Very Variable Rouge

Rougeplant (Rivina humilis) grows infrequently at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) in hammock shade along with wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) as shown above.  This very versatile  perennial native plant also grows on the sun-baked backsides of beach dunes and in soggy inland hammocks.  Tolerant of a variety of conditions, It has become an invasive weed In Australia and southeast Asia and is found throughout the world where climates are warm.

How did rougeplant spread so far?  Perhaps, people transported it to other continents as an ornamental plant for its tiny red, red berries and delicate pinkish flowers.

Rougeplant is known by a variety of common names including baby peppers, small pokeweed, dog blood, bloodberry, coralberry, pigeon berry, and turkey berry.  Birds of varied sizes consume its showy little red fruits and distribute this plant to a variety of venues.

Look closely to see its kinship with pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).  Rouge plant, until recently, was a member of the pokeweed family, Phytolaccaceae.  Recently, rouge plant was re-located to a new family, Petiveriaceae, once a subfamily of Phytolaccaceae.

The genus name, Rivina, honors German botanist Augustus Rivinus (1652 – 1723).  The species name, humilis, refers to its usually low growth habit.  Most rouge plants are low and bushy, but a few individuals are lanky and can be 5′ tall.  Older plants often develop a woody base.

Its alternate leaves ovate to oblong with pointed tips (acuminate apices)  and wavy edges (leaf margins).  In full sun the leaves are smaller and yellowed.  In shadier locales the leaves and the slender leafstems (petioles) are longer.  Leaves can vary from 1″ to 6″ in length.

Overall plants vary from smooth to puberulent (sparsely hairy) to velvety …

Flowers vary from pink to white and are held in terminal clusters (racemes) that can be up to to 3″ long.  Individual flowers are about 1/8″ flowers and are held on stalks (pedicels),  Each flower contains nectar and attracts small pollinators including European honeybees (Apis mellifera).  Flowering and fruiting often occurs simultaneously and throughout the year.

The bright red berries are quite striking.  Rivianin, a compound very similar to the red pigment in beets, has been derived from rougeplant fruits and is used in dyes.  Even if this plant is commonly called small peppers, human consumption is not recommended given the known toxicity of its kindred pokeweed.

Rougeplant makes an excellent and adaptable landscape plant with its lovely stalks of tiny nectar-filled flowers and its stunning red bird-beloved berries.  Yes, it can be a bit weedy when “free space” is available but easily can be hand-pulled in a managed landscape.


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