses being conducted at the School of Medicine,
University of Puerto Rico, in Rio Piedras in 1945. The emblic (Emblica
officinalis L.) was found to be extremely high in ascorbic acid. This
inspired one of the laboratory assistants to bring in some Barbados
cherries which the local people were accustomed to eating when they had
colds. These fruits were found to contain far more ascorbic acid than
the emblic, and, because of their attractiveness and superior eating
quality, interest quickly switched from the emblic to the Barbados
cherry. Much publicity ensued, featuring the fruit under the Puerto
Rican name of acerola. A plantation of 400 trees was established at Rio
Piedras in 1947 and, from 1951 to 1953, 238 trees were set out at the
Isabela Substation. By 1954, there were 30,000 trees in commercial
groves on the island. Several plantings had been made in Florida and a
2,000-acre (833-ha) plantation in Hawaii. There was a great flurry of
activity. Horticulturists were busy making selections of
high-ascorbic-acid clones and improving methods of vegetative
propagation, and agronomists were studying the effects of cultural
practices. Smaller plantings were being developed in Jamaica,
Venezuela, Guatemala, Ghana, India, the Philippines and Queensland,
Australia, and even in Israel. Many so-called "natural food" outlets
promoted various "vitamin C" products from the fruits–powder,
tablets, capsules, juice, sirup.
At length, enthusiasm subsided
when it was realized that a fruit could not become a superstar because
of its ascorbic acid content alone; that ascorbic acid from a natural
source could not economically compete with the much cheaper synthetic
product, inasmuch as research proved that the ascorbic acid of the
Barbados cherry is metabolized in a manner identical to the
assimilation of crystalline ascorbic acid.
The large plantation
of the Hawaiian Acerola Company (a subsidiary of Nutrilite Products
Company) was abandoned for this reason, and low fruit yields; and, so
it is said, the low ascorbic acid content because of the high copper
levels in the soil. Puerto Rican production was directed thereafter
mainly to the use of the fruit in specialty baby foods.
Frozen fruits are shipped to the United States for processing.
1956, workers at the University of Florida's Agricultural Research and
Education Center in Homestead, after making preliminary evaluations and
selections, chose as superior and named the 'Florida Sweet', a clone
that was observed to have an upright habit of growth, large fruits,
thick skin, apple-like, semi-sweet flavor, and high yield.
first promising selections in Puerto Rico, on the bases of fruit size,
yield and vitamin content, were identified as 'A-l' and 'B-17', but
these were later found to be inferior to 'B-15' in ascorbic acid level
and productivity. Yields of 10 clones ('A-l', 'A-2', 'A-4', 'A-10',
'A-21', 'B-2', 'B-9', 'B-15', 'B-17', and 'K-7') were compared over a
2-year period (1955-56) in Puerto Rico and 'B-15' far exceeded the
others in both years.
A horticultural variety in St. Croix,
formerly known as M. thompsonii Britton & Small, has displayed
unusually large leaves and fruits and more abundant flowers than the
common strain of Barbados cherry.
Barbados cherry can be classed as tropical and subtropical, for mature
trees can survive brief exposure to 28º F (-2.22º C). Young
plants are killed by any drop below 30º F (-1.11º C). It is
naturally adapted to both medium- and low-rainfall regions; can
tolerate long periods of drought, though it may not fruit until the
coming of rain.
tree does well on limestone, marl and clay, as long as they are well
drained. The pH should be at least 5.5. Elevation to 6.5 significantly
improves root development. Acid soils require the addition of lime to
avoid calcium deficiency and increase yield. The lime should be worked
into the soil to a depth of 8 in (20 cm) or more.
seeds are used for planting, they should be selected from desirable
clones not exposed to cross-pollination by inferior types. They should
be cleaned, dried, and dusted with a fungicide. It should also be
realized that the seeds in an individual fruit develop unevenly and
only those that are fully developed when the fruit is ripe will
germinate satisfactorily. Germination rates may be only 50% or as low
as 5%. Seedlings should be transferred from flats to containers when 2
to 3 in (5-7.5 cm) high.
Air-layering (in summer) and
side-veneer, cleft, or modified crown grafting are feasible but not
popular because it is so much easier to raise the tree from cuttings.
