Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra): A Seasonal Look

The debut for this seasonal look-see is Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra).  I love Barbados Cherry, but even I don’t think it’s a particularly sexy, exciting plant.  It’s rather a staple of sorts: the practical “nursing shoe” of plants versus its sexier “stiletto heel” exhibitionist kin.  Barbados Cherry is tough, reliable and in its steady way, beautiful.  Gardeners utilize it as a hedge, but it also produces a mass of blooms, at least a couple of times per year, with lush berries following.  It is extremely drought tolerant, growing well in shade, part shade and full sun.  Barbados Cherry is an excellent wildlife plant.  It develops into a thick shrub/thicket, so birds love it for protection and is a host/nectar plant for several butterflies.  For all that acclaim, Barbados Cherry is not a particularly fast grower and is not deer resistant.

Most of the year, Barbados Cherry presents as a green shrub, though individual plants can be shaped as a sphere or in  tree form.  I don’t care for overly pruned plants, preferring more natural growth patterns.  I’ve only pruned my B. Cherry to prevent overhanging the driveway too much. I planted my original five shrubs about 20 years ago, in a shade/part shade area, primarily as a privacy hedge.  Once established, B. Cherry like this most of the year.

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A disclaimer:  these photos were taken in autumn, but Barbados Cherry are green, rear-round, with some exceptions, noted later.

The photos illustrate a plant, while not heart-stopping, is green, lush and tough.  In the course of its life, my hedge of Barbados Cherry withstood bicycles, basketballs, soccer balls and all manner of kid destruction while demanding nothing from me,  serving its purpose well.

In spring and fall, reliably after rain, the Barbados Cherry will explode with ruffly clusters of pink, dainty flowers.

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My experience is that the bloom cycle lasts up to about six weeks, once in the spring/early summer and then again in the fall.

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During the bloom cycle, berries like this beauty develop.

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Barbados Cherry is especially stunning when there are blooms and berries at the same time which typically occurs during both bloom cycles..

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Many birds, but especially mockingbirds, favor the berries.  The berries are sweet, though a little seedy for my taste.

Depending upon the winter, Barbados Cherry exhibits differing responses.  To about 30 degrees for short periods of time, Barbados Cherry remains evergreen.  If temperatures remain in the low 30s for long periods or dip into the 20s, for more than 12-15 hours, some of the upper limbs will defoliate, though in a thick bramble, the rest will likely stay green.

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Not much green here, because of the freeze events of the 2013-14 winter.  Still, this group (different from the one in the photos above) isn’t completely frozen to the ground because it’s in a protected area. The branches will flush out with new growth once temperatures warm. There’s no need to prune further than where you can scratch the surface to find some green. In this photo, it’s just below the copyright.

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Because winter was colder than in the last 2 decades and the original, exposed stand of Barbados Cherry experienced a number of freezes well into the mid 20s, they froze completely to the ground.

I knew they were goners when I saw the trunks of the shrubs.

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By early March, I’d cut all of the original stand of Barbados Cherry to the ground.

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So much for my privacy hedge!  Now, to wait until new growth from the roots. Finally, in late March, signs of life!!

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As of the end of March 2014, these individual plants are recovering slowly from the hard freezes of this past winter.

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In fact, B. Cherry is at its northern range in Austin.  According to the Native Plant Database of the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Center, B. Cherry are native to South Texas, Mexico and into Central and South America.  So it is a tropical plant and not reliably evergreen in Austin.  I knew that when I planted, but was lulled to complacency by the abnormally mild winters we’ve experienced since the mid-to-late 1990s.   As of March 31, 2014 all of the Barbados Cherry are sprouting green from the trunks.  I’ll definitely keep them, but because the light requirements have changed for this garden, I am augmenting the garden by planting other native plants and will prune the B. Cherry more regularly.  This garden will no longer be a mono-culture hedge, but a more diverse native garden.

 

18 thoughts on “Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra): A Seasonal Look

  1. A Seasonal Look! What a great idea for beginning and experienced gardeners alike. I love the look of the Barbados Cherry but have too much deer traffic out front and too little room currently out back. I’m sorry for your freeze loss, but a little envious of the chance for a garden bed do-over. I really like your idea of diversifying that area and I’m eager to see followup shots as you put a variety of natives in. Fun!

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    • I’m pleased that the B. Cherry are returning, slow though they may be. But I’m going to remove some of the plants that colonized out from the original shrubs. Good thing too, as my request for some agarita just came in from BSN and I have two sitting awaiting transplant into the (somewhat) reconfigured garden. Now, if I can just find some Globe mallow…. Fun indeed!!

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      • No one has mallow right now, though I saw on the list of the Wildflower Center’s plant sale next week that they’ll have Sphaerlacea incana–now if I can make it out there before they run out!

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  2. Oh my, what a difference that made in the look of your hedge and front garden. Seasonal looks is a great idea. Hardier native plants will work well there too.

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  3. A great idea but sorry the plant had to have the full gamut of looks this year. I am about to remove my Philippine Violet-after all those years of beauty I can hardly believe it. Fresh beginnings.

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    • So sorry to hear that you’ve lost the Philippine Violet–it was such a beauty. You could plant another, understanding the weirdness of our weather. I’m pleased the Barbados Cherry is coming back, but its dying back has opened up new doors. Fresh beginnings, indeed.

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  4. I’ve only had my Barbados cherry plants for 3 years. I saw them in other gardens and assumed they were hardy here. Out of 4 plants I only see signs of life on one so far, so it looks like I will diversify as well.

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    • Bummer about your B. Cherries, but you might give them a little more time. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that the newer parts of the “hedge,” the plants that rooted out from the mother plants, re-emerged more quickly and vigorously. Age slows all of us down, I guess.

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  5. Never a dull moment in the garden! I too like your idea of diversifying – it’s always fun to dream about the possibilities of what the new bed will develop into over time. My newly planted (last year) dwarf b cherry is showing no signs of life. I sure loved it for those little pink flowers…I was smitten for sure. It was planted on the coldest side of the house with no protection so maybe the conditions this winter were just too much but I haven’t given up hope just yet. After all, the firespike just started showing signs of life last week and it’s planted in the same bed. Fingers crossed!a

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  6. Hi Cat! Give your little B. Cherry a bit more time. Mine are still slow and they are in sun with reflective heat from the driveway. They are slow this year, but I bet it comes back–I hope so.

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    • Keep hope alive! Poor Barbados Cherry, they really were dinged this winter. Mine are very slow, but all have returned. I hope yours return, but if they don’t, you can always plant more–of those or something else!

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  7. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons… you sure have a good attitude about this year’s losses, Tina! I was down to two Barbados cherries last year, one was 7-yrs old, the other 10-yrs old. Now mine look like yours, the tops died but it looks as if there is some life at the base of both.
    Good luck finding the globe mallow!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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    • Hi Annie! Well, I can moan and groan about them, but that’s not going to help much, is it? I’m glad yours are returning, mine are just soooo slow. It’s been nice being able to plant other things in that garden and change it up a bit. That’s what we love, isn’t it? It’s annoying about the globe mallow as that’s one of the plants I want to add to the garden. The Wildflower Center had the true Texas native, S. incana on sale last weekend (according to their plant list), but I just couldn’t make it out there. Eventually, someone will have the ambigua. Hopefully!

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