Apr. 4, 2020


Plate XXV: BARBADOS CHERRY, Malpighia punicifolia

Barbados Cherry (Acerola)

Malpighia punicifolia L.
Malpighia glabra Millsp.

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 name).


The 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".


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