Cuttings of branches 1/4 to 1/2 in (6-12.5 mm) thick and 8 to 10 in
(20-25 cm) long, with 2 or 3 leaves attached, hormone-treated and set
in sand or other suitable media under constant or intermittent mist,
will root in 60 days. They are then transplanted to nursery rows or
containers and held in shade for 6 months or a year before being set
out in the field. Some fruits will be borne a year after planting but a
good crop cannot be expected until the 3rd or 4th year. The tree will
continue bearing well for about 15 years. There is a lapse of only 22
days between flowering and complete fruit maturity.
generally practiced only when cuttings of a desired clone are scarce or
if a nematode-resistant rootstock is available on which to graft a
preferred cultivar; or when top-working a tree that bears fruits of low
Barbados cherry tree will grow and fruit fairly well with little care.
For best performance, Puerto Rican agronomists have recommended a
fertilizer formula of 8-8-13 twice annually for the first 4 years at
the rate of 1/2 to 1 lb (0.22-0.45 kg). Older trees should have 3 to 5
lbs (1.35-2.25 kg) per tree. In addition, organic material should be
worked into the planting hole and also supplied in amounts of 10 to 20
lbs (4.5-9 kg) per tree. Under Florida conditions, a 10-10-10 formula
is given in February, 1 lb (0.22 kg) for each year of growth. In May,
July and September, a 4-7-5-3 formula is recommended, 1 lb (0.22 kg)
for each year of age up to the 10th year. Thereafter, a 6-4-6-3 mixture
is given–5 lbs (2.25 kg) per tree in late winter and 10 lbs (4.5
kg) per tree for each of the summer feedings. On limestone soils,
sprays of minor elements–copper, zinc, and sometimes
manganese–will enhance growth and productivity. Young trees need
regular irrigation until well established; older trees require watering
only during droughts. Mature plants will bear better if thinned out by
judicious pruning after the late crop and then fertilized once more.
Pollination and Fruit Set
Florida, bees visit Barbados cherry flowers in great numbers and are
the principal pollinators. Maintenance of hives near Barbados cherry
trees substantially improves fruit set. In Hawaii, there was found to
be very little transport of pollen by wind, and insect pollination is
inadequate. Consequently, fruits are often seedless. Investigations
have shown that growth regulators (IBA at 100 ppm; PCA at 50 ppm)
induce much higher fruit set but these chemicals may be too costly to
buy and apply.
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. In Zanzibar, the bearing season is said to be
just the months of December and January.
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.
The fruits are usually
picked manually in the cool of the early morning, and must be handled
with care. For immediate processing, some growers shake the tree and
allow the ripe fruits to fall onto sheets spread on the ground.
Harvested fruits should be kept in the shade until transferred from the
field, which ought to be done within 3 hours, and collecting lugs are
best covered with heavy canvas to retard loss of ascorbic acid.
is great variation in productivity. Individual trees may yield 30 to 62
lbs (13.5-28 kg) in Puerto Rico. In Jamaica, maximum yield in the 6th
year is about 80 lbs (36 kg) per tree; 24,000 lbs/acre (24,000 kg/ha).
Venezuelan growers have reported 10 to 15 tons/ha; the average in
Puerto Rico is 25 tons/ha/yr. 'Florida Sweet' in Florida has yielded 65
tons/ha. A plot of 300 trees of 'Florida Sweet' has borne crops of
6,300 to 51,300 lbs (2,858-23,270 kg) of fruit from March to November,
in Homestead, Florida.
In Puerto Rico, a planting of 200 trees
may be expected to produce 3,600 to 5,400 lbs (1,636-2,455 kg) of
juice. From the juice there can be extracted at least 120 lbs (54.5 kg)
of vitamin C expressed as dehydroascorbic and ascorbic acid, providing
the content is determined to be 2%. In Puerto Rico, it is calculated
that 10 tons of fruit should yield 435 lbs (197 kg) ascorbic acid. In a
commercial operation using ion-exchange resins, the yield of ascorbic
acid from Barbados cherry juice is expected to be about 88%.
Barbados cherries bruise easily and are highly perishable. Processors
store them for no more than 3 days at 45º F (7.22º C).
Half-ripe fruits can be maintained for a few more days. If longer
storage is necessary, the fruits must be frozen and kept at 10º F
(-12.22º C) and later thawed for use. At one time it was believed
that the fruits could be transported to processing plants in water
tanks (as is done with true cherries) but it was discovered that they
lose their color and ascorbic acid content in water.
temperature–85º F (29.44º C) in Puerto
Rico–canned Barbados cherries and also the juice lose color and
fresh flavor and 53% to 80% of their ascorbic acid content in one
month, and metal cans swell because of the development of CO2.
