Plant This: Barbados cherry

Last January’s ice storm damaged this Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra ), breaking some of its branches while bending it almost to the ground, and burning all its evergreen leaves. Its northernmost native range is South Texas, and it can be damaged by temperatures colder than 28 degrees.

I seem to be gardening in the warmest part of Austin, however, and my Barbados cherry is protected by the shed/greenhouse on its north side, so I rarely worry about it croaking during one of our typically short, light freezes. Now that it’s blooming so beautifully, with a slight, sweet fragrance, I’m reminded of its close call last January, when it looked like this.

Barbados cherry bent double under a coating of ice in January 2007.

Thankfully, it recovered and looks like this today. I need to clean up some of the lower branches, but you can see why it is also called wild crepe myrtle.

Now that the garden is ripe and lush with fall flowers, it’s hard to remember that it was locked in ice eight months ago. Gardens make you appreciate today, don’t they?

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

18 Responses

  1. Bev says:

    Pam, what a will to live so many plants have. Stunning photos, and as usual, I enjoy seeing plants I can’t even think of growing in Colorado.

    Those are the kind of plants I like to grow—those with a will to live. The less I have to do to sustain them, the better. —Pam

  2. nikkipolani says:

    What a beautiful plant! Wonder how it would do in So Cal…. :-)

    I don’t know, but if you try it, please let me know! —Pam

  3. Julie says:

    Dear Pam,

    You make me appreciate barbadoes cherry! Thank you,. Esp. that super close up makes it look gorgeous. It was here and very bushy in the yard when we arrived. I’ve been trying to keep it from engulfing things, with some success, but of course the birds love those berries and “plant” it when I definitely don’t welcome it. The roots are really deep too! So it can be hell to get rid of.

    Your pictures make BC look so endearing, but I confess I’m not entirely in love with the one(s) I inherited.

    There’s always a downside, isn’t there, Julie? I should point those out more often, but I sometimes forget about the negatives when I’m enjoying the positives. You’re right, however. Barbados cherry does sucker and spread, although I haven’t found mine to be invasive. Maybe it’s just not old enough yet. Well, you can always pray for a hard freeze this winter to do yours in. ;-) —Pam

  4. Susan says:

    Pam —

    The Barbados cherry that I bought for my son’s bar mitzvah (still in its black plastic pot all these months later!) is covered in buds too. Since it was in bloom when I bought it (in late April) I assumed it was a spring bloomer. Do they usually bloom again in the fall?

    — Susan

    That happened with mine last year, surprising me too. But this year, after the ice storm, mine didn’t bloom in the spring. So I guess it’s making up for lost time, or maybe they always bloom twice. —Pam

  5. Well, my experience so far is they don’t bloom at all! [The larger one croaked, but at least my two small specimens leafed out again!]

    They sure look good in your photos, Pam.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I know it gets colder for longer in your garden. It sounds like your cherries can’t recover from the winter cold. That’s too bad. Are you going to give them another chance next spring or try something new? —Pam

  6. Carol says:

    Hi, Pam. I’ve come by for my daily dose of “plants I can’t have in my garden”. That cherry is quite pretty. Eight months ago today my garden was frozen solid, and the worst was yet to come! Ah, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    It keeps things exciting, doesn’t it, Carol? ;-) —Pam

  7. Nicole says:

    How surprising (and neat!) that you have a Barbados cherry. Does yours fruit?

    It didn’t fruit this year, due to freeze damage, I suppose. But in June of 2006 it produced a good crop of cherries. —Pam

  8. gbs says:

    I’d been debating about whether to pull this out of the front-yard bed, but it bloomed for the first time in a long while this year, and your photos and the fact that it’s scented have convinced me to keep it and see if I can’t prune it into some kind of shape. Mine tends to sucker pretty freely and I’m wanting to see if I can’t give it more form and structure than that.

    One does have to stay on top of those suckers, but I love the flowers and the fragrance—and the cherries too, when they appear (they didn’t this year). I hope you can makes yours work for your garden. —Pam

  9. kate says:

    I have never heard of Barbados Cherry before. The blooms are lovely. I also did not know that you ahd ice storms there. The ‘before’ picture is quite striking as compared to the ‘now’ picture. I love it!

    We get ice every two or three years, Kate, and it usually lasts only a day before melting away. Snow seems even rarer than ice, if my faulty memory is to be trusted. Our rare winter “storms,” brief though they may be, often follow hard on early-summer-like temperatures in the low 80s, catching both gardener and plants by surprise. —Pam

  10. kerri says:

    That’s a tough little tree! It’s looking beautiful and giving you a wonderful show. I love the flower.
    I’ve enjoyed catching up on your recent posts. I always find plenty to interest me in your gardens, and beyond..great pictures of the neighborhood gardens! You do a terrific job Pam.

