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Ardisia crenata Sims 1817
pronounced: ar-DIZ-ee-uh kren-AH-tuh
common names: Coralberry, Coral Ardisia, Spiceberry
Ardisia comes from the Greek αρδις (ardis), the point of an arrow, referring to the pointed anthers; crenata is from crenatus, botanical Latin for ‘notched’. It is derived from crena, a corrupted word used by Pliny.
This is an imported plant. Its native range stretches from Japan to northern India. It has been introduced to many countries as an ornamental, for its decorative red fruit, and has escaped from cultivation and become widely naturalized, and highly invasive in several countries, in particular the Mascarene Islands, Hawaii, the Seychelles, and, of course, Florida. The traits selected for the ornamental cultivars of this tree appear to have made it more likely to become invasive than the tree in its native range. It causes a reduction in the presence and diversity of native understorey plant species in the mesic forests, mainly by shading out the seedlings of the native species. Its fruit is easily spread by both native and introduced birds.
Ardisia crenata is a small erect evergreen shrub up to about 1.5 m tall, growing in multi-stemmed clumps. The leaves are alternate, up to about 20 cm long and 1 – 4 cm wide, dark green above, waxy, glabrous with 12 – 18 pairs of lateral nerves, merging into a distinct marginal nerve that is slightly raised below. They have scalloped edges. Each lateral branch lives for 2 years, producing only leaves in its first year, and flowers and fruits in the second year. The flowering branches have only a few leaves, and flowers in lateral or axillary clusters. The flowers are small, bisexual, white to pink, often drooping below the foliage. The petaloid components are pinkish white, the anthers yellow. The fruit is a glabrous, one-seeded drupe, 5 – 8 mm in diameter, the seed found inside a fleshy membrane. The fruits hang down in clusters, and are quite showy as they ripen and turn to shades of coral and finally bright scarlet. Populations with white berries also exist. Usually Ardisia is seen in fairly large colonies, since the plants re-seed freely. The plants will tolerate some sun, but, as an understorey plant, will grow best in fairly deep shade.
Coralberry is easily transformed into a houseplant, and is attractive for its shiny foliage, even if berries do not form.
Propagation is by seed or by cuttings, and it is usually easy to harvest large number of volunteer seedlings wherever the plant is found growing. A count in Florida found 631 seedlings growing within a 1 metre radius of a single plant.
Many people consider this plant to be poisonous, although there is no real confirmation of this. However, it is suspected of being the agent of death of livestock in two separate cases in Florida.
The larvae of the moth Collix ghosha use this as a food plant.
Photographs taken Nelly Bay, 2010
Page last updated 8th October 2016