UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

 February 14, 2007

Quick Links:  Florida Cherries   Surinam Cherry   Invasive habit   References

Feature Article - for release the week of  February 18, 2007

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

By George, Cut Down that Cherry Bush!

Congress has spoken, and we celebrate the birth of our nation’s first President on the third Monday on February.  If you check your history books, his actual birth date is February 22nd. Both days are on this week’s calendar.

A lot of folklore surrounds old George.  To celebrate the birth of our first president, a local option could include throwing one of the new Washington dollar coins across a canal.  But the suggestion that a cherry tree be chopped down will be hard to do, as cherry trees are unusual in our area.

Fortunately, a good local option is available: cut down a Cherry Bush!  Among several fruiting plants called cherries, one in particular has invasive habits and is not recommended for Florida Yards. Today’s column will tell about “Florida cherries”, and why one in particular can be chopped down in honor of President’s Day.

Cherries Galore

There are many plants that have the name cherry, and several are found growing in different parts of Florida.  Our UF Pomologists (Fruit scientists) have been looking for varieties of traditional cherry trees with beautiful blooms and the familiar small round red fruit.  The major stumbling block is that we don’t get enough cold temperatures for this plant to set flower buds and rest between crops.

A few other significant cherries do grow in the Sunshine state:

*       Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) is a weedy pioneer tree sometimes seen along roadsides and in abandoned farmlands.  The fruit are black, and while birds will enjoy eating these fruit, people do not.  (I wrote an article last spring about how tent caterpillars eat the leaves of this tree and cause problems for horse breeders.)

*       Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana) is another native tree. It looks very similar to the Black cherry, except it is evergreen.  It is generally a stranger in south Florida but is not a popular landscape plant due to its messy blue-black berries and weak branches.

*       Other Cherry trees found here are the Taiwan cherry (P. campanulata), an introduced flowering street tree adapted for the northernmost areas of Florida; and the West Indian Cherry (P. myrtifolia), a rare native plant confined to extreme southern Florida.


Black Cherry

Prunus caroliniana drupes.jpg (44392 bytes) Cherry Laurel
  Taiwan Cherry West Indian Cherry

*       Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra) is a desirable tropical fruiting shrub that can be grown year-round in our area. It is not a true cherry, but the fruit is very delicious and extremely high in ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).  Also called Acerola, it may be confused with the Surinam cherry.  They are not related, and show big differences in leaf arrangement, flowers, and the shape and taste of the fruit itself.

*       Fruiting Eugenias include four species of shrubby plants that produce small reddish fruit, some of which can be eaten.  They are native to the Brazilian tropics and include the Cherry of the Rio Grande (Eugenia aggregata), Grumichama (E. dombeyi), Pitomba (E. luschnathiana) and our special guest of the day, the Pitanga or Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora)

 Florida’s Cherry Hedge

My first introduction to the Surinam Cherry was in Fort Lauderdale, where I shared the task of picking several gallons of these half-inch flattened red pumpkins.  We selected the darkest red fruit from a long line of bushes that were planted as a hedge around a commercial property

The fruit was washed and then made into a pretty acceptable jelly, but it took lots of sugar to make it palatable. The occasional samples showed a lot of differences in the musky flavor and sweetness.   Sometime they tasted downright nasty.  So some fruit were spit out, and the sound we made gives a pretty good idea of why this plant is also called “Pitanga”.

Surinam Cherry plants have short very shiny leaves that grow in pairs across the stems from each other. The foliage is very dense and because it grows fast, it can be sheared into traditional hedged squares.  This is why it has been sold as Florida Cherry Bush or Cherry hedge. These last names are deceiving because it is not a true cherry.  Likewise, it is a native of Brazil (and presumably to Surinam, a country on the northern coast of South America.)

The flowers are most common in spring, but can appear any time of the year.  They are white and have long protruding stamens that make the flower look like a small Powderpuff.  The fruit follow about three weeks after the flowers.  Fruit contain one or two large pits or seeds.

Foliage of Eugenia uniflora is bright green and shiny.  The leaves often grow in pairs. Photo:  Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)  Flowers of the Surinam Cherry look like snowflakes, while the fruit have an almost pumpkin-like shape. Photo: Ian Maguire, UF/IFAS/TREC
Surinam Cherry was formerly used as a hedge in many areas of southern Florida. Photo: Anne Murray, UF/IFAS Pale red fruit of this plant may taste bitter, while darker fruit are often more sweet. Photo: Gene Joyner, UF/IFAS Palm Beach Co.

Flavorful Fruit or Unwelcome Invader?

Surinam cherries were first grown here for their fruit, and then found their way into the landscape.  With few pests to slow them down, local wildlife also discovered a taste for the fruit, and helped spread this Cherry Bush from cultivated locations into natural areas.

Our own University of Florida Invasive Plant Task Force recommends that the Surinam Cherry should NOT be planted in South Florida, but could be used in Central Florida with caution. The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council has declared this a Class I exotic pest, which means it can invade natural areas and displace native habitat. 

This Surinam Cherry has competing with the native Florida Wild Coffee shrub in Long Key, Florida. Photo:  Forest & Kim Starr (USGS) 

This volunteer Eugenia has take root on a Hawaiian roadside. Photo:  Forest & Kim Starr (USGS) 

So if you are inclined to celebrate Washington’s Birthday, why not get out your best garden equipment and cut down those Cherry Bushes.  Contact us if you need help identifying this bush, what suggestions for replacements, or if you need ideas on ways to successfully go to war with this unpopular member of our Florida Yard.

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on the Surinam Cherry, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  GO GATORS!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean Last update: 02/15/2007 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert 


Langeland, Ken.  Surinam Cherry Gainesville:UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.  http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/euguni.html and http://www.fleppc.org/ID_book/eugenia%20uniflora.pdf  

Gilman, Ed.and Watosn, Dennis. Surinam Cherry [FPS-202]. Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 10/99.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/EUGUNIA.PDF

ibid. Black Cherry Prunus serotina [ENH-675]. Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 10/99 http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST516

ibid. Cherry Laurel Prunus caroliniana  [ENH-664Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 10/99.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST505

Space, Jim.  Eugenia uniflora. [Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER) website]. 10/16/06. http://www.hear.org/Pier/species/eugenia_uniflora.htm  

Whitinger, Dave Surinam Cherry Eugenia uniflora [Dave’s Garden website]. 2/2007.  http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/57945/  


Yates,  Linda H. "Flowering Cherries Brighten Winter Landscape."  Tallahassee: Leon County Extension Service, 1/17/02 http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_and_garden/flowering_cherries_brighten_wint.htm

For references to George Washington and the story about chopping down cherry trees, see: 

A general biography about the First President:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington

The original legend is summarized at: http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/presidents-day/george-washington/short-stories/the-cherry-tree.html 

A reference to how the legend got started: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/gw/gwmoral.html

A "modern" updated version of the legend: http://www.jimpoz.com/jokes/cherryTree.html