    Thanks, Kerri. Right back at you! —Pam

  11. Ki says:

    There is a plant blooming here in NJ now that on a quick glance looks something like the Barbados cherry though I have no idea what it could be. The Barbados cherry flowers look like a more colorful version of the crape myrtle. I wonder if they’re related.

    Good question, Ki. My first guess would be no, but who knows. —Pam

  12. Lesa says:

    I just saw this plant this weekend at the Lady Bird Wildflower Sanctuary. It was beautiful. I have been looking on the internet for a place to purchase this plant. I live in Waco.

    I hope you can find one, Lesa. However, I’m doubtful as to whether it would be winter hardy in Waco. You would probably have to bring it indoors each winter. Even on the northern edges of Austin they sometimes get killed by freezes. —Pam

  13. Kendal says:

    Hi Pam,

    I bought 7 one gallons and 2 three gallon Cherry Barbados at a great price. I’m wondering where to plant in my Austin yard. I’m out in the Lake Travis area on 3 acres with a very shady west side, a sunny north backyard with a fence and a sunny south front with a fence line and a a sunny east side. I’m thinking these are going to take over an area so I want them to have their space. What could I plant around them? Thanks for your help.

    It’s really hard to say without seeing your property, Kendal. I’d just advise you not to plant them on the north side because they are cold-tender. They should have the protection of a warmer micro-climate, but they’ll do just fine in part-shade. —Pam

  14. Amy says:

    Is it too late to get these in the ground this spring? WHERE, OH WHERE, can I purchase these plants in Austin? Do they ever come in larger than 3 gallons?
    Thanks for your help.

    Try Barton Springs Nursery or the Natural Gardener, Amy. You’ll have to check with the nursery for sizes. —Pam

  15. Gina says:

    Does this cherry tree actually grow fruit?

    Yes, it produces small, edible “cherries,” Gina, which are said to be quite tasty. —Pam

  16. Pam says:

    Hi Pam,
    I just discovered your site looking for help on my barbados cherry. I live in Nacogdoches, TX. I planted a barbados cherry two years ago. But it’s not doing well at all. Barely leafs out. A couple of blooms if any. I bought it at a native nursery north of Austin. It’s in full sun. I’ve been tempted to move it to try a different location – maybe with part shade and more protection from winter. Curious if you have any advice? Maybe I need to feed it with more than rich compost? Yours is beautiful!! And looks extremely healthy! Thanks for any tips you have! – Pam

    Hi, Pam. Barbados cherry’s native range extends only as far north as south Texas, and it’s only just hardy in Austin, so perhaps you do need a more-protected location for it. In fact, Annie in Austin has blogged that her Barbados cherry has suffered significant winter set-back in her far-north Austin garden. Good luck! —Pam

  17. Dwaine says:

    Hi Pam I just discovered the barbados cherry this saturday June 13th at home depot in Georgetown tx.they had some plants there that had fruit on them and I loved them, I bought two of them.Now I am trying to google info on how to plant them,it looks like in your pictures that you planted yours in the ground.Should I do the same or should I plant them in a container and bring them inside during a brief cold front.I sure could use some advise,what do you do to protect your plant from freezing do you fertilize etc.look forward to your reply

    kind regards


    Hi, Dwaine. Yes, mine are in the ground, but I garden in a pretty warm spot in central Austin. My friend Annie in Austin has seen her in-ground Barbados cherries suffer winter damage, and she gardens in far north Austin. So I don’t know whether you should chance it in the ground in Georgetown unless you have a particularly protected microclimate, like a sunny, south-facing courtyard wall. As for fertilizing, I never do it. I just amend my soil with plenty of compost and decomposed granite for drainage when planting, and then plenty of mulch. —Pam

  18. Luke says:

    hey I am in San Marcos and left my Barbados Cherries out in the last freeze and their leaves died.. I am aware that they are evergreen, but I was wondering if they will still grow new leaves or if it killed them? I was thinking the roots would live but I dont know..

    my email is if you have an answer.. thank you and lovely garden!

    It may come back in the spring, Luke. You’ll have to wait and see. Barbados cherry is cold-tender, but in warm areas like ours it will usually come back from a hard freeze, especially if it’s in a protected spot in your garden. Good luck! —Pam