Marvelous Marlberry

Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) once graced the edge of the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) parking lot, shown above in 2009.  Sadly, most of these plants are now gone.

Marlberry trees can grow to be 15′ especially in the shade of hammocks.  A tropical tree, marlberry grows as far north as St. Johns County in warm, coastal locations.

Mature leaves are dark green, glossy, elliptic, and about 3 – 5″ long.  New leaves are pale with a purplish-brown midvein.  The purplish terminal stems differentiate this plant from its native cousin, myrsine (Myrsine cubana), and its invasive exotic kin, shoebutton ardisia (Ardisia elliptica) and coralberry (Ardisia crenate).  All of these related plants belong to the myrsine family, Myrsinaceae.

Marlberry can flower throughout the year.  After Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, marlberry was one of the first plants to flower, responding to the streaming sunlight from the substantially compromised canopy.  Fragrant creamy white flowers with prominent anthers are held in upright terminal panicles (clusters) …

Fruits ripen from a pale gold to reddish to deep purple-black when ripe.  Birds and small wildlife eat (and spread) the berries.

Often, the clusters of berries are so heavy that they hang downward like heavy marbles (marbleberry is another common name for this tropical tree) …

Marlberry can be pruned into a shrub but is at its best as a small landscape tree especially in partial shade.  It will perform well under the canopy of a live oak tree (Quercus virginiana), just as it does naturally in a hammock.

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