University of Florida
AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION SERVICE
DESCRIPTION AND ADAPTABILITY .......................................... 3
SELECTED CLONES ................... ...... 4
Florida Sweet ....... .... ......... 5
CULTURE ................... ........................... ........ ..... 7
S o il ............... .... ... .. .. ....... 1. . ..... ... ..0......... 10
Planting ....................... .. 10
M ulching ........... ...... ............... ........ .... .... 11
Fertilizing ....................... .... .. ................. ...... 11
Irrigation ... .................................12
P ru n in g ...... ........ .. . .. .. . ..... .................... ... 12
Insects and Other Pests ......... ....... 12
Y IELDS AND HARVESTING .............. .................... .......... 13
THE BARBADOS OR WEST INDIAN
R. BRUCE LEDIN
(Revised by Fred P. Lawrence)
The Barbados or West Indian cherry is a shrub or small tree
that has been grown in south and central Florida for many years,
mainly as a backyard fruit plant. In Puerto Rico it long has
been called Acerola, a Spanish name which was originally applied,
as "azarole", to the parsley-leaved hawthorn, Crataegus azarolus
L., a native of Asia Minor and northern Africa. The fruit of
this plant is red with a yellow tinge. It is acid, but tasty and
pleasant. The correct scientific name is Malpighia glabra L.
Both this name and Malpighia punicifolia L. have been applied
to this plant, the latter name being used mostly in Puerto Rico.
It is valued for its fruit which have a characteristic flavor and
which are usually eaten out-of-hand. In recent years this plant
has received considerable attention in Florida, Puerto Rico,
Fig. 1.-Top, branch of Barbados cherry showing the characteristic
clustering of leaves and flowers on the short lateral shoots. Bottom, typical
fruit of the Barbados cherry.
Hawaii and elsewhere because of the extremely high vitamin C
content of its fruit.
It is a tropical plant and will grow only in areas not sub-
jected to prolonged cold weather. In Florida, it is planted only
in the central and southern parts of the State where it is well
suited as a dooryard fruit plant. Although there are no ex-
tensive commercial plantings, a few small plantings have been
made in recent years. It remains to be seen, however, whether
the high cost of production and labor will make it a profitable
enterprise in Florida; nevertheless, it is likely that the demand
for the fruit and its products will continue to increase as its
potential becomes more widely known.
Barbados cherry grown from seed shows considerable varia-
tion in growth habit, flowering and fruiting, fruit size, quality,
flavor, vitamin C content and yield. In selecting seedlings for
vegetative propagation, the following should be considered:
1. The plant should produce heavy yields that increase every
2. The plant should produce large fruit with high juice
3. The fruit should have a relatively thick skin and firm flesh
which tend to reduce bruising and mechanical injury during
4. The fruit should have desirable flavor, either tart or sweet
depending on personal preference and use. For eating out-of-
hand, a sweet fruit is usually most popular. For processing, tart
varieties may be preferred. For general purposes, the semi-
sweet seems satisfactory.
5. The growth should be erect and open rather than spread-
ing and thick.
6. The selection should be easily propagated from cuttings.
Plants bearing fruit with high vitamin C content are most desir-
able. This may not be so important, however, because most
seedlings will produce fruit with more vitamin C than other fruit.
Fruit that yield more than 1,000 milligrams of ascorbic acid per
100 grams of juice would be satisfactory; however, if vitamin
C were to be extracted or used to enrich other fruit juices, those
clones bearing fruit with the most vitamin C would be preferred.
(See Table 1 for comparison with other fruits of vitamin C.)
TABLE 1.-AscoRBic ACID CONTENT OF VARIOUS FRUITS.
Species (mg./100 g.)
Rosa rugosa rose hip
Barbados cherry ......
Phyllantho s emblica
G uava ............ .....
Cashew apple ............
Green pepper ..............
Adansonia digitata ....
Ceylon gooseberry ......
Cra tacgus pibescens
Papaya .... .....
L ychee ......................
M untingia .................
Spondias purpnrea ...
Sour orange ..........
Lem on .... ... ...
Lim e . ........ .
