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Malpighia glabra, known as Barbados-cherry, acerola, or wild crapemyrtle, is an evergreen broadleaf shrub native to southern Texas in the U.S., the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. The fruits are edible, and are used in preserves and beverages. This species is sometimes confused with the more widely cultivated species, M. emarginata (previously called M. punicifolia), as well as with a cultivated hybrid between M. glabra and M. emarginata, all of which are referred to by the same common names. Much of what has been referred to as M. glabra in older botanical literature is more properly classified as M. emarginata.

M. glabra grows to 3 m (10 feet tall) and 1.2 m (4 feet) wide, with slender, hairless branches. It has opposite, entire (smooth-margined) leaves, 2–7.5 cm (1–3 inches) long that are glossy dark green above, and paler below, with short petioles (leaf stalks). The small, bisexual (perfect) flowers are generally about 1 cm (1/2 inch) in diameter, and are pale to deep pink or red, and generally occur in axillary clusters (umbels) of 3 to 8. The distinctive flowers have 5 sepals (with glands) and 5 petals with fringed margins that are quite narrow at the bases; the long-stemmed petals hold them clear of the central cluster of 10 stamens. The fruits, which are berry-like but are technically drupes (fleshy fruits surrounding hard pits or stones), are small and round, about the size of a small cherry. Fruits are red when ripe and contain 3 seeds, which are generally 4-angled.

Fruits, which are similar to but smaller than those of the cultivated varieties of M. emarginata, are thin-skinned with a juicy pulp and tart, acidic flavor. They are used in jams and beverages, and are high in vitamin C.

Some species of Malpighia, including M. emarginata, have stinging hairs that may cause skin rashes, which can be used to distinguish them from the smooth, hairless and stingless M. glabra. In addition, M. glabra has smaller and more pointed leaves than M. emarginata.

(Bailey et al. 1976, Everett 1981, Flora: Gardener’s Encyclopedia 2003, Morton 1987)


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