Refrigeration at 44.6º F (7º C) considerably reduces such
deterioration. Juice in the home refrigerator will lose 20% of its
ascorbic acid in 18 days. Therefore, the juice and the puree should be
kept no longer than one week.
Pests and Diseases
of the major obstacles to successful cultivation of the Barbados cherry
is the tree's susceptibility to the root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita var. acrita,
especially in sandy acid soils. Soil fumigation, mulching and regular
irrigation will help to keep this problem under control. The burrowing
nematode, Radopholus similis, is also a cause of decline in otherwise healthy trees.
Florida, the foliage is attacked by wax scale, Florida mango scale, and
other scale insects, whiteflies, a leaf roller, and aphids. In
Guatemala, the aphid, Aphis spiraecola, attacks the leaves and young, tender branches. This pest and the Hesperid caterpillar, Ephyriades arcas, require chemical control. In Puerto Rico, the tree is often damaged by the blue chrysomelid of acerola, Leucocera laevicollis.
Some fruits may be malformed but not otherwise affected by the sting of
stinkbugs. None of these predators is of any great importance.
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. In Guatemala, a fruit worm, Anthonomus florus,
deposits its eggs in the floral ovary and also in the fruits; the
larvae feed in the fruits causing deformity and total ruin. Drastic
control measures have been employed against this predator, including
the incineration of all fallen, infested fruits and the elimination of
all related species that serve as hosts.
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. Green scurf, identified with the alga, Cephaleuros virescens, occurs in Puerto Rico.
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
seeds must be separated from the pulp in the mouth and returned by
spoon to the dish. Many may feel that the nuisance is compensated for
by the pleasure of enjoying the flavorful pulp and juice. Other-wise,
the cooked fruits must be strained to remove the seeds and the
resulting sauce or puree can be utilized as a topping on cake, pudding,
ice cream or sliced bananas, or used in other culinary products.
Commercially prepared puree may be dried or frozen for future use. 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
juice was dried and powdered commercially in Puerto Rico for a decade
until the cost of production caused the factory to be closed down.
fruits may be made into sirup or, with added pectin, excellent jelly,
jam, and other preserves. Cooking causes the bright-red color to change
to brownish-red. The pasteurization process in the canning of the juice
changes the color to orange-red or yellow, and packing in tin cans
brings on further color deterioration. Enamel-lined cans preserve the
Wine made from Barbados cherries in Hawaii was found to retain 60% of the ascorbic acid.
|Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
*According to analyses made in Hawaii, Guatemala, and elsewhere.
to analyses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of fruits
grown in Barbados: 4,500 mg (green), 3,300 mg (medium-ripe), 2,000 mg
(very ripe). The ascorbic acid level of unripe fruits can range up to
4,676 mg and such ratings are exceeded only by the fruits (rose hips)
of Rosa rugosa Thunb., which may have as much as 6,977 mg/100 g. This
constituent varies as much as 25% with the clone, the locale, cultural
methods and degree of exposure to sunlight during developmental stages
and after harvesting. At INCAP (Instituto de Nutricion de Central
America and Panama), in Guatemala assays in 1950-1955 showed
distressingly low levels–an average of 17 mg/100 g, whereas
fruits sent to INCAP by air and in dry ice from Florida were analyzed
and contained 1,420 mg/100 g. In field experiments, treatment of young
fruits on the tree with 200 ppm gibberellic acid has brought about a
marked increase in the ascorbic acid content of the mature fruits.
ascorbic acid is not totally destroyed by heat, for the jelly may
contain 499-1,900 mg/100 g. Of the total ascorbic acid in Barbados
cherry juice, 0.18% is in the bound form. Other constituents include
dextrose, levulose, and a little sucrose.
in Curacao report that children often require treatment for intestinal
inflammation and obstruction caused by eating quantities of the entire
fruits, including seeds, from the wild Barbados cherries which abound
on the island.
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.
Bark: The bark of the tree contains 20-25% tannin and has been utilized in the leather industry.
The wood is surprisingly hard and heavy. Trials have demonstrated that
it refuses to ignite even when treated with flammable fluid unless
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.
Last updated: 1/20/115 by ch