.. 1,700 to
... 1,000 to
.. 706 to
-...... 23 to
........ 147 to
....... 86 to
- -. 66 to
........ 90 to
S 7 to
........ 90 to
........ 36 to
.. 42 to
.. 31 to
....... 41 to
... .... 26 to
At the Sub-Tropical Experiment Station, several clones have
been undergoing test since 1949. In 1956 one was selected as
being the superior and was officially named the Florida Sweet
Barbados cherry (Figs. 2 and 3). The plants have an upright
and open type of growth; they are vigorous and fast growing,
more cold tolerant, and more readily propagated from cuttings
than most other clones. The fruit is bright red in color, meas-
uring to 11/1, inches in diameter and weighing one-half ounce
or slightly more. The skin is thicker and the flesh is somewhat
firmer than fruit of other clones; thus, the fruit is less suscep-
tible to stings of the stink bugs and to bruising when they are
handled. The fruit has an agreeable apple-like flavor and is
semi-sweet. The ascorbic acid content is from 1,500 to 2,000
milligrams per 100 grams of juice. The Florida Sweet flowers in
March or April, and continues to flower and fruit at periods
throughout May, June and July. Yields during August through
November are generally lighter. The average yield per plant
and estimated yield per acre from 1954 through 1957 are given
in Table 2.
TABLE 2.-FLORIDA SWEET BARBADOS CHERRY; AVERAGE YIELD PER PLANT
AND ESTIMATED YIELD PER ACRE.
Avg./Plant Yield/Acre (300 plants)
Year Age (Lbs.) (Lbs.)
1954 .... ................. 5 21 6.300
1955 ..... 6 69 20.700
1956 ................... 7 133 39,900
1957 ...... 8 171 51,300
Fig. 2.-Florida Sweet Barbados cherry six years in the field.
Notice the upright and open type of growth.
Fig. 3.-Florida Sweet Barbados cherry showing fruit, leaves and flowers.
The small branch on the right shows a sessile flower cluster.
Air Layering.-The Barbados cherry can be propagated by
air layers. Air layering is best done during spring and summer
while the plants are growing. This is accomplished by girdling
the stem and removing a ring of bark. The girdled portion is
then covered with damp sphagnum moss and a sheet of vinyl
plastic film. Rooting in the moss should take place in four to
six weeks. At this time the air layer is severed from the plant,
the vinyl film removed and the plant potted.
Cuttings.-The most desirable method of propagating the
Barbados cherry in large quantities is by cuttings (Figs. 4 and 5).
Select leafy hardwood cuttings from healthy branches. The
rooting medium should be porous to allow good aeration and
drainage, but not so coarse as to injure the roots when the cut-
tings are removed. Vermiculite, peat moss or sand, or a mixture
of any of these materials, may be used. Wood shavings, crushed
granite (chicken grit), zeolite (a water softening by-product) or
pearl-lite, may be used. The cuttings should be kept moist and
under shade. A constant or interrupted water mist will aid
materially in preventing dehydration and will hasten rooting.
Nelson and Goldweber found indolebutyric acid to be the best
hormone to induce root formation. The basal two inches of each
cutting is immersed for five seconds in indolebutyric acid at a
concentration of 5.0 milligrams per milliliter and allowed to dry
prior to being placed in the rooting medium. The cutting should
be five to 10 inches long and one-quarter to one-half inch in
diameter (Fig. 4). Two or three leaves are left on the upper
portion of the stem. Roots are formed within two months. When
the cuttings are well rooted, they are transplanted carefully to
quart or gallon containers and allowed to become established be-
fore being planted in the field.
Grafting.-The Barbados cherry can be propagated also by
grafting, using a side veneer or a cleft graft. A modified crown
graft is used in Cuba in which the top of the plant is cut off
and a side veneer graft is placed along the cut end. This al-
lows the terminal portion of the scion to project above the cut
surface of the stock. Since the Barbados cherry is readily prop-
agated by cuttings and air layers, grafting is seldom used. Graft-
ing is desirable in testing root-stocks, especially those resistant
Fig. 4.-Leafy hardwood cuttings prepared for rooting.
to nematodes, or propagating clones in which cutting material is
scarce or difficult to root.
__ip = .
Fig. 5.-Nine-month-old plant grown from a cutting, ready for
planting in the field.
Seeds.-Seeds germinate readily, but some plants produce
fruit in which many of the seeds contain non-viable embryos;
germination of these seeds is frequently less than 50 percent.
