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.

 

Wildflower Wednesday, March 2014

I don’t quite know how I’ve missed this wildflower party before now, given my appreciation for wildflowers and native plants in general, but while reading Shirley’s most recent post at Rock-Oak- Deer, I realized her excellent profile of wildflowers was part of a bigger picture.  Duh.

Thanks to Gail at clay and limestone for hosting the monthly celebration of wildflowers of all sorts.  Though it’s my first post and a day late for this month, I’m in.

My Golden Groundsel (Packera obovata), is blooming and so cheery on this gloomy, wet day.  It’s an early blooming, tough little shade-loving perennial which  brightens up a woodland setting.

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For more information about Golden Groundsel, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database page.

I have Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) popping up all over my gardens.

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The original couple of transplants were pass along plants gifted to me, so I’m not entirely positive that what I have is the S. occidentalis, though I think it is.  Check out the pages on Spiderworts or Tradescantia in the Native Plant Database and see for yourself how many are native  and available throughout North America.

The Columbines are finally starting their spring show–later this year than in the last few years.  I  have both the Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinkleyana),

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and the native Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis),

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plus hybrids of the two.

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Finally, the Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is in total bloom mode.

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So far, we don’t have many butterflies or hummingbirds, but no doubt they’ll find this plant soon and feast, feast, feast.  This is a must-have vine for any gardener wishing to provide a food source for a variety of critters, insects and birds alike.

Thanks again  to Gail at clay and limestone for this chance to focus on and appreciate the  plants we have, native to where we live.

 

Foliage Follow-up, March 2014

As my gardens awake for spring and with a long growing season ahead, everyday unfolds more color and texture.  All winter I’ve enjoyed the arresting combination of the soft, graceful Mexican Feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima) paired with the upright, sharp foliage of Iris (unknown variety).


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The foliage of the Engelmann’s Daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), sports the deeply lobed habit which gives this plant another common name, Cutleaf Daisy.

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I just love this combination of Mexican Feathergrass (front), Daylilies (just behind), Yarrow (Achillea, sp.)( top right), and Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) (back left).

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The hue of the foliage isn’t  greatly varied, but I like the mix of Yarrow’s  lacy foliage paired with the delicate, curling foliage of Daylilies, as they emerge from winter’s sleep, in advance of summer blooms. The slight blue tint and undulating form of the Columbine’s foliage contrasts with the fine, silvery foliage of the Mexican feathergrass.

The scalloped leaves of native-to-Texas Cedar Sage (Salvia roemariana)  reminds me of the Geranium foliage.

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Cedar Sage also blooms red, later in the spring.

Coral Honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens) foliage are mauve to burgundy when they first emerge,

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and the colorful, ovate leaves hold the developing buds aloft.

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I grow Bronze Fennel and Dill primarily host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly (it lays its eggs on the plant and the caterpillars eat, eat, eat the plants down).

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I’m not above pinching some for my own salad interests, but since there are no butterflies yet, the Fennel and Dill have been beautiful and growing all winter.

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up for March.