Also known as Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry, and wild crepe myrtle, the Acerola cherry is a delicious and highly nutritious little fruit grown in the warmer regions of the United States as well as many regions in Central and South America. In recent years, the fruit of this bushy tree has become increasingly popular across the globe and has even been hailed as a “super food” due to its high content of vitamin C and other nutrients. As beautiful as it is healthy, it’s commonly used in its native countries as a decorative plant for its vibrant leaves, pink to red flowers, and bright red fruit.
Seed: Although possible to propagate from seed, the resulting plants will not remain true to type: fruits will not be the same as the original, and it’ll take 3 years for your Acerola cherry to produce. But, if you’re curiosity is peaked, try it out and let us know how it goes!
Seed Depth: 1/4-1/2″
Space Between Plants: 5′
Space Between Rows: 10′
Germination Soil Temperature: 75–85°F
Days for Germination: 21-28 if you’re lucky. Some seeds can take up to 6-12 months to germinate. No joke.
Sow Indoors: 8–12 weeks before the onset of spring.
Sow Outdoors: 8–12 weeks after the end of winter.
Vegetative: We recommend taking cuttings from already established shrubs producing desirable fruits. Air layering is also a popular method of propagation.
These plants don’t like to be exposed to cool temperatures, so protect young plants with a sheet or blanket when temperatures drop below 30°F. A tropical or subtropical climate with lots of sunshine is preferred. Although not recommended, if attempting to grow this plant in USDA Zones 8 and lower, you’ll need to plant this shrub in a large greenhouse and keep it well-trimmed to avoid overgrowth.
Natural: Full Sun to partial shade.
Artificial: For starts, an HID or HPS systems will be necessary to provide sufficient sunlight for growth and flowering. Aim for approximately 8 hours per day or more until ready to transplant.
Soil: A dry, somewhat sandy, or limestone-based soil will allow for proper drainage; however, you should add mulch to soil to help retain water if it’s overly sandy. Acerola cherry does not like acidic soils, so a neutral pH of 7 to 7.5 is ideal.
Soilless: Starts will do well in soilless media such as vermiculite, coco coir, and rockwool.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems such as deep water or sand cultures.
Aeroponics: Cuttings root well in aeroponic systems.
Water: This plant is relatively drought tolerant and often grows well in drier areas; however, optimum fruit production results from consistently moist soil. Don’t soak soil, as this plant is particularly susceptible to root rot. We recommend drip and overhead irrigation techniques.
Nutrients: Lime the soil once per year to keep the pH neutral: soil that is too acidic will interfere with the plant’s nutrient uptake and allow build-up of harmful chemicals like aluminum. Organic compost will provide micronutrients such as boron and iron, which are required for proper growth.
Pruning: This shrub can grow to heights as large as 19′, so prune back branches to keep plant from overgrowing its space. Also, avoid trimming too much in the spring before harvest, but feel free to cut back old growth after harvest.
Mulching: As this plant has a shallow root system, mulching around the plant with wood chips, sawdust, or grass clippings can help keep it steady. Mulch should be 2–3″ thick and should not be placed directly against the tree.
Rotation: These plants will grow to be over 20 years old, so crop rotation is not necessary.
Companions: Grows especially well with catmint, lavender, and sage, but Acerola cherry is a good companion for most plants due to its pollinator-attracting flowers.
Harvest: Depending on if growing from seed or cuttings, you can expect edible fruit to appear in the first, second, or third season of growth. After the Acerola cherry reaches matruity, the tree will flower and fruit at least twice a year. In most warm climate zones, the first fruiting will occur in the spring and will continue until about December. Harvest cherries when they are a bright red or crimson. Pick all ripe cherries, as they do not hold ripeness on the branches very long.
Storage: These cherries do not keep well once picked and only last up to 3 days in the refrigerator. If you are not planning on using your cherries right away, consider preserving methods, such as freezing or juicing, to make sure these delicious little fruits don’t go to waste.
Fun Fact:Although acerola cherries have gained wide-spread popularity in many regions of globe in recent years, the Brazilians consume acerola juice in volumes that match orange juice consumption in the US. Based on how healthy this juice is, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least partially responsible for all those beautiful bods!
Preserve: Freezing the cherries will allow them to last up to a year; however, de-thawed fruits will be mealy, so we recommend throwing them into smoothies. To freeze, simply place on a sheet in the freezer and then transfer to smaller bags once frozen through. Also, try making jellies or jam for an added vitamin C kick to your morning.
Prepare: For best results, eat fresh within days after harvesting.
Nutritional: These fruits have become increasingly popular over the last decade due to their extremely high content of vitamin C. A few of these cherries will provide more than enough of your recommended daily dose. In addition to vitamin C, this fruit also has small quantities of vitamin(s) A, B1, B2, calcium, iron, and phosphorous.
Medicinal: In cultures that have grown this fruit traditionally, Acerola cherries have been used to treat fevers, diarrhea, and liver disorders. More recent studies have suggested that acerola may also help in preventing heart disease and blood clots. Due to its high content of vitamin C, it’s believed to provide an overall boost to the immune system which can prevent many maladies, including the common cold.
Warnings: The leaves of this plant have tiny hairs that can cause irritation to the skin if not protected when pruning and harvesting. Some studies have also suggested that those who suffer from an allergy to latex may also be susceptible to an allergy to this cherry. If you are allergic to latex, contact your physician before consuming.
For a tasty and healthy summer treat that both you and the kiddos will love, try these Acerola and Lime Popsicles!