To prepare for planting, it is not necessary to remove the seed
from the stone; the seed is quite delicate and easily damaged
if one attempts to remove it. The stones are cleaned of all flesh
and allowed to dry before being planted. Dusting the stones
with a seed protectant will help prevent damping-off of young
seedlings. The stones may be sown in flats. When the seedlings
are two to three inches high they are transplanted into quart or
Plants grow well in the alkaline rockland soil of south Dade
County, and also in the acid sands of central Florida, provided
root-knot nematode is not a problem. In acid soils, the addition
of lime is often beneficial. In Puerto Rico an increase of 400
percent in yield was obtained when two tons of lime per acre
were added to soil with a pH of 5.4. Symptoms of calcium defi-
ciency were noted in plants growing in acid soil; the leaves
showed a yellowing at the tips and along the marginal areas.
The plants also grow well in marl soil, provided it is not subjected
to flooding and is well drained. The Barbados cherry may be
killed if stagnant water stands over the roots for more than a
few days at a time. In Puerto Rico the plants have grown well
in clay soils.
Plants six to 12 months old, grown from either seed, cutting
or air layers, will develop a good root system in containers and
are ready for planting in the field (Fig. 5). The plants may be
set out at any time of the year, but in Florida, April to June,
just before the rainly season, is best.
For field planting, the plants can be set in hedge formation
or planted on a square. In both cases the rows should be 12
to 15 feet apart. For hedging, the plants should be set six to
eight feet apart within the row, thus providing 363 to 484
plants per acre. If planted on a square 12 x 12, 12 x 15 or 15 x 15,
the number of plants per acre would be 302, 242 or 194. Spacing
of plants depends greatly on the type of growth of the particular
clone. Some grow taller, and some spread more than others and
thus require more space when they become eight to 10 years old.
The Barbados cherry may be planted between avocados. man-
gos, lychees or other fruit plants that are planted 25 to 40 feet
apart. Being a shrub, the Barbados cherry does not interfere
with these plants until they become six to 10 years old.
In home plantings, one or two plants may be set in the yard
as specimen plants, or planted along the border among other
plants. By setting the plants two to four feet apart a very ef-
fective border hedge can be made with the Barbados cherry.
These should be trimmed occasionally to keep them in shape.
The use of a heavy mulch around the plants is recommended.
This helps to conserve moisture, moderate soil temperatures,
control weeds and reduce damage from root-knot. The mulch
may be of straw, grass, hay, leaves, wood shavings, sawdust or
During the winter months December through March the
plants are dormant and do not require fertilization. With the
onset of warm weather in March and April, vegetative growth
begins and flowering occurs on the new growth shortly after.
At the Sub-Tropical Experiment Station good results have
been obtained by fertilizing with a 10-0-10 mixture just before
new growth emerges in late February or early March. This
fertilizer mixture encourages good growth and flowering. About
one-half pound of fertilizer per tree for each year of age is suf-
ficient; thus, a six-year-old plant would receive three pounds
of 10-0-10 fertilizer. Additional fertilizings are made in May,
July, and September or October, using a 4-7-5-3 mixture, (or a
6-4-6-3 for older plants that have been fertilized for several years)
at each application applying one pound of fertilizer for each year
of age of the plant. A six-year-old plant should receive six
pounds of fertilizer for each application. After the plants have
attained considerable size, usually in about 10 years, the amount
of fertilizer applied each year should remain constant. Trees
over 10 years old should receive only 10 pounds of fertilizer for
each application in May, July and September, and five pounds
of 10-0-10 in early spring.
Apply the fertilizer on the ground from near the central trunk
to one or two feet beyond the spread of the branches. If the
plants are growing well and appear in healthy condition, nutri-
tional sprays are not necessary. A zinc deficiency, however, can
occur. This has shown up as a general yellowing of the new
leaves and slowing of growth. Application of a commercial neu-
tral zinc compound, such as Nu-Z, three pounds to 100 gallons of
water, has brought about a return of the green color and vigorous
growth in plants showing these symptoms.
An adequate supply of water is beneficial in promoting good
growth and maximum yields of large fruit. Rainfall is usually
sufficient during the summer and fall months, but irrigation is
usually needed during the dry spring months. Fruit produced
during this period are often small and shriveled due to insuf-
ficient water. The proper time to irrigate and the amount of
water applied will depend on several factors, such as the kind of
soil, depth of the rooting system and age and size of the plants.
At the Sub-Tropical Experiment Station, plants growing in
porous, well-drained rocky soil have responded well to overhead
irrigation twice a week. The amount of water during each period
was the equivalent of approximately one inch of rainfall. It is
not necessary to irrigate when the plants are dormant.
When plants of the Barbados cherry become well established
they benefit from pruning every year or every other year. Plants
producing numerous branches and forming a thick type of growth
should be thinned to promote heavier yields. Plants of some
clones, like the Florida Sweet, tend to grow upright and with an
open type of growth. These upright branches should be cut
back to encourage more side branching to keep the plant from
September or October, when the plants have finished fruiting
is the best time to prune. An application of fertilizer should be
given after pruning. Fall pruning will encourage some new
growth before the plants become dormant for the winter. Fall
pruning and fertilizing will maintain green foliage throughout
the winter. When the plants are pruned in February or March,
just previous to the new spring growth, yields for that year
will be reduced markedly.
INSECTS AND OTHER PESTS
The Barbados cherry has no serious insect pests, but oc-
casionally some may become troublesome.
Nematodes.-By far the most serious pest of the Barbados
cherry is the common root-knot nematode, M3cloidogyne inco(gnita
(Kofed & White) var. acrita Chitwood. This nematode weakens
the plant, causing it to drop its leaves and bringing about the
appearance of malnutrition. Severe infestations may inhibit
growth and fruit production. This root-knot nematode is one
of the limiting factors in growing the Barbados cherry in Flor-
ida. It is more of a problem in sandy acid soils than in the al-
kaline, rockland soils of Dade County. In marl or clay soils, root-
knot nematode is not a problem. This probably accounts for the
superior growth often obtained in these soils.
The best measure of protection against root-knot is to grow
the seeds cuttings or air layers in sterilized soil. After the plants
are set, maintain a mulch of straw or some other suitable materi-
al around them. Fertilize the plants regularly and water during
dry periods. If you follow these recommendations, the plants
will grow, flower and fruit well in spite of any infestation of
The use of species of Malpighia that are root-knot tolerant
or resistant as rootstock for the Barbados cherry was first
tried by Sturrock in 1939. Plants at the Sub-Topical Experiment
Station grafted on Malpighia suberosa L. have not grown satis-
factorily. Several have died while others remained dwarfed or
not thrifty, and have produced very low yields. The possibility
of using root-knot resistant hybrids of M. suberosa with the Bar-
bados cherry as rootstock is being investigated.
Fumigating the soil where trees are to be set with DD or
some other fumigant has been suggested, and it might have cer-
tain advantages; however, in the long run it is likely that nema-
todes will invade the area within a year or two.
The Barbados cherry was found to be susceptible to burrow-
ing nematode, Radopholus similis (Cobb) Thorne. When planted
in soil infested or inoculated with this nematode, the plants de-
veloped a poor root system, became chlorotic and showed symp-
toms of decline.
YIELDS AND HARVESTING
Plants will flower and fruit the second year, but they will
not bear heavily until the third or fourth year after planting.
Maximum yields are realized only with good culture-frequent
fertilizing, irrigation during dry weather, mulching, etc. The
fruiting season extends over three to seven months, depending
on the clone. The fruit must be picked every other day during
peak producing periods. It can be picked just as it begins to
turn pink or red. Completely ripe fruit which spoil quickly
should be utilized as soon as possible after harvesting. Ripe
fruit is extremely perishable and cannot be shipped. Half-ripe
fruit usually will hold up well for several days under refrigera-
To avoid damage to the thin skinned fruit, it has been sug-
gested that the picked fruit be placed in containers of water
and transported in water tanks, similar to the method used for
cherries. In Puerto Rico, however, it was found that the fruit
lost its pigments and vitamin C when transported in water.
Yields will vary with the clone, some producing more heavily
than others, and they will increase each year as the plants be-
come larger. The highest yield thus far obtanied at the Sub-
Tropical Experiment Station was in 1957 from plants seven years
in the field. An average of 171 pounds of fruit per plant was
harvested from the Sweet selection; this amounts to a yield of
51,300 pounds, or nearly 26 tons, per acre. (See Table 2.)
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
Florida State University and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
M. O. Watkins, Director
Food Technology and